In which we fix the 15 year old fridge again rather than buying a new one

I’m not sure if this was the right decision or not.  Our 15 year old fridge is making whiny noises again.  It last did this (and apparently worse) 3 years ago and DH replaced the freezer fan and everything was fine until just now.  It’s a pretty quick fix involving buying a replacement fan and other bracket stuff, unscrewing a couple of screws, unplugging a few things, then reassembling with the new stuff.

We initially bought this fridge as our own personal fridge when we were working as graduate resident assistants in graduate school.  As such, we did not have much money and bought the cheapest model full-sized fridge at Home Depot (or possibly Lowes).  It is enormously surprising that it has lasted this long.  (Or maybe not so surprising– the newest version of this model is Sweet Home’s top choice for cheap fridges.)

The freezer fan parts cost $70 including shipping.  The replacement fridge we were scoping out costs $800 (on summer sale– regularly it cost $900) and is a little bigger than our current model.  Replacing our current model with a similar GE would cost $500 (on summer sale– regularly costs $600).  Despite DH not having any income, we can easily handle the replacement costs (unlike, say, getting a new car which would put a real dent in the emergency fund and could potentially affect when DH needed to find a new job or when we needed to cut back on spending).

Also of interest to us is the effect of a new purchase on the environment.  New refrigerators are more energy efficient than old refrigerators.  But we’d probably get a slightly larger one than what we have now, and a lot of energy goes into actually making a new fridge.  So what’s the most environmentally friendly option, I don’t know.

So… some folks would tell us not to be ridiculous and to buy a new unit when the old one starts giving us problems since we can afford it.  Others would suggest that we keep repairing it until the repairs get beyond our capabilities.  I’m not sure what’s right.  I don’t like the hassle of dealing with a dicey fridge, but the track record of repairs so far isn’t too bad.  Who is to say that a new fridge wouldn’t be giving us problems in 3 years… not to mention that 3 years is kind of a long time– if I could be sure that my next car problem wasn’t going to happen for another 3 years, I would be ecstatic about keeping my little Hyundai.

Though to be honest, I’m not even sure if I’d be replacing the refrigerator if DH was working and we had more money than we knew what to do with.  We tend not to replace things until we have to.  I guess we didn’t have stupidly large amounts of income long enough for that habit to change, or maybe that kind of ingrained habit never changes.

How do you decide to replace an appliance?

25 Responses to “In which we fix the 15 year old fridge again rather than buying a new one”

  1. hypatia cade Says:

    I tend to assume that things that involve coolant (air conditioners, fridges, freezers) should be replaced if they are more than 5 or 6 years old on the grounds of better for the environment. But I don’t know where that assumption comes from.

  2. rs Says:

    We have been fixing our fridge’s broken elements and adding new ones with our 3D printer in home for the past 2 years. It is fun for my DH to play with different materials and see which one is strong in cold conditions. Our fridge is 25 years old (I guess because we inherited it when we purchased our condo 8 years ago). Finally we are thinking to replace it as our kitchen needs renovation and new appliances.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That is really cool. (No pun intended.)

    • Rosa Says:

      oh wow, that is cool!

      I was just washing my fridge today (my mother is coming tomorrow) and thinking I would really like to replace the squishy seal thing that goes around the door – it’s all broken and disgusting and I’m sure replacing it would make it more efficient. But I don’t know if that’s even possible.

      I know when we got this one it saved a lot of energy compared to the really old one it replaced. But I don’t know if 8 year newer fridges are that much more energy efficient than mine and the only thing wrong with it is the cracked soft plastic of the seal :(

  3. bogart Says:

    We got a new fridge 10 years ago, and my mother insisted on giving us an extended warranty (over my objections). That turned out to be a great call because the thing required 3 service calls (2 of which involved it being useless and having to replace the contents, a cost that, conveniently, was covered by the warranty) before it was declared dead and replaced (not at our expense). When my mother downsized, I insisted on our getting her fridge, which is as old as I am (almost literally — she got it when she moved into the house she bought when I was 6 months old) and still works fine. It’s clearly not as energy efficient as new models, judging from its impact on our power bill, but it works fine. It hasn’t replaced our new fridge but instead serves as an additional one (I know, I know). I join you in wondering about the environmental impact of getting new appliances, and have taken to insisting that when possible we buy appliances with no computerized functions whatsoever, as those seem (in our case) to be what goes, and not to be worth the cost of replacing (i.e. expensive to replace even in a cheap appliance). Conveniently, this decision rule typically narrows our choices to about 2, simplifying the choice process dramatically. Though I can’t say I much like our computer-chip-free dishwasher that will probably last forever.

