Replace broken

When to replace old appliances and how to do it responsibly


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

These aren’t those times when home improvement projects suggest appliance upgrades to match color schemes or modern styles. These incidents likely mean replacing working devices when we don’t. need to replace them. With renovations and upgrades, we at least have the option of selling them for bargains rather than throwing them away.

But, the embodied energy (the energy invested in its production) from the unnecessary replacement of a major functional appliance is unlikely to be recouped for the energy saved by using a brand new Energy Star model. In other words, the energy used to make a new washing machine will not soon compensate for the energy consumed to use an inefficient one until it no longer works.

In short, it is better to buy good devices at the start and use them as long as possible. So when do you replace an old device? And, assuming it’s completely put away, how do you handle disposing of that old dishwasher responsibly?

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Know the life expectancy: 10-20 years

Most of the major appliances we buy should last between 10 and 20 years. This includes washers, dryers, refrigerators, freezers, water heaters, ranges, and HVAC units. Air conditioners and separate furnaces/boilers should also last at least as long. A well-maintained device can last even longer.

Small appliances, such as microwaves, toasters, and garbage disposals, tend to have shorter lifespans, something close to 10 years. The same can be said for vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and blenders. These items can start to wear out within a decade. Depending on their use, they can last much longer.

When a device has reached these age ranges, it does not mean that it should run out and be replaced. If it still does the job, it’s best to keep it. If, however, it starts to malfunction, it’s time to take action.

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Due Diligence: Should it be replaced?

We wouldn’t sacrifice a car because it needs new tyres. We wouldn’t change houses because the old one needs repainting or some boards need replacing. Well, we should keep that kind of mindset with our devices as well. We don’t always have to buy 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 changed. For example, was the refrigerator temperature set by mistake and that is why it is not cold? Has the washing machine’s default cycle been moved? Did the ice maker just get turned off somehow? Maybe the problem is just a fluke.
  • Step 2: DIY on this thing. Knowing that the device may need to be replaced, now is not the time to be afraid to experiment with your DIY skills. Maybe the filter in this dishwasher just needs replacing, or maybe the coils in the back of the fridge need cleaning. Look for simple solutions first. Sometimes a good maintenance cleaning is a tip for another year of service.
  • Step 3: Call in the pros. If the device cannot be repaired by yourself, it is not a bad idea to call in the pros. Look for specialists who work on this specific type of device. Sometimes the problem is trivial and easily solved by someone who knows what they are looking at. The general rule here is that if the device can be repaired for less than half the price of a new one, have it repaired.

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Buy new devices and manage old ones

A little research is worth it, and spending a little more for quality and efficiency also counts for something. Go for something reliable rather than super technical or sleek, and since we’re getting it new, we better opt for the energy-efficient models to boot. Now is the time to get it right.

Or another, much more environmentally friendly option would be to look for a high-quality, energy-efficient second-hand device to replace the broken one. Many people won’t worry about embodied energy or saving a few pennies, so there are plenty of good used devices out there for serious savings and years of service.

Now, what to do with the old broken device: Recycle it. Working devices should be sold or donated, but many broken devices can be recycled.

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