September 22, 2014

Is it Time to Replace Your Old Appliances?

If you’ve been thinking about whether it is time to replace your aging appliances, or if you are wondering whether you could be saving the big bucks in energy costs if you had an all new suite of kitchen appliances,  Alina Tugend at the New York Times has some thoughts to share.

One of the first thoughts I have about replacing an older, working appliance that whether “besides the money, is this really a good idea environmentally, to get rid of an appliance that is operating just fine to buy another one, even if it does have better energy standards?”

“It takes energy to make a product,” said Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “You don’t want to replace perfectly good products.”

He gave his rule of thumb for refrigerators.

“If it’s avocado or brown-colored, it’s time to retire it,” he said. Refrigerators from the 1970s, the last time I believe those particular appliance colors were in vogue, use three to four times the power of today’s models.

A spokeswoman from the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Energy Star program along with the Department of Energy,says that, generally, any appliance over 15 years old probably should be put out to pasture. The good news is that about 80 percent of a refrigerator or a clothes washer is recyclable.

Getting rid of an old appliance “is not without some environmental impact, but because so much can be recycled and reused, if you have a guzzler, you’re better off sending it to the landfill,” said Jennifer Amann, a senior associate at the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Try to find a place that will pick up your old refrigerator for recycling, either the company you are buying your new one from or see if your state or local government has a recycling program.

Even if they are brought to the landfill, Ms. Amann says, most of the appliances’ parts are then recycled, because they take up too much space.

What environmentalists do not want you to do is place the old one in the garage to hold two six-packs of beer. If you really need it, Mr. Horowitz suggested, leave it unplugged until, say, holiday time when you need the extra space for those pumpkin pies.

And do not resell it. Retiring the energy-inefficient model is the best thing to do.

Clothes washers and dishwashers have pretty much the same criteria as refrigerators — they have become much more energy-efficient. So if yours is inching toward 15 years, consider replacing it.

For clothes washers, the new front-loader models use much less water and spin clothes dry much more thoroughly, so you are spending less time — and power — drying.

I also learned something interesting about washing dishes. Unless you are an extremely frugal hand dishwasher, you are certainly using more water hand-washing dishes than a dishwasher does, Ms. Amann said. And with a newer model, do not even pre-rinse by hand.

“A good dishwasher can use just four to seven gallons of water to wash a full load of dishes,” she said. If you do not have a full load, but are afraid the food will get stuck on, a good feature is rinse and hold, which uses less than a gallon of water.

 

Although clothes dryers are big energy suckers, there is not much that can be done to make them less wasteful. So just hang onto yours until it gives up the ghost. One good feature of newer models is a moisture sensor, so the dryer stops when clothes are dry.

The federal government does not issue Energy Stars for dryers, because there is not much difference in energy use among the models.

As we move toward summer, it is a good time to replace an ailing central air-conditioner. New federal standards just started two years ago. But if you are keeping your old one, check to see if the ducts are leaking. You can waste about 30 percent of energy through leaking ducts, Mr. Horowitz said.

Window-box air-conditioners  are inexpensive enough that it is worth swapping an old one for an Energy Star model. The more recent ones also have a thermostat that will shut off the air-conditioner when the room gets cool enough. Sometimes the local utility company will pick up old boxes through an “early retirement program.”

So if you are planning to use that window air conditioner to keep cool this summer, check its age.  You might want to add it to the list along with the new suite.