How long should a couch last? Is it our fault?
February 28, 2014 6:34 AM   Subscribe

We have a couch we bought at a large reputable furniture store for about $600-700, about five years ago. It is so sunken at this point that it is difficult to get up out of. Help!

I am a larger human (6'4, 275) but I don't sit on the couch very much so I don't think we can blame the fatty ;) We do have a 14 year old boy who has been known to hurl himself onto the couch at times, although this is not the norm. My wife and two daughters are normal size and are not abusive of the couch.

I feel like we should be getting more than five years out of an expensive piece of furniture -- but maybe that's the problem, we didn't spend enough? Tell me about Couch Architecture and what specifically we should be looking for in terms of couch construction/materials to ensure this doesn't happen again when we replace this.

Also, is there anything I can do as a reasonably handy person to rehabilitate this couch and get a few more years out of it? Other than the sinking problem, the upholstery/pillows are in good shape.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Home & Garden (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Take off the cushions. Put a piece of plywood down. Put the cushions back on. No more couch sag!
posted by phunniemee at 6:37 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: No real answer, but our $1100 couch was sunken inside 3 years, with no unusual use. I did some exploratory surgery and discovered that it was ridiculously poorly made -- the wood frame was stick-thin and had cracked in many different places. So I don't think your experience is unusual.
posted by miyabo at 6:40 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think it's really difficult to buy a good new couch without spending upwards of $1500. Truly, the most durable mass market sofa I have ever encountered is the Ikea Klippan loveseat - which isn't technically a sofa and isn't super comfortable...but man, it wears like iron.

I have an old locally-made sofa that I got at the thrift store something like nine years ago (before the bedbug problem) that's still going strong - although we'll need to get the springs retied in a while. If that one ever gives out, I personally plan to make a daybed by building a simple platform, getting a good twin futon mattress and adding some sturdy cushions along the wall. Sofas are just too expensive for me now.
posted by Frowner at 6:44 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I feel like we should be getting more than five years out of an expensive piece of furniture

$700 actually strikes me as very very cheap for a couch; that you got five years of use out of it sounds like a pretty decent deal, all things considered.
posted by ook at 6:46 AM on February 28, 2014 [32 favorites]

A good, long-lasting sofa of the kind that you can keep for a lifetime with the occasional maintenance and reupholstering costs significantly more than 700 bucks.
posted by slkinsey at 6:46 AM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

We're facing similar issues with our $600 Bernie and Phil'*s special we bought about ten years ago. My eleven year-old son is still in the "the rug is lava" phase and he gets around by jumping from the chair to the couch over and over again. We now have a very broken couch.

$600 is a lot of money, to be sure, but it's not really a lot to spend on a couch. We've been doing some shopping lately and a decent quality sofa can cost a whole hell of a lot more.

*Never again will I enter that store. Worst customer service experience I've ever had.
posted by bondcliff at 6:48 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

This post has some links on what to look for in a good quality couch: previously
posted by girlpublisher at 6:49 AM on February 28, 2014

Response by poster: Has anyone ever done the plywood thing that phunniemee suggests? I thought about it but not sure if it's effective, what thickness to use, etc.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:52 AM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: I've done it for both couches and beds. It certainly improves the sag, but it can be a lot firmer than the springs; if someone sits down hard without realizing the plywood is there, they can get a bit of a surprise.
posted by jeffjon at 6:55 AM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I haven't done the plywood thing directly, but my parents did it to a bed for a while. It works, to eke some more life out of it.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2014

We also did the plywood thing - on an Ikea Klippan sofa, which in our case started sagging after a year, under two lightweight adults - and it worked just fine. We didn't do anything fancy. I would go lighter rather than thicker, I think....It's a pretty low-risk, low-cost thing to try.

