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How long household appliances should last

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“10 years” gets thrown around a lot, but is it true?

kitchen stove with kettle
Appliances, small and big, in an art-filled oasis in Brooklyn, NY.
Photo by Heidi’s Bridge

There comes a dreaded moment in every person’s life when a major household appliance begins to putter-out and the crawl toward the point of no return is imminent. Knowing the lifespan (even vaguely) of appliances you’re likely using daily—like a stove, microwave, or washer—will not only put your mind and wallet at ease, but also help you know how long to hang onto that warranty.

Know the red flags

If a major household appliance, such as a a dishwasher or air conditioner, isn’t functioning properly, you’ll often see a sneaky spike in your energy bill because the machine requires more energy to work properly and produce the same result. If it’s not the dead of summer and your AC bill seems higher than normal, the likely culprit is an inefficient, outdated unit. Expect to replace a microwave as well as an AC unit every 10 years.

Repair or replace?

Retailers and service technicians have long advised that it often makes sense to buy a new product rather than repair a broken one. They use the 50 percent rule: If a repair would cost half or more of what it costs to buy a new product, the product should be replaced.

According to Million Dollar Contractor star and founder of Fanuka, Inc., Stephen Fanuka, who’s worked on major home renovations for the likes of Tina Fey and Bruce Willis, most major appliances will last on average about 10 solid years, but “washers and dryers may not last that long, they’ll start to fade around eight years,” he says.

And 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 washer is recyclable (you can use Earth911’s recycling database to find out how to dispose of your old, large appliances in a planet-friendly way based on your location).

More gadgets, more problems

While new appliances are likely to be energy efficient, especially if it was purchased after 2001 when the most recent federal energy-efficiency standards went into effect, it would be prudent to think twice before splurging on a smart appliance.

“As products push technical boundaries, or introduce complexity into otherwise simple products, the lifespan of the products dramatically decreases,” says industrial designer and founder of the product design and invention firm Pensa, Marco Perry.

“Personally, my dryers have lasted less than three years each, and that’s because their electronic boards fried,” he says. “Delicate electronics are susceptible to damage from moisture, vibrations, electrical noise, and so forth. While the products are tested for these conditions, they don’t seem to withstand them as expected. My parent’s dryer lasted 30 years before we replaced it, because there wasn’t much to it: turn knobs, analog switches, large metal contacts.”

As internet connectivity makes its way to home devices, software—and the industry’s rapid advances—can age appliances faster than normal.

“You used to own an iron that heated up and that’s it,” Perry explains. “Now you can look for one that is compatible with Amazon or Google’s smart home devices, but in few years you will want to be compatible with whatever is new and you will need to upgrade the iron.“

Multiply that replacement by however many devices you have connected to your home system.

Maintenance is key

If an appliance is kept clean and reasonably maintained, it should work throughout its general lifespan, according to Fanuka, but, “there are lemons everywhere.”

For dryers, that means cleaning out the lint trap on the regular (which also reduces the risk of a fire). And for dishwashers, you should give the dishes a strong rinse before loading them to reduce the amount of discarded food and other bits from getting clogged.

“You should expect the most wear and tear with an appliance you’re using on a daily basis,” says Fanuka. “But with a little bit of care and attention, you can extend the life cycle by a year or two before it gives out.”