Friday, November 11, 2011

Oh, crap. Planned obsolescence!

This blog falls under the “Oh, crap!” category, with an underlying issue that I don’t understand. It all started when my wife and I built our retirement home. She had worked with an architect years earlier to design the home, and finally our dream would come true. Or would it?

Trusting the contractor was our first mistake. We laid out the specifications, but didn’t realize how many shortcuts the contractor would take. We asked for bull-nose corners, assuming we would get them everywhere. That didn’t happen. We got them in half the house, but not in the bedrooms or bathroom—or anywhere upstairs. We pointed out that our house in Denver had leaky windows, and that he would need to be careful with those. He put in top-of-the-line windows, but installed them wrong. That eventually meant the limestone on the exterior of the house had to be removed as many as five times in some places due to leaks, mold mitigation and window re-installation. While the rock was removed, we found the framers had installed the OSB wrong. They set the OSB on the foundation, instead of 1” above, which meant it acted like a wick. That spread mold far beyond the leaky windows. We also found, when the limestone was initially installed, the masons weren’t careful with the lowest layer. They put little mortar dams in the air space between the Tyvek and the rock that created areas to keep internal water from seeping out weep holes. That didn’t help the OSB wick problem, and the lower four feet of rock had to be removed around the entire perimeter of the house. Of course, that led to a few avalanches where the upper floor rock plummeted to the ground. The masons also installed our retaining wall wrong, a mistake that caused the thing to fall over three times—all two hundred feet fell once during a downpour. Overall, more than $60,000 in repairs were required just to live in the house, and we are still finding problems eight years later.

And that brings me to the topic of this blog, the “Oh, crap!” part. We specified the appliances we wanted in the house, but not the manufacturer. That was a mistake. The contractor priced expensive equipment, so we assumed we would get quality stuff. We didn’t. He put in an entire suite of GE Profile appliances: ice maker, refrigerator, dishwasher, Advantium microwave, cooktop, and oven. We had trouble with GE in the past, and protested when we found out we would get that brand in our new home. The contractor was more than happy to change the appliances…as long as we understood there would be a substantial “upgrade charge.” I felt like a hostage and kept his selected appliances.

The first appliance problem happened 18 months after we moved in. The ice maker failed, but the thing was still within its original two year warranty. We grumbled, but GE fixed it. Well, sort of. It broke again just after the warranty expired. We fixed it on our nickel that time. It worked for about nine months. I threw up my hands and replaced it with a commercial model.

The other appliances hung in there for almost eight years. The first to go was the garbage disposal…the night before we were having a big party. The next morning I raced to Home Depot and bought a replacement. We had the party and then went on vacation for six weeks. Ooops. On return, we found the refrigerator had failed. It was a very hot summer. We arrived home to the scent of death permeating every pore in the house: clothes, paint, tile – everything smelled like death. A five foot circle of red coagulated goo encircled the refrigerator where all the meat, fish, shrimp, egg rolls, ice cream and whatever else that was frozen had turned to liquid and ran out of the side-by-side freezer. We could hardly breathe.

It took weeks to get the odor out, and I had to pay a disposal company to haul the stinking refrigerator away. Shouldn’t a refrigerator last more than eight years? It didn’t end there. Two weeks later, the microwave blew a 250V/20A fuse. I took it apart and found other problems inside. “Probably the magnetron,” I signed. My wife shook her head and added, “Shouldn’t a microwave last longer than eight years?” All the time, in the back of my mind, I could hear my contractor chuckling, as if trying to remind me, “You should have taken the upgrade. Everyone knows GE is crap.”

Okay, so I had the chance and didn’t take it, even though it would have saved me thousands. Beat me to death with a noodle. Replacing the microwave was no easy task. I know, I know, you think they cost $60 at WalMart, but wait, this was a GE Advantium, the only microwave on the market that requires a huge hole in your cabinet and your wallet, AND needs 220 V power. Only one other microwave fit the gaping hole in our cabinet: Electrolux, but it uses 115 V power. I had to re-wire the main breaker panel, and even then the cabinet had been chopped out with a Skill Saw with such carelessness the new microwave couldn’t hide all the damage. By shimming the machine up, I hid most of the rough cut. I wanted to kill the contractor every second of that job.

