The Best Time To Fix Or Replace Your Appliances

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Major appliances are major investments, and when they don't work properly, you are faced with the decision of replacing versus repairing.

How do you know which alternative you should choose? If your appliance is still under warranty then your decision is an easy one, but if not, you will have to weigh your options.

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether or not to replace an appliance. The cost of repair, the energy efficiency of the appliance, your budget and your needs must all be considered.

Life Expectancy Of Common Appliances

While there are many variations in life span of appliances, the National Association of House Builders presents the following figures for major appliances:

  • Air Conditioner - 10 years
  • Dishwasher - 10 years
  • Dryer - 14 years
  • Washing Machine - 13 years
  • Electric Range - 17 years
  • Gas Range - 19 years
  • Garbage Disposer - 10 years
  • Microwave - 11 years
  • Refrigerator - 14 to 17 years
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Generally, the more advanced the technology, the more moving parts or the more "bells and whistles" an appliance has, the shorter its functional lifespan is likely to be.

How Much Will Repair Cost?

Cost of repair is the major issue to consider. According to Consumer Reports, if it will cost 50% or more of the cost of a new appliance to repair your older machine, it rarely makes sense to do the repair. And even a recent machine may be better off replaced if newer, more energy efficient machines will make up the difference with reduced energy costs.

Refrigerators

A new refrigerator can consume 75% less energy than a fridge built 20 or more years ago, and today's unit is even more efficient than a fridge from just seven years back. Combined with rebates available from many electricity providers, it will almost always make sense to replace a refrigerator that is more than ten years old.

Aside from age, your refrigerator is asking for replacement if:

  • The motor is running continuously.
  • The rubber seal around the door is worn out, and condensation appears inside the doorframe.
  • The machine is generating noticeable heat from the back or sides.
  • The temperature does not stay cold enough to keep your food fresh.
  • You have a freezer compartment that requires manual defrosting.

Dishwashers

A new Energy Star qualified dishwasher uses an average of eight gallons of water less per cycle than a dishwasher built prior to 1994. That difference adds up to around $40 less per year on your water bill.

Signs that it is time to shop for a new dishwasher include:

  • The door latch doesn't secure properly, keeping the machine from working.
  • Water is left in the bottom of the unit after use.
  • The bottom of the dishwasher is rusting.
  • There is a crack in the dishwasher's shell.
  • The water doesn't get hot.

Laundry

As with other major appliances, the newer your laundry machines, the more energy efficient they are likely to be. If your washer and dryer are more than ten years old, you are likely better off replacing them with new energy efficient models.

When shopping for a new washer, look for an Energy Star qualified unit to save around $550 over the course of its lifetime, as compared to a machine from 1994 or earlier.

Front-loading washers use a fraction of the water that an older top-loader consumes, making a difference of around 7,000 gallons of water per year. That's a big savings on your water bill.

Dryers are not Energy Star rated, as they all use around the same amount of energy, but newer machines have sensors in the drum that detect moisture and shut the dryer off when clothes are dry.

Beyond old age, it's probably time to upgrade your laundry room when:

  • The motor in your washer or dryer is not working properly.
  • There is a crack in the washer tub.
  • The dryer is taking an excessively long time to dry, and you have cleaned out the hoses.
  • Your washer is not filling with water, or not heating water.

Air Conditioners

Approximately 5% of the electricity generated in the United States is used to air condition buildings. You can lower your own utility bills by at least 20% by upgrading to an air conditioner that is less than ten years old and Energy Star qualified.

Air conditioners are rated with Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) as an indicator of efficiency. The higher the SEER, the more energy-efficient the air conditioner is. Look for a machine with a SEER of at least 14 to see the biggest savings.

Think of replacing your older air conditioner when:

  • Your energy bills are getting higher to achieve the same level of cooling.
  • Your air conditioner is excessively noisy.
  • The unit is not cooling your home and is running continuously.

Maintenance Tips

Keep your appliances in good condition and avoid costly repairs with basic maintenance. Steps to take include:

  • Clean the filter and screens in your dishwasher periodically, and check for clogs, broken glass or food at the bottom of the unit.
  • Check washing machine hoses to be sure they are in good condition.
  • Check pockets for items that don't belong in the wash before loading the machine.
  • Clean lint filter in dryer after every use.
  • Clean dryer vent, hoses and filters periodically.
  • Vacuum the condenser coils on your refrigerator at least twice per year.
  • Don't use more laundry detergent than recommended in your washer.
  • Keep bushes trimmed back from your outdoor air conditioning condenser.
  • Protect your air conditioner from direct sunlight.

Replacing your major appliances can be a major blow to your budget. Keep your appliances in good condition longer by maintaining them properly, and when it is time to upgrade, switch to energy-efficient machines for significant savings on your utility bills.

Last Updated: December 19, 2011
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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