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Woman Starting Dishwasher

January is the month of fresh starts and big changes. We’re going to stop that bad habit and (we swear), lose those extra pounds. But here’s something else we may want to consider as the new year unfolds: whether to kill or keep our current appliances.

Unless you outfitted your bathtubs with 18k gold fixtures, appliances are likely the largest single household expenditures you’ll make. It’s why we wait until all hope of repair is lost before buying anew. But sometimes there’s a case to be made for replacing appliances even if they haven’t departed for the great showroom in the sky.

That’s because appliances account for about 13% of our electricity usage and are typically our homes’ biggest power guzzlers. But thanks to advances in technology, newer models often use significantly less energy than older models, and the savings can add up fast.

That sometimes makes an upgrade worth the cost. The decision rests on several factors: the age of your existing model, the efficiency of the chosen replacement, how often you use the appliance, and your utility costs. Here’s some general advice:

Refrigerators and freezers have seen dramatic leaps in efficiency in the last 25 years. Since 1990, average energy consumption has dropped over 50%, and in September 2014 new standards reduced it by another 20-25%. Since refrigerators are responsible for one-sixth of your power bill, such improvements can make a big financial difference. In fact, a fridge bought today will cost roughly 66% less to operate than a fridge from 1990. If your refrigerator is 20 years old, an upgrade may pay for itself. Even some 10-year-old units may be worth an upgrade depending on the models in question.

Dishwashers have also seen great strides in efficiency. Models made before 1994 cost $40 per year more to operate and use about 10 gallons of water more per cycle than today’s. New model dishwashers also clean more effectively, which means additional savings reaped by not having to pre-rinse dishes in the sink. Upgrading may make sense, especially to a model that lacks a drying coil and/or if use your dishwasher frequently.

Washing machines do around 300 loads a year in the average home, and these appliances, too, have come a long way from the 1990s. Machines manufactured before 1998 are much less efficient than new models where both power and water are concerned. But the Energy Department says that even families with washers that are 10 years old can benefit from an upgrade, especially if they choose an Energy Star model, which will use 20% less energy and 35% less water than a regular washer. The best options are usually front-loaders, which use minimum resources and spin faster to save on drying.

Dryers haven’t changed much in the last few decades although Energy Star models will use about 20% less electricity than regular machines thanks to technologies like moisture sensing. Still, it’s unlikely an upgrade will pay for itself through savings. Better to keep the lint trap clean to boost drying and use on lower heat settings for longer times, which saves energy.

Air conditioners were subject to new standards in June 2014 that reduced their energy needs by about 11% over 2000 guidelines. Energy Star models use about 15% less than that on average. If your A/C is 10 years old or older and you pick an Energy Star replacement, you might see enough savings to make the exercise worthwhile. But your own energy may be better spent servicing your existing unit, insulating your house, installing window shades, etc. to keep things cooler in the first place.

Geoff the Inkslinger and his Dog

The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!