Should You Replace Your Appliances? The Truth on Energy Efficiency

A washing machine with cash sitting in one of its drawers.

When my parents replaced their 1980’s model air conditioner, they experienced a 50% drop in their monthly electricity bill. Such stories amaze me as they prove how far energy-conscious product engineering has come in the past few decades, and as a quick trip to any appliance store can prove, the number of earth friendly options now on the market is growing everyday. National boards and organizations routinely release studies naming how long one should hold on to an appliance before it begins to lose effectiveness, but when should we replace a product in the name of energy efficiency? This article will detail some of the most common household appliances used today and explore how frequently they should be updated for the sake of energy conservation.


An open fridge with food and woman standing in front of it.

According to a study released by the National Association of Home Builders, a typical refrigerator is meant to last anywhere from 6-15 years. Now that is a wide range of time, but it's meant to take into account independent factors such as frequency of use and even the temperature at which the device is held. As a new unit can cost from $800 to over $1,000, should an issue arise it's often recommended that an attempt be made to repair a refrigerator before springing for a full replacement (though this of course depends on the severity of the issue at hand).

In regards to energy efficiency, one source claims an Energy Star branded refrigerator can save up to 90% of electricity. This is apparently possible thanks to greatly improved manufactured insulation that enhances the cold effect generated from the unit’s motors, as well as more efficient compressors and control devices. Finally, the make and model of the refrigerator itself tends to also work toward or against an energy conscious goal and is something that must be considered before a purchase is made. As an example, where the freezer is located on the box itself matters. The Natural Resources Defense Council explains that freezers on the top of a unit use 10-15% less power than the reverse.

So, should you rush out this weekend to replace your refrigerator? NO -- although an energy efficient model can save up to 90% in energy, the sticker price at the point of sale is still very high. On the other hand, if your current model is on the fritz, I say an energy conscious refrigerator is most definitely the way to go.


A dishwasher slightly open with a hand choosing a setting.

A dishwasher holds many similarities to a washing machine in that it firstly holds a life expectancy of around 8 to 10 years. Beginning at $400, the look and feel of the newly designed models still hold many attributes in common with their predecessors. Though there isn’t that much one can do with the exterior of an under-the-counter dishwasher, the insides and machine’s trademark abilities have improved with time for the better.

A traditional dishwasher uses quite a lot of hot water (10 gallons actually), and unlike most household appliances, a dishwasher gets used most frequently. According to, an eco-friendly machine can save about $35 per year on utility costs, and with technologies like soil sensors and improved water filtration, more and more people are turning to the new models of dishwashers to decrease their home's environmental footprint.

Should you replace it? NO -- it is true having an eco-positive dishwasher will decrease some cost and waste, but if considering a replacement for the sake of going green, the impact will not be enough to get your money's worth. In my opinion, the 25% improvement in energy effectiveness is not enough at this time to replace an automatic dishwasher.

Washing Machine

A washing machine with clothes tumbling out.

When compared to a refrigerator, the purchase of a washing machine is far less strenuous on the wallet. Some major department stores have the machines on sale for as little as $400. Further, as the working life of a washing machine tends to beat many other large household appliances (9-12 years in some cases), this investment is certainly an easier one to attain.

From the perspective of energy efficiency, over the past 20 years engineers have been able to construct the machine to use less and less natural resources per-wash. On their website, the NRDC explains that the many modern options of washing machine construction (meaning top vs. front loading) present new options to the consumer in respect to energy effectiveness. As a front-loading washing machine technically uses the least water possible (the clothes are not fully immersed in water during a cycle) experts say it trumps all in terms of eco-friendliness, though things like cycle speed and loads per day can level the playing field. In all, it is said an Energy Star washing machine can use up to 50% less energy than traditional models, and also more than half of the water otherwise used.

Should you replace it? YES -- as a homeowner, if I were to replace any of my household appliances for the sake of eco-friendliness I would most definitely start with this one. It is a relatively low investment compared to other large appliances, and the effectiveness of its savings is well documented.