If you plan to stay in your home for another 10 to 15 years, it may be worthwhile to upgrade to the latest efficient appliance. Image: George Doyle/Getty Images
When your refrigerator, dishwasher, or washing machine act out, you may feel torn about whether to call a technician or junk the unit in favor of something new. In times of plenty, it’s easy to convince yourself that a product requires replacement when all it really needs is a minor repair. But today, your more prudent self may be scrutinizing every financial decision. Conversely, the cost of repair can be a case of throwing away good money that could be better spent on a more energy-efficient model.
Use these six guidelines to home in on the smart choice for you the next time your appliances behave badly.
1. Still under warranty?
Here’s the simple part. Check the owner’s manual and your records to see if the unit is still under warranty. If so, schedule a service call with an authorized technician.
Warranties vary widely between manufacturers, appliances, even retailers. Most cover parts and labor for a specified time, followed by a period of just parts. If you purchased an extended warranty from the retailer, examine that document as well.
2. No longer under warranty—how old is it?
The closer an appliance is to the end of its average useful life, the wiser it is to replace rather than repair, says Jill A. Notini, vice president of communications for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Average Useful Life is the typical age at which an appliance needs to be replaced because it dies or proves too costly to repair.
Given that most refrigerators last an average of 14 years, it may not be financially prudent to repair a 12-year-old model. Conversely, it might make sense to fix an 8-year-old built-in oven knowing that generally, it should last 16 years.
3. The 50% rule
For appliances that are no longer under warranty but still in the prime of their useful life, consider the 50% rule. If the cost of the repair will be more than half the price of a comparable replacement, it’s generally wise to replace it, says Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports magazine. The rationale? For the price of the repair and one future repair, you can enjoy a more reliable new machine.
To help make your decision, get a repair estimate. Service calls come with a price whether or not the appliance gets fixed, so factor that into your decision. Angie’s List pegs the average cost of an appliance service call at $60 to $100, not counting the repair itself. Many service providers will deduct these charges if they’re hired to complete the repairs. If you decide to go ahead with the repair, expect additional service visits to complete the process.
4. Can you fix it yourself?
Because labor accounts for more than half the cost of a typical repair, you can save big by tackling jobs yourself. Numerous online resources can help diagnose and fix common appliance ailments. Many of these same sites also maintain databases of owner’s manuals while connecting appliance owners with reputable parts suppliers.
The downside? You risk causing additional damage to machines if you’re not the handy person you thought you were. Worse, there’s the danger of physical harm. And self-help repairs often nullify warranties.
5. Factor in future energy and water savings
Present-day appliances are so much more energy and water efficient than previous models that it can be fiscally wise to upgrade rather than repair. A modern refrigerator uses roughly half the electricity of its 20-year-old predecessor, says Notini. New dishwashers get plates every bit as clean as older machines while using a fraction of the water and energy.
But replacing an aging appliance with a new highly efficient one still requires some evaluation. “If you intend to stay in your home for another 10 to 15 years, it may be worthwhile to upgrade to the latest efficient model, Notini says. If you’re planning a move soon, it may be smarter to repair it and pass it on to the next homeowner.
6. Take into account hidden costs
There’s more to the cost of replacing an appliance than the price of the new machine. If you have built-in cook-tops and refrigerators, you may face costly modifications to countertops and cabinetry when you replace, says Lora C. Donoghue, a kitchen designer in Charlotte, N.C. Even so-called standard-size machines may not fit into the same space as your previous model as standards continue to evolve.
Or the placement of water connections and power outlets may differ. And switching from an electric range to gas can involve a costly visit from the plumber or utility company. Likewise, upgrading from an older gas range to a newer one with electronic features may require the installation of a new wall outlet.
Although these guidelines can help you make an orderly fiscal decision, you may find that your enjoyment of a new unit—perhaps your dream appliance is on sale—simply trumps everything else.
Douglas Trattner has covered household appliances and home improvement for HGTV.com, DIYNetworks, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. During the 10-year stewardship of his 1925 Colonial, he’s upgraded almost every appliance. After a lengthy deliberation, he recently replaced an aging top-load washing machine with an energy-efficient front-load variety.