  4. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    The washer broke last year, but I still needed a top-loader for the cloth diapers, so we had it fixed. The dryer also broke, but I had turned it by hand and heard one of the springs (or something) come off, so we had that fixed too. For other things, I guess we try to estimate the cost of the repair vs. the cost of a new item (the version we would actually want to buy) and when repair costs over the previous 5 years add up to near the cost of a new one, we get a new one. This is aided by the fact that our house had no kitchen appliances other than an oven when we moved in, and so the fridge, dishwasher, and stovetop are new, along with the AC. The furnaces are gas, and therefore both efficient and not particularly prone to breaking, and the water heater is 30+ years old and gas, so at some point maybe it will die, though I’m told gas water heaters can last practically forever.

    • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

      If you want a gas water heater to last a long time, you need to replace the anode about every 10 years (which reminds me, that I’m overdue for that).

      • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

        Whoa, thanks! I went downstairs and deciphered the model number with a flashlight, and tomorrow I’m going to call the company and figure out what size anode I need to get! I had no idea, so this is great to know!

  5. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I’m of no help at all on this.

    I don’t know why, like hypatia cade, I have a similar assumption that newer appliances are more energy efficient but then there are the environmental costs of junking an old appliance, right? We haven’t replaced our own 7 year old fridge or my dad’s 25 year old fridge. Ironically, the newer one is more problematic so far but I’m sure I’ll have to pony up for a new fridge for dad right when I can least deal with it.

    We’ll have a new one at the new place because ours won’t fit (first world problems!) but I can’t decide what to do with the old one yet. We might keep it as as secondary one since I’d planned to have a backup freezer – I suppose this would save us the cost of a freezer, even if it might not be the MOST energy efficient one out there? It’s hard to say.

  6. becca Says:

    I found this and I think it’s great
    (as an aside, if you needed another reason to be annoyed at Trump, he wants to kill Energy Star, even though it’s optional)

    I think environmentally, the only thing you need to WORRY about is properly recycling a very old fridge, if you’re pre-1996 the CFCs shouldn’t be released higgildy piggildy. Though I think even newer ones it’s definitely good to recycle properly- my energy company will come and get them for you (and gives you a $50 credit!!).

    I have heard murmurings that we can’t fix global warming without fixing air conditioning. Based solely on that, I’d hope to see radically more efficient A/Cs in about 5 years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if fridges follow a similar pattern since some of the technological principles are the same. It’s not like the car thing, where if you replace now you may be annoyed you didn’t replace in 5 years with an affordable electric, but there’s some analogous issues at play.

    We had our washer go out a few weeks ago, but since we are selling the place it was definitely more sensible to repair instead of replace (even though it was $100-$200 to fix).

  7. Debbie M Says:

    There are two main factors in my decisions on whether to replace an appliance. One is whether it’s broken and how broken it is. One is how much I really want something different. If I like it, I wait until it is supremely broken. If I want something new, I only wait until it’s broken, though I could also imagine selling it unbroken to get one I really want.

    I replaced my last fridge when the door warped out of shape so there was always a large gap in the seal. Plus the seal was developing long cracks (I’ve read that these can be replaced fairly easily and that this magically fixes the warp, but I can’t yet believe it.) My current fridge is also starting to warp (maybe because it’s between two west-facing windows?) and we really want a bigger one with a freezer drawer, but now I’m hoping it will last until my boyfriend gets a job. But this is only my second fridge, and I guess it’s 20 years old now.

    In your situation, I’d keep replacing things so long as you still like the fridge. At some point, it may break so often that you no longer like it. :-) It does take a lot of energy to create and ship a new fridge.

    I bought my first one used from a friend of a friend, but it only lasted me one year, and I never could get rid of the smell. (Neither soap nor vinegar nor baking soda worked for me; I may even have tried bleach back then.) I tried buying my second one used, but most of the fridges there had that same smell, like ammonia, and I just couldn’t do it.

    However, I want a front-loading washer, so I’m thinking of checking for used ones and buying one as soon as I find a used one I like, even if the old one still works. I haven’t started looking yet, though.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have to say that I don’t really feel sentimental about the fridge the way I do about the car. But I don’t particularly dislike it either. It’s just, you know, a fridge.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Right. But you’re probably used to it. You know where to look for the lettuce, the cheese, the mustard. There’s room for everything. It’s not annoying (when it works). So that’s pretty good. You never know when a new thing will turn out to be worse.