Did I mention all the original GE appliances were shiny-black? They looked cool when installed. Unfortunately, no one else makes shiny-black appliances, at least not the whole suite. So, one at a time, the appliances are now becoming stainless steel. The mix looks a little odd, but I know the remainder of GE appliances will fail in the next couple of months – planned obsolescence is a fact with GE.

My purpose in writing this is NOT to gain sympathy, but to warn you. Here are some lessons learned that might benefit you. First, if you are building a new home, visit the site every day. Make sure you know how windows and doors are supposed to be installed, and make sure it is done right. We lived in Dallas while our home was being built in Temple. That was a bad decision. Second, hire an independent inspector. That will cost more money, but it will be worth it. Even if you know a lot about homes, an inspector will likely know more. Third, make sure you specify QUALITY appliances. Don’t buy GE. Those things are designed to fail, although, for the life of me, I don’t understand why. Seems to me they would be better off trying for repeat business instead of driving customers away.

Okay, that’s the down side. Now for the UP! My new novel, Kill Zone, was released on 7 Nov 11 by Eternal Press. I discussed writing that book on the day of release at http://mizging.blogspot.com/. I won’t repeat that story here, but I have included a tag line and blurb below. I would also like to repeat a free offer I’ve made in the past. Stay with me, this gets a little complicated. Kill Zone was the first novel I wrote, but the last to be published. The sequel to Kill Zone is Aftermath Horizon, published in 2010 by xoxopublishing.com. Before Aftermath Horizon was published, I abridged its first five chapters to create a short story for a contest. The short story is called “The Final Experiment”, and was published by xoxopublishing.com in 2009. Here’s the offer: anyone who asks can have “The Final Experiment” for free. Just send me an email at jhatch6@hot.rr.com with “The Final Experiment” in the title. I will send you the MS Word version of the book, hoping you will like it so much you will be motivated to buy Kill Zone or Aftermath Horizon … or both.

Kill Zone Tag Line: This Michael Crichton-like novel postulates the origin of oil, possible reasons for terrorism and a solution to the energy crisis. It also suggests one potential outcome of rampant hatred.

Kill Zone Blurb: Dr. Marcy Whites overcomes enormous genetic engineering obstacles to resurrect a prehistoric bacterium, V5, capable of creating renewable oil, and reclaims the love of her life in the process. After V5 is designated a national resource, Marcy’s team is sequestered in Cheyenne Mountain, but bio-terrorism quickly overshadows her successes. People die by the millions when a genetically-engineered pathogen, beta-hemolytic streptococcus (BHS), is inadvertently released in Mecca. Carried by fanatical Ambulatory Infectious Agents seeking martyrdom, the flesh-eating disease spreads like wildfire with a 100% kill rate.

Predictive Antiviral Project (PAP) scientists in Cheyenne Mountain race to develop a vaccine to counter BHS while, out of desperation, world leaders agree to sanitize the outer perimeter of the Kill Zone using nuclear weapons. Dr. Whites joins the PAP team to adapt V5 as a BHS antidote, but their deadline passes. Operation Sanitize releases mankind’s most powerful weapons against its smallest enemy.

Nuclear detonations halt expansion of the Kill Zone, but Dr. Whites continues antidote refinement, believing BHS-laden dust will eventually settle. Dozens of Kill Zones soon crop up, causing the world’s population to be inoculated with V5. Energy independence is achieved, but one year later worldwide birth rates experience a steep decline. Marcy and other scientists are forced to remain inside Cheyenne Mountain until the anomaly can be explained.

Kill Zone Excerpt: Her lilac sweatsuit accentuated the gentle curves of her body as she jogged through Choi Park, but her easy appearance belied the conflict raging in her heart. Western attire offended Allah and chafed her mind. She would atone later; only her mission mattered now. She steeled herself, taking deep breaths to overcome lingering pangs of remorse for those she would murder. Most of the dead would be infidels; the faithful, martyrs. Friends, family and other Muslims would forgive her in paradise.

The fragrance of red coral honeysuckle filled the air as she broke the crest of the hill, giving her a fleeting moment of peace before she spotted her contact on the park bench in the hollow ahead. She had never met him, but the white carnation in his lapel marked him as Muhammad 313, the leader of Trenton’s Integrity and Honor sleeper cell.

