How do you know when it “pays” to replace a kitchen appliance? Conventional wisdom says wait until it stops working, or until it needs a repair that costs more than the unit is worth.
Efficient performance is the new holy grail, as more smart consumers make choices based on real-life operating cost, as well as features. Recently-built appliances by reliable US companies now can pay for themselves in energy and water savings in as little as 5 years. If your current models are older than 10, they could be costing you between $125-$150 per year in operating costs (verifiable with home energy monitor kits). That’s like paying for a $100+ repair every other year!
The appliance that uses the most energy in your home (air/water cooling and heating units aside) is the refrigerator. If yours is more than 10 years old, I can tell you that it’s likely costing you more in energy use annually than it is worth. Consider replacing it with a new Energy Star qualified model. And an old fridge operating in a non-insulated space – say a hot garage or damp basement corner – is an energy hog, because such locations can affect the unit’s compressor performance (and jack up energy usage) by an additional 15-40%.
Some great fridges are featured in the August 2009 issue of Consumer Reports. Because they do their own independent testing of units in real kitchen conditions, their results are a valued supplement to Energy Star performances tables. One of my favorite inexpensive top-freezer models is top rated—the Whirlpool ET1FTEXV. Whirlpool is the most reliable brand in terms of needing fewest historical repairs. For only $680, the Frigidaire FRT2156A is a great find – it’s unfortunately being discontinued along with the smaller FRT18S6A, but you may still find it in stores.
Refrigerators with bottom freezers can be very energy efficient. I like the Kenmore model manufactured by Whirlpool (go to Sears and ask a salesperson; make sure you don’t get sold an LG). If you see a French door model you like, take a good look at the refrigerated section latches. If they’re plastic and flimsy, you may want to go for a single door, if you have the necessary swing clearance. If you like side-by-sides, look for energy use under 600 kilowatt hours per year. Not many side-by-sides meet this criterion, but they’re worth looking for. Through-the-door ice/water dispensers lower energy efficiency and increase the likelihood of repair bills.
Dishwasher energy efficiency requirements just changed this month. New Energy Star rated models—which can be yours for as little as $500—use about one-third less electricity than the least efficient models now on the market. Models featuring computer board controls are significantly better performers in the long-run than old models. It is likely time to upgrade if you bought your dishwasher prior to 2004. Three winners in terms of performance and cost: the German-made Bosch SHE33MO ($600), Whirlpool GU2300XTV ($550), and the Kenmore 1389 ($500). These dishwasher brands are ranked highest for reliability, as well.
So is it time to treat your family to a new appliance? For $30-$50 you can buy a home energy use monitor and plug it into your old fridge or dishwasher. Run it for a month to find out what it’s actually costing you to operate per year. If you’re unpleasantly surprised, take heart – the sales are great this month. It may be that you can’t afford NOT to buy an inexpensive Energy Star model.