        I used to love my fridge because its design makes it very easy to let each roommate have one half. But my boyfriend has a million staples, so it’s not so perfect anymore.

        I have a drawer where if you fill it too full, opening it causes things to fall out the back (why does the back of the drawer not go up as high as the sides?), and those things sit at the back of the shelf below, playing hide-and-seek. Also, I love the idea of a pullout drawer freezer. Things cannot be balanced in such a way that opening the freezer might cause an avalanche. (Happy sigh of hopefulness for the future!)

  8. Cloud Says:

    We fixed our fridge when the fan went, because it is one of only a couple EnergyStar compliant models that fits in the space allotted for a fridge in our kitchen. So if we replaced it, we’d probably just get the same thing again! Also, as a dumb fridge (instead of the fancy new smart ones with computers built in), it was really cheap to fix.

    I don’t think the ~10 year newer version of the same fridge would really be that more energy efficient, but I guess we could look that up. The main thing we try to remember to do is vacuum the dust off the coils every now and then. I think that is supposed to make it more efficient, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

    Our general policy is to buy the most water/energy efficient appliance we can when we need to buy one, and then keep it as long as we can. Same thing we do with cars, really. I don’t know if this is based on some research or principle on my husband’s part. It is primarily laziness on my part. I do not enjoy shopping for these things, so I do it as infrequently as possible!

      • Debbie M Says:

        Oh, interesting. My fridge is in the “maybe” category, but I would be replacing it with a bigger fridge and it’s not a side-by-side, so they would vote no.

        I used the linked savings calculator, which bizarrely does not ask any questions about the new fridge. It does ask for your electricity cost–I think I have six different costs, but I inputed my marginal summer rate, and that is still only 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Still it says my fridge costs me $75.17/year in electricity. And that I could save $209 over five years, which would be a 44% savings.

        I tried the calculation again with the fridge I want (except a couple of years old), and it says my annual cost would still be only $48.99, still a 35% savings ($2.18/month out of $6.26). Interesting; I expected it would cost more.

  9. chacha1 Says:

    We fixed our old fridge once, which cost >$300. When it broke down again a few years later, we just replaced it. A $800 appliance doesn’t get repairs that cost more than 25% of its replacement value more than once. Also, the food in the fridge was worth >$300. We were only able to save all of it because I worked in a relatively small office with relatively large refrigerators in its break rooms (enabling me to haul stuff in a cooler to work and stash it there till we had a working fridge again).

  10. gwinne Says:

    This is timely for me, as I’m trying to decide whether to replace my fridge before it dies. I like to do things on my own terms.

    Fixing would not have occurred to me, because I’m not handy and don’t have a partner on hand, so by the time you do parts and service call you’re up halfway to a new cheap appliance. And I don’t like my fridge….I don’t dislike it so much that I want to get rid of it too early (I’ve lived with it for 12 yrs already, and it wasn’t new then) but I’ll take the excuse to say goodbye.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That seems very reasonable. DH kind of wanted to take the excuse to get a newer, bigger, fridge, and if he’d been employed that’s probably what would have happened. I guess in 3 years when the fan starts squealing again that’s probably what we’ll do.

  11. Lisa Says:

    Our dishwasher, which I have had a personal vendetta against for much of the time we’ve owned it (my problem more than its problem), tried to burn down our house last weekend (fried motherboard, fortunately caught it before it flamed up and actually did burn anything down). With the help of google, I discovered that there was a class action lawsuit that covered this appliance because others had this same problem. At this point, my choices are to let them repair it (for free, but will the new motherboard be prone to the same problem) or buy a new dishwasher (different brand). We may sell the house within a year and I am not sure whether to take the cheap route or to upgrade for the future owners. To be honest, I’m not sure which route I’d take even if we weren’t going to sell. I have hated the dishwasher, but had made peace with it until this happened.

  12. Time to think about the kitchen remodel again | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] all sorts of fancy drawer choices.  The pantry is still amazing and will not be touched.  We might replace the refrigerator, but that’s something that can be done separately given there’s already a big space for […]

  13. Repair or replace? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] mad engineering skills and youtube videos to fix our clothes washer to replace the dishwasher and freezer […]

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