I also concur that a $600-700 couch is pretty cheap and not going to last, sadly.
posted by chocotaco at 7:01 AM on February 28, 2014

Agreeing that you bought a cheap couch. My wife and I bought a nice couch a few years ago that is holding up really well despite near-constant use by people and pets, but even with the cheaper fabrics they offered it was still over $2k. My parents' $1100 couch is a disappointment.
posted by jon1270 at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: Five years for $700 and ten years for $1400 works out the same. I'm not sure where the break point in sofa quality is, but unless you are above it anything you buy is going to be fairly temporary.

Have you flipped the couch over and tried working your way through the fabric and other stuff on the bottom to see if there is any obvious fix for the current collapse? I've only once fixed a couch, but as noted above it was surprising how poor the materials were and how simple it was to temporarily jury rig a solution that at least lasted for a while.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

My current couch had plywood across a wood frame when I bought it, and I'd rate it as surprisingly comfortable. (I have since fixed it, but the plywood actually wasn't bad.)

In my couch's case the "plywood" was actually wall finish samples, but I'd suggest getting something cut (Home Depot?) to cover the entire couch frame, since the samples kept slipping and allowing the cushions to fall through the frame (the strapping was missing).
posted by pie ninja at 7:08 AM on February 28, 2014

I have a friend that describes furniture purchases in "$100/year" terms. As in, she expects her $1000 couch to last 10 years, and the $200 worth of cheap Ikea dining room chairs to only last two years. It's a way of thinking that has helped me get rid of crummy stuff that still seemed like it should have lasted longer.

$600-700 over 5 years sounds pretty close to that.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:09 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The plywood thing can work, but if you have thin cushions it's probably going to be uncomfortable. I think it's just the nature of less expensive sofas to not last as long.

There are lots of videos on YouTube for fixing sagging couches, though I can't vouch for them.
posted by i feel possessed at 7:12 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel like we should be getting more than five years out of an expensive piece of furniture

$600-700 may be "expensive" compared to sitting on the floor, but it's pretty cheap for a couch. Honestly, $125 a year to not sit on the floor seems like an OK enough deal to me.

My own 10-year-old couch (which was over $1000, but not over $2000, for sure--I can't remember) probably has another 5 years in it. After that, I think I'm just going to go with Ikea couches for a bit and treat them as a consumable and replace them every few years.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:21 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The best cheap sofa I ever bought was from a place called Home Reserve, and it was just plain built out of plywood, but the cushions were made out of a very dense foam and so they actually were enough to cushion it. It did take awhile to break in, but was doing very well at three years in, when I left it with my ex. And they actually sell all the pieces so that if your cushions start to go too much, you can just buy new cushions. Or a new cover. I thought it was pretty clever. (Although they aren't very pretty.)

Unfortunately, normal construction methods--well, no, they really don't last very well unless you pay a lot and do some research beforehand about where you're getting it from. Sofas can be re-sprung, if you've bought a nice one and it wears before its time, but I don't think that's necessarily worth it at your current cost.
posted by Sequence at 7:23 AM on February 28, 2014

Best answer: Awhile back I asked this question. That lead to a ton of research, a ton of sitting on different couches, and the eventual purchase of two different couches from two different stores. As mentioned earlier, $600-$700 is not a lot of money in the world of furniture. It ain't the absolute cheapest, but in today's market, that won't get you a "quality" piece. I put "quality" in quotes, because spending $5000 on a couch also won't guarantee you a decent sofa, so 5-years with a cheap sofa is actually pretty good! I think we ended up spending around $2K on each sofa. They're comfortable and reasonably good-looking, but definitely not top of the line.

