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Return on Your Money: Repairing Versus Replacing Appliances

As homeowners with endless bills to pay, our tendency is to buy an appliance and keep it running as long as possible. Repairing an old, faulty appliance may seem like the cheaper option, but this may not be the greatest strategy when we think about energy efficiency.

A key reason electric bills are so high is because old, inefficient appliances eat up more energy than they are worth. In most homes, the air conditioner uses the most energy, followed closely by the refrigerator, according to the Department of Energy.

Swapping out a side-by-side refrigerator purchased between 1993 and 2000 with a more efficient and newer model could save $80 in energy costs per year according to the ENERGY STAR Flip Your Fridge calculator. Multiply that times the average life expectancy of a refrigerator (14 years), and that equals $1,120 in energy savings.

“Knowing how much energy your appliances use annually can be a great money saver, especially for those that cost you the most to run” says Erin Hollinshead, executive director of the Energy Education Council. “You can then make smart decisions on whether it would cost less to keep an old appliance running or buy a newer, more efficient one.”

To figure out how much energy your appliances use without purchasing energy consumption tracking devices or using a smart plug, look for an online calculator or check the energy efficiency label. The amount of energy typically used per year is listed in kilowatt hours. To translate energy use to annual energy costs, check your utility bill to find out the kilowatt-per-hour rate. Then multiply this rate by the number of kilowatt hours your appliance uses per year to figure annual energy expense.

“People often forget that over the life span of most appliances, the cost to operate them is far more than the initial purchase price,” says Hollinshead. “Therefore, using more energy-efficient appliances is almost always the wisest choice, even if the initial prices seem daunting.”

If your appliance is nearing the end of its life, it’s time to consider repairing versus replacing. Here is the typical life span of major appliances (assuming proper maintenance):

  • Range – 10+ years
  • Furnace – 15 years
  • Washing machine – 5 to 7 years
  • Dryer – 7 to 12 years
  • Refrigerator – 7 years
  • Microwave – 6 years
  • Air conditioner – 12 to 17 years or more
  • Dishwasher – 7 years

As a result of continual improvements made by appliance manufacturers, newer versions often use less electricity and have more operational features.

For example, newer refrigerators not only use less energy, some offer energy conservation features like snack drawers or special doors that expose only part of the fridge when reaching for favorite cold items.

A new air conditioner is 20 to 40% more efficient than a unit installed 10 years earlier. Newer air conditioners feature automatic temperature adjustments, different air speed options, and increased circulation efficiency for consistent, even cooling.

A new washer and dryer can be significantly more energy efficient than older versions; it depends on the age and efficiency of your current pair. Newer units feature larger capacity (or specific capacity, such as the ability to run a very small load), better cleaning performance, quieter operation, preprogrammed cycles, less water waste, and automatic dryness sensors.

For more information, visit SafeElectricity.org.