If you’re over the age of 30, you probably remember the Maytag Repairman. Featured in television commercials throughout the ’70s and ’80s, he was billed as the “loneliest guy in town” because the company’s laundry machines were supposedly so dependable, the repairman was never called.
Back then, household appliances like refrigerators, washers, dryers, ovens and dishwashers were built to last almost as long as you owned your house. When you purchased one, chances were pretty good that you’d have it for years before replacing it.
But much like the Maytag Repairman, those days are long gone and instead there’s a whole new generation of appliances that have little more than aesthetics in common with their predecessors, starting with lifespan.
One-And-Done Appliances Are Extinct
“A lot of people expect them to last as long as older appliances did,” explained Scott Garrett an appliance technician with Ray’s Appliance Repair in Bristol. “You’d buy it once and have it forever.”
That’s no longer the case, according to Garrett, who said that it’s not uncommon to find most new appliances like washers, dryers, dishwashers, and refrigerators lasting a decade or less.
“What I like to see is 10 years. But that isn’t every appliance, not every time. I’m seeing some last three to four years depending on what it is, what brand it is; some brands last longer than others. The life expectancy isn’t there anymore.”
The kind of appliance and how it’s being used also plays a role in how long it will likely last.
“A refrigerator has a longer life than a laundry washer because there aren’t a lot of working parts. With a washing machine, especially with a younger family, the life expectancy drops,” Garrett said.
While appliances may not last as long as they once did, advances in technology have resulted in more energy-efficient machines, subsequently lowering the cost of running them, and in the case of washers and dishwashers, significantly reducing the amount of water used.
“A dishwasher used to use nine or 10 gallons of water, now it’s down to three, four or five,” said Brian Zippin, president of Contractors Home Appliances with locations in East Granby and West Springfield, Mass.
“The average washing machine used to use 35 to 50 gallons per load, but the high efficiency ones today use only 12 to 15.”
The need for less water is not only environmentally beneficial but can also save you a few extra bucks by reducing the costs of water consumption.
Fridge And Washer Styles: Which One Is Right For You?
When it comes to washers, consumers essentially have three choices, said Zippin.
The traditional, top-loading washer tends to be the least energy efficient, but the most affordable, costing roughly $800 for a set.
Zippin said they can be a good choice for people like empty-nesters who don’t have large amounts of laundry, or folks who, for a variety of reasons, aren’t interested in making a big investment.
Increasingly popular among larger families, especially those with kids, are high-efficiency (HE), front-loading washer and dryer sets, which not only use less detergent and water, but are stackable and can handle larger laundry loads, get clothes cleaner and cut down on drying time.
Drawbacks include longer wash times than standard machines and, for some people, difficulty loading them due to the amount of bending over when putting in or taking laundry out.
Top-loading, high-efficiency washers seemingly combine the best of both, but can’t be stacked and, like the front-loaders, have longer wash times.
Much like washing machines, refrigerators come in a variety of styles and prices. The least expensive is the standard model with a freezer on top and refrigerator on the bottom.
Side-by-side units, once the gold standard because they were the only models with ice makers, have become less popular in recent years due to their limited space for bigger items.
Newer styles with bottom freezers and large, accommodating French doors on top, are what most people are opting for, said Zippin.
“With French doors you can put in a pizza box, sheet cake, or deli platter, because you have the width.”
And most of them now come with in-door ice makers.
Replace Or Repair?
With appliances living shorter lives, when something goes wrong should you fix it or put the money toward purchasing a new one?
If it’s still covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, contact them first.
After that, depending on the issue and appliance, it’s best to at least try and troubleshoot problems that arise by reading the owner’s manual, doing some online research or calling the manufacturer for more help.
If that doesn’t solve it, then consider calling a repair service.
“It’s worth it, depending on who you call,” according to Garrett, who said that they often triage appliance issues over the phone before scheduling a service call.
“We’ll help you figure out if it’s worth fixing; you don’t want to throw it away over something very simple.” (Repair tips for do-it-yourself fans are also available online on web sites such as repairclinic.com, familyhandyman.com/skills.)
Conversely, he said, you don’t want to sink hundreds of dollars into an appliance that might need replacing within a couple of years or less.
According to Zippin, when it comes to microwaves, if something goes wrong, your best bet is to just get another one since the cost of fixing them is likely the same as replacing it, if not more.
“There’s only two items in a microwave; a control panel and magnetron tube. If either one of those things goes, buy a new one.”
To maximize the life of your appliances, Garrett offers a few tips, starting with the dishwasher.
“Regardless of what the dishwasher company says, rinse off anything solid from your dishes. You will see a repairman if you don’t,” he cautioned.
He also suggests running the sink water until it reaches roughly 120 degrees before starting the wash cycle and using a rinse agent in addition to your dishwasher detergent.
Garrett recommends regularly cleaning the coils located at the bottom of your refrigerator to remove accumulated dust, which can cause your refrigerator to work harder to keep cool.
With ovens he said to avoid using aluminum foil under coils or as a method to prevent messy drips. “It reflects heat and can get too hot.”
Instead he suggests using liners specifically designed and approved for oven use.
Finally, to help ensure the life of your washer, he said to avoid overloading or packing too many items into the washing machine which can wear it out sooner than if you do more measured loads.
As for the dryer, he said to clean out the lint trap after every single load and to ensure that there isn’t lint clogging the dryer vent.
“Pay attention to time, if clothes take longer to dry, there might be an issue.”