Repair or replace? How long should a major home appliance last?

Just when you think it’s safe to do some home improvement forbidding Heaven, Your Own Pleasure, your home has other plans.

Over the past six months, I think DC and I have perfected our water heater, garbage disposal, and roof replacements, all zeros on the 1/10 joy scale. Having done this, we felt it was safe to tackle the backyard landscape and turn a hectic space into our personal park. The project was in full swing when DC came downstairs with the bad news: the pan under our air conditioner was full of water.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It’s not right,” he said, rummaging through some receipts to find an invoice from the service company.

The craftsman came and gave that to the 17-year-old unit again.

He lowered his cell phone into the machine and took a picture to show me. The inside looked like the walls of a sewer pipe with measles.

“What is it all about?” I stepped back.

“Organic matter,” said the craftsman. “We mustn’t say mold without a laboratory check.”

And so they sell new air conditioners.

“The main problem is that you have a clogged drain line,” he said. “Algae.”

Now I am really disgusted.

He drained the stagnant water and removed the blockage. Cost: USD 363 including service call. Then he gave us our options. A) We could breathe more life into the old girl if we got a new condenser ($ 203) and had the evaporation coils cleaned ($ 780, partly due to “difficult access”). Or B) we could replace the device for $ 8,000.

How so much in life, whether you’re dealing with a broken device, car, job, or relationship, the ultimate question is, fix it or replace it?

Repairing you may waste your money and energy postponing the inevitable. Or you can buy years of productive service. It is a gamble.

With the repairs, our system probably had a year or two left, he said.

The next day I received an email from two people who told me about a home warranty business they had started. They claimed to know how to answer this proverbial repair or replacement question. Ben Joseph and David Moreno founded Liberty Home Guard in 2017 because Joseph said, “Only 4 percent of homeowners today have a home warranty that tells us there is room for improvement.”

The New York-based company now has contractors in 39 states. Certainly home warranty companies have a bad reputation for repairing items they were supposed to replace or for replacing with inferior brands.

I asked her for the best advice on how to preserve some common household appliances and when to let go of them.


Average life: 13 years

Maintenance: Keep them clean. Periodically wipe the seals (the rubber strips that run around the door to form the seal) and pull the big guy out twice a year and vacuum off any dust that has built up behind them. Leave a few inches of clearance between the device and the wall when you slide the device back. Don’t overfill your refrigerator. This can block vents that need space to work. Try to leave about 15 percent negative space.

Repair or Replace? Refrigerators are often worth repairing because they are expensive to replace. However, if your refrigerator is 20 years old and your compressor fails, get yourself a new refrigerator.

HVAC systems

Lifespan: 15 years

Maintenance: Regular maintenance can extend the life of an air conditioner by five to ten years. Replace the filters every three to six months. Have your system professionally serviced annually to check the drain lines, fan blades, coils, and coolant level, and check for leaks.

Repair or Replace? HVAC systems have many mechanical parts, including fan blades or capacitors, that should be replaced while the rest of the system is still in good condition. But if your unit is old, has refrigerant leaking, the coils are damaged, or the compressor is broken, then it might be time.

Washing machines and dryers

Lifespan: 10 years for washing machines, 13 years for dryers

Maintenance: Again, overloading one of the two machines accelerates its demise. Better to run additional loads. Take care of the detergent. Wipe the drum, door and seal monthly. Leave the washing machine door open for 20 minutes to allow it to dry after loading a load. Place the dryers on a level floor. Shaking can lead to failure. Clean the fluff filter after each load and regularly clean the vent leading to the outside.

Repair or Replace? Fix simple leaks on a damaged hose. If your clothes don’t get dry, check your air vents and lint filters. If more than one component is defective for a machine, get a new one.


Lifespan: 9 years

Maintenance: Although it doesn’t seem intuitive, dishwashers do need to be cleaned. Dirt builds up around the seals and cleaning arms (the buzzing parts below). Clean them to remove debris. Do not overload your machine or clean the dishes before putting them in. Like children, dishwashers benefit from having to work.

Repair or replace: Many repairs to the dishwasher are easy and worthwhile, including repairing broken door locks or soap dispensers, worn seals, or broken cleaning arms. However, because dishwashers are relatively inexpensive, it is probably better to replace them if a major component such as a pump or motor fails.

For our HVAC system, we chose option C. We’re not going to spend $ 1,000 on more repairs or buy a new system yet. As long as she works, we’ll keep her until the end. If the system inevitably fails, ideally long after we’re done with the landscaping project, we’ll buy a new one. Joseph and Moreno agreed to this plan.

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