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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.