What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?

What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?Dear Lifehacker,
All my appliances work just fine, but they're not exactly new, and I'm worried their lack of efficiency might be affecting my electric bill. What old appliances are worth looking into an upgrade?

Sincerely,
Duct Tape Dryer

Photo remixed with J E Theriot.

Dear DTD,

Most appliances have made a lot of energy-saving leaps over the years, so you're in the right to consider replacing some of them. In fact, some smaller appliances, like old vacuum cleaners, put more dust into the air than new ones as well as being less efficient. It's estimated that on average, appliances account for 13 percent of your household's energy cost, so cutting the energy usage will often save you money in the long run.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the common household appliances that might be showing their age, and whether or not you may benefit from an upgrade or simply a little maintenance.

Air Conditioner

What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?Both central and room air conditioners are well known to suck energy in the summer. A room air conditioner's efficiency is rated by an energy efficiency ratio (EER). Where the higher the number the more efficient it is. Most modern retail air conditioners get a 10 EER rating, where older ones from the 1990s rate closer to an EER of 7. You can usually find your EER rating in your manual if you still have it or on a sticker on the side. If those are long gone, you can search the manufacturer's site to find it. The average cost of an Energy Star room air conditioner is $220. An Energy Star central air conditioner averages $3,400 (with installation).

Would maintenance accomplish the same goal? Maintenance can help an older air conditioner, but it won't keep the energy usage numbers as low as a modern one. However, replacing filters, cleaning coils, and managing ducts will all help to decrease your bill.

Potential yearly energy savings: $25-$85 depending on your current air conditioner. If your air conditioner is more than 20 years old, it's probably worth the upgrade.

Photo by Jeremy Hetzel.

Dishwasher

What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?Modern Energy Star dishwashers use an average of 5.8 gallons of water per cycle, while older ones can use as much as 10 gallons per cycle. The newer dishwashers are also a bit quieter and can clean better. The average cost of a new dishwasher is $550.

Would maintenance accomplish the same goal? If your dishwasher is only a few years old, it could. Cleaning the screens and filters can help the cleaning process a lot. You can also use a few tricks all the time. For instance, stop using the delay cycle, run full loads only, make sure your water temperature is at 130 degrees, and run hot water in the kitchen sink for a minute before running the dishwasher.

Potential yearly energy savings: Around $8 a year. Cleaning, maintaining, and practicing good dishwashing technique is a better route to take as long as your dishwasher is still functioning.

Photo by Jo Bourne.

Dryer

What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?Energy Star doesn't rate dryers because their efficiency has been about the same across the board for years and is dependent on the quality of the washing machine cycle that happens before the clothes are put in the dryer. The average cost of a new dryer is $550.

Would maintenance accomplish the same goal? Regular dryer maintenance will keep your dryer from breaking and heat clothes a little quicker, which can save you a little money. On top of cleaning the lint trap every load, vacuum out the area below the lint trap periodically as well. This can decrease the dry time, which will save you a few cents every month.

Potential yearly energy savings: $0. Don't replace a dryer until you absolutely have to.

Photo by Jeremiah.

Furnace

What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?For a typical, forced air furnace system, three different types exist: low-efficiency, mid-efficiency, and high-efficiency. Low-efficiency are categorized by a continuous pilot light, where mid and high efficiency use an electronic ignition. Higher efficiency models have ways to store and exchange heat that older or less efficient models don't have. The average cost of a Energy Star Furnace is $1,400.

Would maintenance accomplish the same goal? This one is tricky because it's not just about the furnace itself, it's also about the ducts that distribute the heat across the house. You can seal and insulate the ducts and get up 20 percent more efficiency out of an older furnace, but it won't get it anywhere near high-efficiency levels.

Potential yearly energy savings: Between $50-$100 a year, depending on how bad your old model is. If your ducts are poorly insulated, an upgrade might end up saving you a lot more if you get a new furnace and have your ducts repaired. If your ducts are in good shape and only the furnace needs upgrading, it's likely worth the upgrade for better efficiency and better heating.

Photo by Dwight Sipler.

Hot Water Heater

What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?Your water heater can amount to 14-25 percent of the appliance energy consumed in your home and new types of water heaters have been introduced that are much more efficient than older models. The average cost of a new hot water heater is between $300-$1,200 depending on the type of replacement.

Would maintenance accomplish the same goal?Unless you completely change the type of water heater you're using, yes. You can increase efficiency on an older water heater by insulating the outside of the tank. If you have a gas water heater, you should also drain a gallon from the valve on the bottom once a month to remove sediment.

Potential yearly energy savings: This is going to depend on a few things because there have been some significant advances in hot water heater production over the years. However, we'll assume you're replacing a gas water heater if it's old, so you have three options: gas storage, whole-home gas tankless, or gas condensing. A new gas water heater similar to what you already could save you around 30 percent a year, which could also be partially made up for by taking the maintenance tips above. Converting to a tankless or gas condensing water heater would save you about $100 a year.

Photo by JJ.

Refrigerator

What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?Refrigerators have seen big efficiency bumps since 2000 and the standard refrigerator now uses 40-60 percent less energy than models sold before then. That said, refrigerator's with the freezer on the top are more efficient than side-by-side models. The average cost of a new refrigerator is $1,100.

Would maintenance accomplish the same goal? No. The best you can do is ensure your current refrigerator is kept between 37 and 40 degrees. You can also make sure all foods and liquids are covered, because uncovered foods release moisture, which cause the compressor to kick on more often.

Potential yearly energy savings: If your fridge was originally made before or in the 1990s, you could save up to $100-$200 a year by upgrading, which is definitely worth it. If it was purchased in the last 10 years or so, the savings would be between about $5-$20 a year, which isn't worth the price.

Photo by Nelson Pavlosky.

Washing Machine

What Appliances Are Worth Upgrading?Older washing machines have a top-load feature, where the water fills up from the bottom, but new models have become more efficient by switching to the front load clothes washer, which uses around 50 percent less water and 37 percent less energy. The average price of a new Energy Star washing machine is $750.

Would maintenance accomplish the same goal? No. There's not much on the maintenance angle you can do to make a washing machine efficient.

Potential yearly energy savings: If your washer is over 10 years old or a top-load washer, you could save up to $135 a year on both water and electricity. It's likely worth the upgrade if you have a top-load, but not if you already have a front-load washer.

Photo by Fnogues.


In the end, it's about saving money on your electric bill. If your appliances die or the repair cost is more than 50 percent of buying a new one, it's always worth the upgrade. If you want to take a more calculated approach, you can use Energy Star's calculation spreadsheets for your appliances to see the estimated savings across the appliance's lifespan. If you're looking for more tips about cutting your electrical bill, check out our guide to cutting your energy with technology and common sense.

Sincerely,
Lifehacker

PS: Have you ever upgraded an appliance when it was still working? Were you happy with the results?

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