Every major federal holiday (especially Labor Day!!), households across America are flooded with flyers about appliance sales.  More and more, they are loaded with enticing advertising copy promising us that buying that gorgeous, huge, new stainless steel fridge now really saves us money in the long run because of its amazing Energy Star efficiency.

Sure, your refrigerator works just fine now, but you’re being promised a moneymaker that’s good for the environment.  Who could resist?

If the hype is true, who could resist, indeed?  But Sears’ marketing department is not sitting down, calculators in hand, to see if their advertising claims are true.  Lucky for you, I am!

So, is it worth it to replace a functioning appliance or fixture with a more efficient model?  The answer—it depends!

  • Washing Machines. Cost for Energy Star model:  Average of $750.  Verdict:  Maybe worth it.  Go for it if you are switching from a regular top loader to an average-priced high efficiency model and your current washing machine is at least 5 years old.  There are many gorgeous upscale models that can do everything short of massage your feet while you’re waiting for a load to finish, but don’t trick yourself into believing that the price difference between a lower-end high efficiency washer and the top-of-the-line model will ever be made up in energy savings, especially if you are replacing a working appliance.
  • Dryers. Cost for matching model:  Approx. $550.  Verdict:  Not worth it.  For those of you who were hoping for the matched set—sorry!  All dryers just heat air to evaporate the water in the clothes.  How much energy that will take depends on how much water the washer left in the clothes and has nothing to do with the dryer.  If you purchase a matching dryer, chances are you just spent more money than you will save with the high efficiency washer over the course of its lifetime.  When your current dryer can’t be repaired, pick any appropriately sized model with a moisture sensor, and keep in mind that if you can use it, gas costs less to operate than electric.
  • Refrigerator. Cost for Energy Star model:  Average of $1,150.  Verdict:  Maybe worth it.  If you have more than one refrigerator and upgrade to a larger mid-priced model that replaces both, you will almost certainly save money.  If your fridge is more than 20 years old, you will save money when buying a low-priced replacement, with an average savings of $100-200 a year.  However, if your fridge was purchased within the past 15 years, it may take more than the average fridge’s lifetime to make back the price of even the most inexpensive Energy Star replacement.
  • Chest Freezer. Cost of Energy star model:  Verdict:  Not worth it.  Even non-Energy Star chest freezers require so little energy to operate that it would take longer than the average freezer’s lifetime to make up the price of a new appliance.  You’d be better off investing in some bonds and getting an Energy Star model only if your current chest freezer breaks.
  • Dishwasher. Cost of Energy star model:  Average of $362.  Verdict:  Not worth it.  It will take longer than the average lifetime of your new dishwasher to make back its purchase price.  Go Energy Star when your current appliance can no longer be repaired.
  • Toilet, Faucet, or Shower Head. Cost of low-flow models:  $100+ for a toilet, $40+ for a faucet, and $10+ for a showerhead.  Verdict:  Rarely worth it.  Replacing all the 5-gallon toilets in an average household will save a mere $10 in water and sewer costs per year, but if your water rates are extremely high and you only have a few toilets, then the investment may be worth it.  Rather than replacing a faucet with a newer model that will never pay you back, install a low-flow aerator for a fraction of the cost to get the same savings.  An inexpensive shower head replacement is the only change that will save you money here.

Now you know what will save you money, but what about the environment?  Rest assured that here, at least, the frugal choice is the green choice.  The energy used for manufacturing and transporting a new appliance will virtually always create a net negative when replacing a functioning old appliance with a new one that can’t even pay itself off through the reduction of energy usage while in service.

So tomorrow, when the newest glittering Labor Day ads arrive, you’ll know where the savings really are—and where they aren’t.

