When Is It Green to Replace an Appliance?

Upgrading or replacing an appliance usually means getting rid of your old one. The new appliance will use far less energy—therefore representing an environmental benefit, not to mention saving you hundreds of dollars in utility and maintenance costs. However, you’ll also be producing waste by discarding the old unit. So when is it “green” to replace an appliance? In other words, when is the right time to replace an older kitchen appliance

Age and Average Lifespans

First, you’ll need to think about how long you’ve had this appliance, or how long it’s been working, and how long you can generally expect an appliance like this to last. For example, most refrigerators last an average of 12 years. If your refrigerator is more than 12 years old but still functioning normally, you can consider yourself lucky. Dishwashers can last up to 10 years, and ranges can last up to 20 years (with the right care). 

Age shouldn’t be your only determining factor, of course; while averages can help us estimate how long our appliances “should” run, they’re only estimates. Even though refrigerators should last 12 years, some will stop working efficiently after just a few years, and others could run for another decade past their life expectancy

That said, unless your appliance is damaged beyond repair, you shouldn’t think about replacing or upgrading an appliance if it’s just a few years old. The latest models might boast interesting features or advantages over your current model, but if your model is working properly and relatively new, there’s no good reason to replace it. 

Energy Efficiency

You’ll also need to think about the energy efficiency of your appliance, and whether a new model will provide you a substantial benefit in terms of energy reduction and cost savings. Most appliances designed and manufactured within the last 10 years were built with energy efficiency in mind. They offer a substantial leap forward in terms of environmental friendliness and utility savings, when compared to their decades-old counterparts. For this reason alone, it’s a reasonable decision to upgrade almost any appliance made pre-2000. 

Energy efficiency standards keep improving, as well. Each year, appliance models that are even more efficient emerge for consumers to purchase. However, this doesn’t mean you should upgrade every year to get the latest efficiency standards; oftentimes, these measures of progress are incremental, and will hardly be noticeable to a consumer. For example, upgrading a refrigerator from 1985 to one from 2015 might save you $500 a year on electricity costs, but upgrading one from 2015 to 2016 might only save you $25 a year—hardly worth the cost of upgrading, and certainly not worth the additional waste. 

Issues and Repairs

Most people begin to think about replacing an appliance when it begins to have issues with performance. Your refrigerator may not be able to maintain a reasonable temperature. Your range stove might have trouble heating consistently. Your dishwasher may not be cleaning your dishes as thoroughly as it used to, or may leave behind an unpleasant odor. All appliances will eventually have issues; the question is, which issues are worth ignoring, which are worth repairing, and which are worth abandoning the appliance over? 

This is something of a subjective question, and one that a skilled mechanic will be able to help you answer. Typically, the “green” answer is to, when possible, repair an issue, rather than replace a unit. If a $30 part can keep your refrigerator operating for another few years, you’ll produce less waste and save yourself some money. However, if your refrigerator is on its last legs and you’re looking at $200 in repairs to keep it going, a new refrigerator may be the more energy-efficient and cost-efficient decision. 

Combining Multiple Factors

There isn’t a single factor that tells you when it’s officially “green” to replace an appliance. Instead, you’ll have to weigh several factors against each other, and consider the context of your situation. Is your appliance approaching or long past the average life expectancy for a product of its type? Are you having any efficiency or performance issues that can’t be easily repaired? Are its efficiency standards easily outclassed by the products available on the market today? 

The bottom line here is that you shouldn’t replace an appliance that’s both recently made and working relatively well, but most other appliances can be considered potentially replaceable. Even though replacing an appliance will result in the production of bulky waste in the short-term, many components of old appliances can be recycled. On top of that, your new unit will use much less energy, greatly reducing your environmental impact (especially over the long term), and lowering your utility costs in the meantime. 

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