My Latest Eco-Dilemma: Fix What’s Old or Buy New?

Ginny Figlar Colón by Ginny Figlar Colón | January 25th, 2012 | 5 Comments
topic: Green Living

DryerApparently I have upset the appliance gods. Right before the holidays, the dryer stopped drying anything. And then right after the holidays, the refrigerator started freezing everything.

December turned into one costly month budget-wise. And what about Earth-wise? You’d think that fixing something old would be automatically better than buying something new. But, actually, when it comes to the life cycle analysis of most appliances — or their cradle-to-grave environmental impact — it turns out it’s the use of an appliance that has the biggest impact. Which means if your refrigerator is a shade of ‘70s avocado, you’ll step lighter on the planet if you embrace the energy efficiency of the 21st Century.

While there are a lot of variables to consider, here are some tips to help you decide whether to repair a broken appliance or replace it:

  • Find out how much of an energy- and water-guzzler you have on your hands and compare that to a new model with online calculators from Consumer Reports Greener Choices.
  • If your appliance is nearing the end of its average life expectancy (17 years for refrigerators and 14 years for dryers and hot water heaters, according to the Seattle City Light Conservation), it’s probably best to switch it out. Today’s refrigerators, for example, use half the energy of 10-year-old models.
  • A simple rule of thumb: If the repair will cost more than half the price of a new, more efficient model, it may be time to do some shopping, says Green Living magazine.
  • If you end up replacing an appliance, be sure to recycle the old one.

For us, the course of action was clear. The dryer had been damaging our clothes since we inherited it with the house, and it was at least 15 years old. This latest problem was just the writing on the wall that we needed to convince us to finally get a new one. We got the highest energy rating we could find on appliances within our price range. But, with the 5-year-old fridge, a $125 repair did the trick.

Hopefully our choices made the Earth — and the appliance gods — happy.

Learn more ways to green your home with Danny Seo’s Simple Steps to a Greener Home video on


  1. [...] I was reading a blog post today that made me think about how some might be taking the concept far enough that it does more harm [...]

    Questioning Wisdom About Fixing Old Things for Reuse | December 18th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  2. For recycled high-end appliances, I found a professional range for less than $1000. from Green Demolitions. This range new would have been well over $4000. Green Demolitions: Recycling Luxury for Recovery is a non-profit organization that provides recycled luxury kitchens and baths at 50-70 percent off new retail prices. The appliances and fixtures are donated from estates that are demolished and renovated. To even sweeten the pot, the proceeds of the sale go directly to their organization that is an “entrepreneurial charitable enterprise” that supports outreach programs for AAA (All Addicts Anonymous).
    Here’s an article about my stove:

    Ronnie | December 21st, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  3. Hi Ginny! Do you remember me from the J-School at CU? We didn’t know one another well, but I recognize your name as a fellow blogger here at Gaiam. I’ve been frustrated with the apparent inability even to choose to repair my computer printer that is currently misbehaving. We called Hewlett-Packard to try to find a place to service it here in Boulder, but we were told simply to buy a new one, that there really are not sanctioned repair locations to work on it. And even if there were, I’m sure that as with cameras, the repair cost is usually so close to what it would be to purchase a new one that it hardly makes sense. Yet there is an increasing problem with discarded electronics. Reading your post, though, gives me some perspective on what do about my dishwasher, which I think we will be smartest to replace rather than repair, given its age and poor quality. Fun to run into you here!

    Wendy Redal | December 22nd, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  4. With december approaching, I think a great live lean trick is to talk to the family ahead of time and get gift giving under control.

    Rich | September 22nd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. With appliances I usually say try to fix them except when they are more than 10 years old then it is time to replace. I mainly say this because a lot of the older appliances do not have high energy ratings so it is probably greener to get a new one.

    Eco Handyman | May 15th, 2013 | Comment Permalink

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