In the long run of Bob Brehl’s epic battle of man vs. machine, Brehl settled for a Pyrrhic victory, and it felt good. Register file photo

Comment: Man and the machine battles wear on

  • June 23, 2017

Driving home after returning a second new dehumidifier that wouldn’t work in less than a week, I couldn’t help thinking about the so-called “good old days” when things were built to last.

My parents had a Westinghouse dehumidifier in the family basement for at least 20 years, back in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. When I got home from Canadian Tire the other day, I said to my wife, “I know why things are so energy-efficient these days … they break and don’t work.”

She lifted her head from the freezer, a bottom drawer type below our expensive refrigerator in the kitchen. “Tell me about it,” she replied, and told me she was back digging out the ice that forms every month or so on the bottom of the freezer. The buildup prevents the freezer’s door from closing properly.

“I suppose our appliances (except the dehumidifier) are all old by today’s standards,” she said. “A repairman told (best friend) Kelli to hold onto her old washer and dryer as long as she can because the stuff they build today is crappy.”

Which brings me back to my dehumidifier story. Last year, when I plugged it in, the fan worked but the compressor didn’t because no water was collecting in the bucket. I went through the troubleshooting steps in the owner’s manual, called the 1-888 help line and was told to return it for a replacement. Because it was less than one year old, Canadian Tire took it back and replaced it no questions asked.

The replacement worked fine all last summer and in the fall I cleaned the filters, as the owner’s manual said, and put it away. This year we had a colder spring and I didn’t need the dehumidifier until early June. I plugged it in and the fan hummed its regular tune. But, again, this one wasn’t collecting water.

I followed the steps in the owner’s manual and nothing, no water collected. After a couple days, I called the company’s 1-888 number and we tried a few different things, but nothing worked.

Since it was slightly more than a year old, they said I’d have to fill out several forms, which they emailed me, and Canadian Tire would replace it since the problem was with the compressor, which has a five-year warranty.

So, off I went to Canadian Tire again. Sure enough, they did replace it. By the way, it’s worth mentioning, I’ve heard customer service complaints about Canadian Tire but I was treated great through the entire rigmarole. Very friendly and helpful staff. It wasn’t their fault. One employee cracked a line about whether a dehumidifier that doesn’t work could turn into a humidifier.

I brought the new dehumidifier home, put it in a standing position and waited 24 hours before plugging it in, as the owner’s manual said. After plugging it in, the next morning I pulled open the collection bucket and it was bone dry. Egad, what have I done wrong, I thought. This was way too coincidental.

I rechecked everything, went through the troubleshooting and eventually a day later was back on the phone to the company. A friendly woman on the other end of the line listened to my story and put me on hold to talk to her supervisor. A few minutes later she came back on, apologized and told me to take it back for a free replacement.

And I did. Again. Walking up to the Customer Service desk at Canadian Tire, I saw the helpful manager named Matt and did an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation: “I’m back!” He shook his head and smiled. I decided to try one more dehumidifier and if this one doesn’t work, I’ll take a store credit and buy one someplace else.

I got it home, unpacked it and followed the instructions of standing it upright for at least 24 hours before plugging it in. Off we went to the cottage for the weekend and at one point I remarked about how I was looking forward to getting home and turning on the dehumidifier to see if it collects water.

“We keep hearing about artificial intelligence and how machines are getting smarter than humans,” I said to my wife. “But I’m telling you, there’s no way that dehumidifier is going to beat me.”

And guess what? When we got home, I plugged it into the wall and after an hour I pulled out the once bone-dry bucket to find — drum roll, please — water collecting at the bottom. Pyrrhic victory or not, it sure felt good.

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at, or @bbrehl on Twitter.)

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