Upgradable Appliances Could Change Planned Obsolescence for the Better

Experts aren't convinced, but it may still reduce the need to buy replacements

Key Takeaways

  • The cost of upgrading parts and software will be a major factor in determining the success of LG’s concept.
  • Appliances that can be adjusted rather than replaced if they don’t meet a home’s needs could save consumers money and result in less waste.
  • Being able to upgrade an appliance doesn’t really impact the need for, or costs of, repairs and maintenance.
Old Refrigerators Waiting to Be Scrapped At a Recycling Center

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LG's plan for a series of upgradable appliances will likely benefit consumers, according to experts, but it probably won't lead to multi-generational hand-me-downs.

While modern appliances tend to have a lifespan of around 10 years or so, they simply do not last as long as they used to. Maintenance, repairs, and eventual replacement have always been inevitable, but these days major appliances sometimes fail in as little as five years. With LG set to release several appliances designed to be upgradable to fit potential changes in your life, maybe those numbers will go back up? Experts say there's potential for upgradable appliances to last longer than their contemporaries, but they likely won't measure up to their much older counterparts.

"There's nothing more frustrating for consumers than to have an expensive appliance die within five years," said Melanie Musson, home appliance expert for Clearsurance.com, in an email to Lifewire. "Older generations could count on their appliances lasting through their lives, but modern devices are designed to need to be replaced."

Playing the Long(er) Game

Upgrading an appliance to better suit your needs isn’t the same as repairing a malfunctioning component, but it could sidestep outright replacement. If, for example, you need your dryer to better handle certain fabrics, according to LG, you could adjust it with the right add-on part and a software download. So, rather than having to buy an entirely new dryer, you can build onto the one you already have.

LG upgradable washing machine/dryer with a smartphone ready to push an update

LG

"Upgradeability challenges the idea that expensive appliances are designed with planned obsolescence in mind," said Lyu Jae-cheol, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solution Company, in the press release. "We want customers to experience the feeling of getting a new washer or refrigerator throughout the entire lifecycle of an LG appliance, not just the first time they bring the item home."

There are no details yet on how much any of these add-on parts may cost, but it's unlikely LG would price them excessively enough to make replacement the cheaper option. So as long as the appliance is in good shape and offers the kind of optional adjustments you need, upgrading should be an affordable alternative.

No Guarantees

However, making a refrigerator, air purifier, or washer/dryer upgradable is just that: making it possible to upgrade particular aspects. What it isn't is a guarantee that the appliance itself will work reliably for longer than our modern machines. And appliance repairs can be pretty costly, depending on the part.

"Older generations could count on their appliances lasting through their lives, but modern devices are designed to need to be replaced," Musson pointed out. "Updated features don't mean the compressor will last any longer. If a working part of the appliance dies and it costs as much to replace it as buying a new appliance, there's no advantage to having upgraded parts."

Technician examining dishwasher and using a screwdriver

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Conversely, if an appliance is upgradable (and lasts long enough), it could still be worth passing down in a family. Particularly, if parts or software can be added, it would be more useful in its new home.

"For consumers, it will come down to cost," Musson stated. "If upgrades cost more than new appliances, consumers will choose new appliances. If upgrades are cost-effective, they'll be more likely to choose that option."

Ultimately, it's not very likely that LG's ideas will have an impact on planned obsolescence as we've come to know it. But if the upgradeable approach is appealing enough to consumers, it could start a new trend. One that may not result in nigh-immortal home appliances, but one that could still lead to us keeping them around a bit longer. And maybe even an increase in the number of second-hand appliances, once we're able to tailor them to our specific needs more easily.

For its part, LG hopes that being able to upgrade rather than replace appliances will have an effect on planned obsolescence, stating that "... upgradability enables the LG appliance to keep up with changing trends and usage patterns over the many years of that product's lifespan, extending usefulness many times over."

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