Whenever you end up replacing the couch, look for the words "kiln-dried", "hardwood" or anything to indicate that it's not made of shoddy green pine that will crack and warp in a couple of years. Heavy usually equals better. You want solid joinery, and if you can't get a sense of what's going on inside, take that as a bad sign. Made in the U.S. is a good sign, but not a guarantee. Avoid staples. Glue is lousy by itself, but it's fine in combination with other techniques. Give the floor model the "wobble test" aka "grab a corner and give it a firm jerk to see if it wobbles." Wobbling is bad. S-springs are typical, but 8-way hand tied springs are better. The upholstery options change the price considerably, so keep that in mind when pricing everything out. Down cushions feel nice, but they're high-maintenance and require constant fluffing. Don't get the extended warranty, and furniture chains, even nice ones, can be absolute pits of despair, so tread carefully. And there are always, always sales going on, so don't pay full price if you don't have to.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:24 AM on February 28, 2014 [24 favorites]

Best answer: Instead of plywood, I put several layers of cardboard into my sad broken couch when one of the s-springs broke. It has held up for over a year, while I've been saving money to replace the poor thing, and is more forgiving than plywood.
posted by monopas at 7:48 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agreed, $600-$700 is too little for a couch. I paid $2500 for two couches 10 years ago and they are still in good shape aside from cats being cats, grr.

There is this 'as seen on tv' furniture fixer which For $19.95 might be worth a shot.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:53 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

As seen on TV furniture fixer.
posted by phunniemee at 7:55 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Diagonalize. We have a velvet couch about that age which cost ten times as much as yours, and it is completely sunken in the middle. The cushions are down/feather-filled and I guess they need refilling at this point.
posted by Dragonness at 7:59 AM on February 28, 2014

Response by poster: Wow, that furniture fixer site cranks the audio on page load. Fair warning! Interesting though, thanks.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:23 AM on February 28, 2014

I bought two white denim slipcovered sofas at American Signature Furniture. I think they were about $300 each. They were for a occassionally used living room in our old house.

We bought a second-hand sofa for $600 from a consignment shop for the basement/tv room.

When we moved we sold the sectional and moved the white sofas. I was under NO illusions about these sofas. Made in China, out of balsa wood apparently. Last night, after 6 months of being pressed into daily use, it's clear that they're a mess. "Gosh Husbunny, these sofas have NOT worn well, have they?" He heartily agreed.

The sofa/sectional before all of this was a HUGE U shaped Bauhaus sofa that I bought in 1997 at Kaufmann's in Pittsburgh. Seating for about 20, a neutral brown that went with everything and so comfortable it wasn't unusual for someone to drift off to dreamland after a nice dinner. If we had overnight guests, we'd bed 3 of them out on it and all reported a great night's sleep. I paid $1,700 for it. We sold it to a sorrority for $375 after 10 years of enjoyment.

The company that makes Bauhaus is La-Z-Boy. I'm now saving up to buy a NEW La-Z-Boy sectional. It will cost about $2,200 and it has a memory foam sleeper in it.

So, FWIW, this is one of those things where you probably need some Consumer Reports, some word of mouth and some money to ascertain the best value on such an item.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:30 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I tried the plywood trick before. It helps, but it makes the couch just a little hard. Still comfortable, but not something you want to throw yourself down on. Feels a bit more formal.
posted by sam_harms at 9:50 AM on February 28, 2014

We bought our current couch 6 years ago for about $450 at a furniture outlet store (it might have been Value City Furniture). We looked for one that had a solid construction, firm cushions, and heavy upholstery. It's lost it's shape a little over the years, but flipping the cushions seems to keep that from being a problem. We definitely do not have any trouble with sinking down into it and having to fight to get out of it. For all I know this couch was originally a very expensive one, but we tried sitting in models of all price ranges, and almost every last one felt like we were sinking down into some big cheap cotton-ball. You could just tell that whatever they stuffed it with was going to get all out of shape and sunken in no time, and that the flimsy fabric wasn't helping hold the shape at all. If you need to get another couch, my advice would be to ignore the price tags at first, and just focus on looking for a tough couch that feels like it could take a little abuse.
posted by sam_harms at 9:58 AM on February 28, 2014