Without breaking pace, she took another deep breath to quell her nervousness. She knew Muhammad 313’s reputation, a dangerous man committed to extermination of the West. She shared his goals. He would make her God’s weapon today, so she brushed aside fear and rigidly focused on Allah alone.

The man stood to leave as she sat adjacent to him, but awkwardly dropped his morning paper. Both reached to recover it in a carefully rehearsed maneuver and, during that brief contact, he softly uttered, “It will only stick a little.” Although trembling, she accepted the serum injected into her wrist, believing with all her soul it would destroy much of the immoral society of her youth.

The man removed the needle, placed several bus tickets in her quivering hand and blessed her. “Allah is with you, my child, do not let adversity equal surrender. The blessings of Muhammad are upon you, and will bring success to your mission. Go now. Go do the will of Allah.”

She retrieved the classified section from the ground, forced a smile as she passed it to the man, and continued down the path. She felt nothing, emotionally or physically. She had prepared for this moment in prayer, for becoming the living dead—the most dangerous woman on earth. Resolute but fearful, her stride lengthened as the sun’s warmth soothed her, but Muhammad 313 suspected she would soon endure great suffering.


Tina Donahue said...

After what happened to you, I'd never consider having a house built. Were your appliances made in America or China? That could be the problem. In Cali, a lot of new homes were built using Chinese drywall. The stuff started to stink like rotten eggs a few months after the homeowners moved in. Not only was the smell bad, but the drywall was emitting toxic fumes so the homes were a total loss. They had to be torn down. Companies think they're saving $$ by having it done in China. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

jean hart stewart said...

What a horror story... and I didn't know GE was that bad. Your excerpt was great... a real come-on to know what happens next...Jean

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Oh James, I feel ya, on this one. These days, appliances and cars have the longevity of a housefly and it's intended by the manufacturer to be that way.
My house was built in 1957 before cheap Chineseand has the original pink wall oven--still working to perfection and made by GE back in the day when things were built to last. I've had to do the usual things like roof replacement and the heating and airconditiong system did heave one last cough and drop dead but considering the age of the system, it needed upgrades.
I used to think it would be so wonderful to build a brand new house with all the modern amenities but I found out that standards in building have greatly decreased in modern times--and I watch Holmes on Homes with all those terrifying stories of construction disasters.
Dealing with mortgage companies is a major pain, too.
I think sometimes it would be easier to live in one of those homes on wheels like a Winnebago and just travel the country instead of trying too own a home be a responsible person.
I really feel for you and your wife, James.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Tina: No, in my case, everything was made in the U.S., and that makes me even more angry. Well, at least I think GE is a U.S. company. What I don't understand is the reason behind this. Why make something that used to last 20 to 25 years now last only eight years? I think that might be part of the problem with our economy. On the other hand, I have been buying a lot of appliances lately. Blah!

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Jean: OMG, I so don't want to know what will happen next, but I am considering pre-ordering a dishwasher. That is the next to go, and I expect it any day now. I still have three GE appliances that can fail -- the dishwasher, the cook top and the convection oven. I hope I can find replacements that fit the existing cut-outs, especially for the cook top because that one is set in granite. This has indeed been a trip through hell.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Sarah. The problem with a home on wheels (and my wife and I were both raised in one) is weather. Tornados seem to know where those things are parked. Yes, the building process is a nightmare. I love Holmes on Homes, too. If I ever build again, I will take those lessons with me. I have lived in rent homes and purchased three new ones. My experience is it is better to have new than inherit someone's problems. I also believe it is better to have a house built than to buy one off-the-shelf. My first new home was already built when I bought it. There were problems with the plumbing: electrolysis ate the pipes. Why? I have no idea, but I did get the problem handed to me. Of the two houses I've had built, the first was the least problem. That home was a "basic" unit with lots of additions. The contractor had built the home many times, and knew how to do it. We have almost no problems with it. The one we have now, however, was designed by my wife over a two year period. It is beautiful by any standard; however, the contractor was at the limit of his ability putting it together. Because there is only one, he won't learn from his mistakes either. We are slowly reaching the point where all the gaffs are fixed. By the time I've lived here ten years, it might be completely acceptable! Argggg.