Your question, along with quintessential eco questions like "paper or plastic?" and "reusable or disposable diapers?" gets the sometimes unhelpful answer "it depends." That's because there are several factors involved.
- The primary one is how old the existing appliances are.
- Another is what appliances you're talking about. So let's look at a few specifics.
The appliance that may make the most sense to replace is the biggest energy user: your refrigerator. Bells and whistles aside, two things have changed over the years. One is:
- the type of coolant used, and
- the other is energy efficiency.
Refrigerators made since 1996 use non-CFC coolants. CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) that get into the atmosphere through leaks or disposal contribute to ozone depletion, so if you do junk that old fridge, make sure you do it properly. (Check with your local government.)
In terms of energy efficiency, Energy Star standards have increased since they were established in 1996, which means newer refrigerators cost less to operate and contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions. You can calculate your savings online at the Energy Star website.
Dishwashers and washing machines
New dishwashers and washing machines also are more efficient, and here we have both energy and water consumption to consider.
- According to Energy Star: "Most Energy Star washers use 35 to 50 percent less water and 50 percent less energy per load."
- And most new machines have energy- or water-saving modes.
You can find energy savings calculators for washing machines and dishwashers, as well as air conditioners, on Energy Star's website. Check the water consumption rates for different models. If you live in an area with limited water supplies, the decision to upgrade will be much easier.
Cooking appliances are not Energy Star rated. But if your stove or oven uses an old-fashioned nonelectric pilot light, it probably should be replaced. A pilot light is always burning a small amount of fuel, even when you're not cooking, while an electric ignition model-the kind that often makes a clicking noise when you turn on the gas-uses fuel only when it's turned on.
Another thing to consider: high-BTUH burners have become popular in recent years, but unless you're the type of cook who actually uses them, they are an unnecessary energy use.
But what about the junk that gets added to landfills and the new materials consumed in making the new appliances? Or, if the appliance gets donated and reinstalled elsewhere, and is therefore still in use, is that helping the environment? These are tough questions.
- Ideally, the materials in the old appliance are recycled.
- In the end, it's a matter of looking at how much the new appliance is benefiting the environment (and your utility bills).
You have to weigh "garbage guilt" against the stream of savings over the years, and the savings will depend on how inefficient the old appliance is as well as how efficient its replacement is.
The general rule is: the older the appliance, the more it makes sense to replace it.
For more information:
GreenHomeGuide's "Creating a Green Kitchen: From Resource Planning to Maintenance" offers advice on choosing efficient appliances.