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As environmentally conscious and economically sensible consumers, we all eventually face the moment when we have to decide whether or not to retire an appliance.

This is not about those times when remodeling projects suggest appliance upgrades to match color schemes or modern stylings. These incidents likely mean replacing working appliances when we don’t need to replace them. With remodels and upgrades, we are at least left with the option of selling them for bargains rather than throwing them away.

But, the embodied energy (the energy put into producing it) of needlessly replacing a large, functional appliance will likely not be recovered for the energy saved using a brand new Energy Star model. In other words, the energy used to make a new washing machine will not soon counteract the energy consumed to use an inefficient one until it no longer works.

In short, it’s best to buy good appliances at the start and to use them as long as possible. So, when, then, do we replace an old appliance? And, assuming it’s completely tuckered out, how do you deal with trashing that old dishwasher responsibly?

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Knowing the Life Expectancy: 10-20 years

Most of the large appliances we buy should last somewhere between 10 and 20 years. This includes washers, dryers, fridges, freezers, water heaters, ranges, and HVAC units. Separate air conditioners and furnaces/boilers should also last at least this long. A well-maintained appliance can go even longer.

Smaller appliances, such as microwaves, toasters, and garbage disposals tend to have a shorter life span, something closer to 10 years. The same can be said for vacuums, hairdryers, and blenders. These items may start to wear out within a decade. Depending on how much they are used, they may last much longer.

When an appliance has reached these age brackets, that doesn’t mean we must run out and replace it. If it is still getting the job done, it’s best to keep it around. If, however, it starts to malfunction, then it’s time to take some action.

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Due Diligence: Does It Require Replacing?

We wouldn’t trash a car because it needs new tires. We wouldn’t change houses because the old one needs a paint job or some boards replaced. Well, we should keep this kind of mindset with our appliances as well. We don’t always have to get a new one. Sometimes we just need a new gasket or something simple.

  • Step 1: Is this a mistake? It’s good to check all the basics and make sure something hasn’t been changed. For example, has the temperature on the fridge been mistakenly adjusted, and that’s why it isn’t cold? Has the default cycle on the washing machine been moved? Has the ice maker just been somehow switched off? Maybe the issue is just a fluke.
  • Step 2: Get DIY on this thing. Knowing the appliance may have to be replaced, this is no time to fear getting experimental with your DIY skills. Maybe the filter on that dishwasher just needs to be replaced, or perhaps the coils on the back of the fridge need to be cleaned. Look for simple fixes first. Sometimes a good maintenance cleaning is a trick to another year of service.
  • Step 3: Call in the pros. If the appliance is beyond fixing on your own, then it’s not a bad idea to call in the pros. Look for specialists who work on that specific type of appliance. Sometimes the trouble is commonplace and easily remedied by someone who knows what they are looking at. The general rule here is that if the appliance can be repaired for less than half what a new one costs, then get it repaired.

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Buying New Appliances and Dealing with the Old Ones

A little research is worth it, and spending a bit more on quality and efficiency counts for something, too. Go for something reliable over super techy or stylish, and since we are getting it new, we best go in for the energy-efficient models to boot. Now is the time to do this right.

Or another option—much greener—would be to look for a high-quality, energy-efficient secondhand appliance to replace the broken one. Many people won’t worry about embodied energy or saving a few pennies, so there are lots of good secondhand appliances out there for serious savings and years of service.

Now, what to do with the old, broken appliance: Recycle it. Functioning appliances should be sold or donated, but many broken appliances can be recycled.

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