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Ice cream is melting in your freezer. Your oven won’t heat up. Your dryer stops spinning. If any of these machine breakdowns has happened more than once, you’re probably weighing the options of what to do—appliance repair or replace?
Major home appliances can be major expenses, and it can be stressful when the time comes to repair or replace appliances. For instance, a high-end, side-by-side refrigerator/freezer or a gourmet cooktop can run upwards of $2,000, according to Improvenet, a site for locating and getting estimates for home improvement services. Like any cost-conscious consumer, you probably want to extend the life of your appliances as long as possible and choose the best time to replace them.
Deciding if it’s time to repair or replace appliances can be difficult, but there are some general guidelines to help you. Answering these five questions may reveal which option is right for you:
Royce Palmer, president of Columbia Appliance, a retailer in Columbia, Missouri, says you should consider replacing an appliance if the cost to repair it is more than 50 percent of the cost of a new one. The cost and availability of replacement parts is also an important consideration when deciding whether to repair or replace appliances.
“There are times that you have no choice but to replace because the part that is defective is no longer produced,” Palmer says.
But the cost and logistics of installing a new appliance also need to be factored in, says Anthony Arroyo, owner of the repair shop Mr. Appliance of the Tri-Cities in Gray, Tennessee. He says an appliance repair might still be a good option, “as long as it’s a little bit cheaper than a new one,” and if it means avoiding the complex installation of a built-in appliance.
If your machine experiences what Arroyo calls a “catastrophic failure,” requiring huge expenditures in parts and labor to fix, then it’s off to the appliance store you go for a new purchase.
You should consider replacing an appliance if the cost to repair it is more than 50 percent of the cost of a new one.
If you’re deciding when to replace appliances, you can apply the 50 percent rule to the age of your appliances as well as the cost of repairing them, according to HouseLogic, a website of the National Association of Realtors. That would mean replacing an appliance that is more than halfway through its expected life span and requires repair work that’s more than half its original cost. If you go the repair route and are all about the DIY craze, consider that there are some home repairs you should never do yourself.
If you’re considering when to replace appliances, use the average life span as a good reference point. According to HouseLogic, the average life span (in years) of common major household appliances is:
“The life span of household appliances varies based on their usage and maintenance,” says Chris Granger, vice president and general manager of Sears Home Services. “For example, a single person’s washing machine will typically last longer than a family’s because it will be used much less.”
When considering an appliance repair or replace, also note whether the appliance is still under warranty and how many times you’ve run into trouble with it. If the appliance is less than a year old, it probably still has a warranty covering parts and labor, so getting it repaired could cost you nothing.
Even if the warranty has expired, you may not want to ditch an appliance the first time something goes wrong. But if the appliance has broken down repeatedly, creating several repair bills over the last few years, it may be time to part ways and consider a replacement.
Energy costs are another important factor when deciding whether to repair or replace appliances. If your old appliance has a lower energy-efficiency rating than new models, you might save more money in the long run by switching it out. That bright yellow and black EnergyGuide label attached to all appliances on the sales floor is a useful tool for estimating how much an appliance will cost to operate.
An Energy Star label certifies that the appliance has met an international standard of superior energy efficiency created by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Energy Star-approved clothes washers and refrigerators, for example, use about 20 percent less energy than standard models, according to the Department of Energy.
You may be able to put off an appliance repair or replace by adopting a few good maintenance practices.
“On a clothes dryer, for instance, one should check the exhaust vent probably at least once a year, just to make sure the air is flowing properly,” says Palmer of Columbia Appliance. “If they do that, it’s probably going to prolong the life of the dryer.”
Another tip, from Arroyo, is to periodically vacuum your refrigerator condenser coils—located either in the back or across the bottom of the refrigerator—to remove the dust and other debris that can cause the unit to use more electricity to keep cool.
Cleaning your range top and oven is also important if you’re trying to avoid an appliance repair or replace, Granger says.
“Keep the range top burner areas free of food debris so you do not block the flow of gas,” he says. “Clean the oven cavity per the manufacturer’s recommended method, adjusting the frequency based on your usage.”
Running your dishwasher regularly and not overloading your washer and dryer will help those appliances last longer, Granger adds.
Style preference is a final, and totally personal, point in determining when to replace appliances. If you want a uniform look in your kitchen, you may view your old dishwasher breaking as a signal to get a new one that matches the color and style of the refrigerator you bought a few months ago.
For customers who like coordination, Palmer advises replacing everything at once. If not, “by the time you decide to replace the other items the design may already be changed,” he says.
The choice to repair or replace appliances is up to you, but checking this list before you decide may help ensure you spend your money wisely and get the results you value most.
So you don’t find yourself in a crunch if an appliance repair or replace catches you by surprise, build up an emergency fund in your online savings account so you’ll be prepared to either fix the old or invest in the brand new.
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