How to decide whether to repair or replace appliances

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What's the environmentally responsible thing to do-repair old appliances or replace them? Patty Kim of The Green Guide tells us how to decide if it's better to repair or replace appliances.

How to decide whether to repair or replace appliances

In general, if you can get it fixed, keeping a large appliance out of the landfill for another couple years might be the wiser environmental choice, even if the appliance is not the most energy efficient model.

However, from a price perspective, here's a good rule of thumb: If the cost to repair a household appliance is more than half the price of a new product, you're better off buying a new one. Advances in energy efficiency mean the newer machines will generally save you more money in the long run.

Here's what you need to know about your major appliances:

Refrigerator

  • If you need to repair an older fridge, it's probably worth getting a new one instead. New refrigerators consume up to 75% less energy than those made before 2001. Opt for a top-freezer model rather than a side-by-side, and make sure it's Energy Star-certified. It should then last about 14 years.

Dishwasher
  • Newer models use less hot water, have energy-efficient motors, and use sensors to determine the length of the wash cycle. Energy Star models are 25% more efficient than the minimum federal standards. Look for one with a "light wash" or "energy saving" cycle—and expect to hang onto it for about 9 years. (And here's something you might not know: It's better to use the dishwasher than to hand wash dishes in the sink. You'll generally use more hot water in the sink.)

Washing Machine
  • If there's any question about whether to repair or replace your washing machine, consider replacement first if you have a top-loading washer, even a newer one.
  • Top loaders use more water than new front-loading machines. Look for ones with the Energy Star label. It may cost more, but these models circulate clothes in a shallower pool of water, use less water and heat, and save you money in the long run.

Clothes Dryer
  • When the dryer breaks, fixing is probably better than ditching. A dryer’s average life cycle is about 13 years, and according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, as long as it has a moisture sensor -- most do-- it functions at about the same efficiency as current models. When it's time to buy a new dryer, look for one with the sensor in the drum, as opposed to in the exhaust vent as it will shut off a little sooner and save energy.

Note: Since dryers consume large amounts of energy, line drying or hanging your clothes on a rack is really the greenest option.

Hot Water Heater

  • If your unit is electric, you can cut energy use 50 percent by switching to a high-efficiency gas model. Older (more than 10 years old) gas systems probably deserve to be ditched. Though they generally last 25 years, they get much less energy efficient as tiem goes on.
  • Look for a "demand," or tank less, system, in which water is circulated through a large coil and heated only when needed. Although Energy Star doesn't certify these models, the government estimates that they use 45 to 60% less energy when compared to standard minimum efficiency heaters. And that will save you up to $1,800 a year.

 

Air Conditioning Units
  • When the air conditioning fails, ditch before you fix if the appliance is older than 10 years. That goes for both window units and central air conditioners. A newer, more efficient model quickly pays for itself in energy savings.

A final note: Remember that when you’re getting rid of old appliances, you need to know what your community requires for their disposal. Because of the coolants used, old window air conditioning units need to be disposed of in hazardous waste facilities. Contractors hired to install new central air conditioners usually dispose of the old units but always ask ahead of time.
Transcript Hi I’m Patty Kim from the Green Guide for howdini. As long as you got appliances in your home you’re eventually going to be faced with a choice. Something breaks, now what? In general if you can get it fixed, keep your refrigerator or washing machine out of the landfill for a couple extra years might be the wiser choice. Even if the appliance is not the most energy efficient model.

But from a price perspective, here is a god rule of thumb: if the cost to repair a household appliance is more the half the price of the new product, you are better off buying a new one. Because advances in energy efficiency mean the newer machines will generally save you more money in the long run. Let’s start with the refrigerator. If you need to make repairs on an older fridge, it’s probably worth getting a new one instead. New refrigerators consume up to seventy-five percent less energy then those made before 2001. When you buy a new fridge opt for a top freezer model rather then a side by side. And make sure that its Energy Star certified. A new refrigerator should then last you up to fourteen years.

Replacing older dishwashers is also a good idea. Newer models use less hot water, have energy efficient motors, and use sensors to determine the length of the wash cycle. Making energy star models twenty-five percent more efficient then the minimal federal standards. When you shop for a new dishwasher choose one with a light wash, or an energy saving cycle and expect to hang on to it for about nine years.

Here is something you might not know, its not a good idea to hand was your dishes as an alternative to running the dish washer. Because, you’ll generally use more hot water in the sink. When the dryer breaks fixing is probably better then ditching. A dryer’s average life cycle is about thirteen years, and as long as it has a moisture sensor, most of them do, it functions about the same efficiency as current models. When its time to buy a new dryer look for one with the sensor in the drum, opposed to in the exhaust vent. It will shut off a little sooner and save a little bit more energy. However, since dryers consume large amounts of energy live drying, or hanging your clothes on a rack is really the greenest option.

If there is any question whether to fix or ditch your washing machine, consider replacement first. Especially if you have a top-loading washer, top loaders use a lot more water then new front-loading machines. Look for one with the energy star label on the front, it might cost a little more but these models circulate a lot more in a shallower pool of water, use less water and heat, and save you money in the long run.

And now to the hot water heater, if your unit is electric you can probably cut down in energy use by about fifty percent just by switching to a high efficiency gas model. Now if you have already got a gas model your not in the clear just yet. It all depends on how old it is, because older gas systems might also have to be replaced. Because, although they generally last about twenty-five years, they get a lot less energy efficient as time wears on. So if your gas hot water heater is more then ten years old, it probably deserves to be ditched. What you want to do is look for a demand or tank less system. And all that means is that the water that’s circulating is going through a large coil and heated only when needed. Although Energy Star doesn’t certify these models, the government estimates they use up to sixty percent less energy when you compare them to the standard minimum efficiency heaters. And all that is going to save you some money, up to about eighteen hundred dolor’s a year.

You’ve seen what running your air-conditioner can do to your electric bill, so you know it’s using a lot of energy in the summer months. When the air-conditioning fails, if the appliance is older then ten years, ditch before you fix. And that goes for both window units and central air-conditioners. And a final note, remember when your getting rid of old appliance, you really need to know what your community requires for their disposal. Because of the coolants used old window air-conditioners need to be disposed of in hazardous waste facilities. Old central air-compressors are usually disposed of by the contractor hired to install the new one. And that’s something you can always ask ahead of time. I’m Patty Kim from the Green Guide for howdini.
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  • Patty Kim

    Patty Kim Correspondent, National Geographic's The Green Guide Patty Kim is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist. She is served as a host and anchor for National Geographic as well as reporting for the PBS television program “Nova Science Now.” more about this expert »

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