This has been a guest post by Genevieve from Bowie, MD
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12 thoughts on “Energy Savings Payoffs: What Appliances are Worth the Upgrade?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    From my experience do your research and consider a basic model for the he front loader(s). We got a really great deal on an whirlpool pr about 3yrs ago with store sale, mir and local & govt rebates. That being said ………5 months into it the washer would start for 2 mins or not at all. The entire control panel had to be replaced (covered under warranty). 11 months later the dryer would not shut off; heat sensor needed replacing (covered under warranty); 7 months later same problem. After much negotiating whirlpool agreed to fix again but suggested I buy extended warranty. At this time the repair person even commented on how many of the he models have many problems due to the electronics in them. He also said we could just use the timed dry mode instead of the different modes=BASIC mode(l). Lastly this year we just spent $175+ on a sensor in the washing machine. After researching troubleshooting and talking with the repairmen (different one/same company)he told me before opening the washer what the problem was (I had already researched the two potential problems and knew the odds were not in my favor). He allowed me to check for a blocked tube/line(as stated in troubleshooting)was definitely not the problem. His solution “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it (replace it)”.
    If you are considering he models please review cost repairs. Also negotiate extended warranty at no cost if possible @ time of purchase. You could check to see if your credit card offers extended warranty (if u can pay balance in full). We did see a slight decrease in water bill and purchase he detergent for same as regular. No real change in gas bill as we had gas prior. Our prior set was atleast 9 -10 yrs old & was starting to give us problems.
    All in all like anything else great if no problems.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I disagree about saving water, especially in areas of the country that experience droughts, are in desert climates like Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California and for those who are relying on a well for all of their water. Personally I believe that the Federal Government should mandate that all new washers sold only be front loading since they require significantly less water than top loading dryers per year. Also, the amount of water that you use to flush a toilet is significant if you’re using a 5 gallon toilet rather than the 1.6 gallon toilet.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I disagree about saving water, especially in areas of the country that experience droughts, are in desert climates like Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California and for those who are relying on a well for all of their water. Personally I believe that the Federal Government should mandate that all new washers sold only be front loading since they require significantly less water than top loading dryers per year. Also, the amount of water that you use to flush a toilet is significant if you’re using a 5 gallon toilet rather than the 1.6 gallon toilet.

  4. you do realize that with the new washers you have to buy energy efficient soap and the cleaner for the washer or they dont work as well so you need to figure in that cost as well our monthly electric didnt change but our grocery bill went up about twenty dollars and diane i lived in the pacific northwest and spent more on electric and gas there than i do in the southwest so i understand what you mean by differnt places being different prices it all depends on there green uses we use solor here

  5. you do realize that with the new washers you have to buy energy efficient soap and the cleaner for the washer or they dont work as well so you need to figure in that cost as well our monthly electric didnt change but our grocery bill went up about twenty dollars and diane i lived in the pacific northwest and spent more on electric and gas there than i do in the southwest so i understand what you mean by differnt places being different prices it all depends on there green uses we use solor here

  6. Jennfier says:

    I bought a whirpool set when they first came out with the basic HE models (I got the last of the floor models with a deep discount, free pedestals, and a free 3 year warrenty (which we used twice for crud getting caught inside it from our roommates for awhile) No interest (of course) and paid for it in less than 14months with less than $90 a month. Now, I think 4 years later, they still work great, and barely make a difference in our water and electricity bill. When we bought them, we had no washer and dryer. I’ve found the best way (if the type of clothes allows) is to wash with a high setting on the spin to get the most water out, and then put two loads together to dry (except for towels). “Super” sized is certainly nice. We do 4 loads a week for a family of 3 (sometimes 3 if I can skip whites) and dry 2-3 loads. Oh, and how do I know it barley moves the bills? We had FIL and GGIL stay with us for about 3 months and doubled our laundry. Maybe an increase of $5 each month. Nice.

  7. Chad says:

    what about an a/c unit? we need to replace ours and that is the quistion. thanks!

  8. Diane Hayes says:

    I just wanted to add that in certain regions of the U.S., electric power is actually cheaper than gas, particularly in the Pacific Northwest were we use a lot of hydro power. I don’t know anyone around here who has a gas dryer.

  9. Diane Hayes says:

    I just wanted to add that in certain regions of the U.S., electric power is actually cheaper than gas, particularly in the Pacific Northwest were we use a lot of hydro power. I don’t know anyone around here who has a gas dryer.

    • Anonymous says:

      Electric dryers don’t last as long as gas ones do. It’s not just the energy cost but the lifespan of an electric dryer is much shorter.

  10. Thank you for the information. Do you know which models are the most reliable? I bought a washer and dryer awhile back that were known and advertised as being almost maintenance free ( service guy doesn’t have much to do) I have now replaced the washer. My budget is limited like most of us and I want whatever I purchase to be dependable.

    • Speaking from experience, we have had a Roper washing machine for around 7 years now. It was low cost and actually recommended to us when our more expensive high efficency washer died on us and would cost us more in parts to fix than replace. It may not look pretty like the others but it works great. Last I knew Roper was known for being exactly what you are looking for.