We had a similar issue and have found that any sofa less than $2500 (but most of the quality ones were $3000+) is not built to last more than 5 or so years. After much consideration we replaced our saggy sofa with a $1500 sofa bed. Why sofa bed? The internal bed frame acts a bit like the plywood suggested above. It gives a sofa a firmer but sag proof seat. We may one day used the bed part but we consider it our $350 anti-sag insurance.
posted by saradarlin at 10:09 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was gifted a crazy huge sectional couch by a friends parents when i was in grad school. Super comfortable and with a spectacularly tacky jungle print that took it right through the ugly back into kind of cool. They ditched it because it sagged in spots. I solved this by stuffing pillows into the saggy spots beneath the cushions. Good enough for a few years. Then one day I sat down and heard a loud 'sproong'. A spring had come loose and gone right through mesh under the couch into the floor. So I flipped the couch and took some pliers and reattached it. Then I noticed that springs were detached in every spot that sagged. 15 minutes of plier work and the couch was better than when I first got it with no sagging at all. That couch lasted 6 more years with me before I gave it to a friend who used it for several more years.

So the point is...check your springs. The fix may be easy.
posted by srboisvert at 11:08 AM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have done what phunniemee suggests. Got a few extra years out of my parents' reject couch and loveseat by putting plywood under the cushions. Couch was a bit hard, but I was a poor student at the time so options were limited. It worked just fine.

Agreeing with the others here. When I was couch shopping a few years ago, pretty much everything in the $600-1,000 range seemed crappy and cheap.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:01 PM on February 28, 2014

Has anyone ever done the plywood thing that phunniemee suggests? I thought about it but not sure if it's effective, what thickness to use, etc.

I've done it, with particle board. On a couch with sunken cushions, I found it incredibly uncomfortable. Something about the softness of the cushions combined with the hardness of the wood made it feel like sinking into a sharply tilted pit with an incredibly hard bottom. For a year, I had to sleep on a bed made the same way and I would wake up with backaches and other problems (I was 19 or 20 at the time).

It works better on couches with harder cushions, whether the cushions are firmer because they have foam padding or because they're thinner. It works OK with futons, for example. I slept on a futon fitted out like that for a couple years and it was pretty awful for long-term laying on, though, too. Again, backaches from sinking through the cushion onto the particle board in a weird not-fully-on-the-particle-board way.

I think your sofa has lasted a reasonable amount of time, considering how much it cost and how much wear you've given it. I doubt that fixing your current couch up in any substantial way (new cushions, slipcover, etc) is probably not worth it, since that alone would probably be at least $100 unless you get extremely lucky somehow.

I second people saying that you should look for furniture made of hardwood, and with springs. It lasts longer and is much easier to repair. You'll still probably have to have it resprung and reupholstered eventually, but not for years and years.

Sofa beds also do last *a lot* longer than sofas without beds, in my experience. To me, it really is worth the extra couple hundred dollars you have to pay, based on how much better they wear (I've never had a sofa bed poop out on me, but even fairly nice sofas tend to show some wear after a couple years, in my experience).

Leather also wears better than fabric, but there's a pretty major price premium there.

Those really clunky, indestructible couches and sectionals tend to last forever and ever just becoming more comfortable over time, but they're extremely expensive unless you're picking up a hot mess of one second hand, and they're hideous a whole lot of the time. Lazy Boy stuff made like that really is amazing though, in terms of how comfortable it is for how long.
posted by rue72 at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2014

No real answer either, but we paid about $2300 for a couch and loveseat combo to replace a $500 couch that was well-used and well-loved and had lasted about 12 years (during which I lugged it along on eight moves between four different states) before the springs finally went. The new couches developed sagging problems (particularly with the back cushions) in about three months (zero moves, and only one state). We've dealt with it for two years now, but we have a new couch on order that is scheduled for delivery rather soon.

I'm VERY upset that I spent so much money on JUNK, when I spent less than half as much and got a high quality product that lasted a very long time. Both were purchased from different small-chain local furniture stores with only 4 or 5 locations, so it has nothing to do with big-store/small-store differences.
posted by tckma at 2:18 PM on February 28, 2014

I can vouch for the As Seen On TV doodad. We have it in our hand-me-down armchair and it is awesome!
posted by sleepykitties at 8:45 PM on February 28, 2014

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