Curbing Your Consumption:
Repair or Replace?
By John Ford
When you bought an appliance a few decades ago, it was almost for
life. They were built for heavy domestic use, and parts were easily
replaceable. Not so true today.
When an appliance stops working the way it should, there is a
temptation to order a new one, and send the old one to landfill.
Don't be too hasty. There are some questions to ask first. Can the
appliance be repaired? Does it make sense from an economic view to
repair or replace, and can I recoup those costs from the reduced
energy consumption? What is the effect on the planet?
In a previous column I looked at the increased efficiency of
appliances as sold in the last few decades, and the loss of efficiency
over the years of use, such as the failure of refrigerator insulation
and seals. But the quality has declined. More products use fewer
durable steel parts, and more plastic parts. A dishwasher today may
have few servicable parts, and may be a throw-away item.
Most new refrigerators and freezers will earn their keep with energy
efficiency in only a few years. However, their lifespan can be as
little as a quarter of the appliance they replace.
The new front-loading washing machines are now available in a range of
quality price points, from equal to the cost of top-loaders, to over
four times the cost. They are incredibly more efficient – both
in energy and water use – and spin at a high enough speed to
almost eliminate the use of a dryer. The change from top to front
loading may be well worth the replacement costs.
Except for the whiz-bang timers and electronics in a new stove/oven,
the new ones still work the same way, the efficiency is virtually the
same, but the quality is lacking. I have also mentioned before that I
listen to CBC's appliance repair call-in with
He mentioned again just recently that new stoves are built just to
reheat food, and he sees them fail when used for heavy use such as all
day canning projects. Parts are still available to repair older
stoves, which is very economic, and can easily be a DIY project.
There are also other considerations for replacement. When my fridge
was replaced a few years ago, I had to measure the exact height front
and back to ensure it would fit in the space. It slid in with just 1
mm of clearance on top. Wouldn't it be nice to have your appliances
re-furbished with the latest high-efficiency innards so that little or
nothing was sent to landfill? While it might seem more costly to do
this, wouldn't it be cheaper in the long run?
What we really need are form factor standards for appliances, which
use modular standard components. That way we get choice and value,
along with increased efficiency as the technology improves.
John Ford is a technology consultant, owner of a small energy
conservation business, and the Energy Advocate for the Green Party of