Repair or replace? Extending the life span of your home appliances – facts and figures

Background Paper on life of products

Should you repair your broken vacuum cleaner or buy a new one? Should you replace your 10-year-old washing machine with a more efficient model? What about that faulty fridge – should you hand it in for recycling or have it repaired? The Oeko-Institut provides answers to these frequently asked questions in its comprehensive factsheet on the durability and repair of home appliances.

Key recommendation: With very few exceptions, it is always better for the environment to have faulty home appliances repaired and to keep them in service for as long as possible. This saves the energy and resources that would otherwise be consumed in the manufacturing of new products, which has a considerable impact on the environment. But is repairing your home appliance the economical option? That will depend on the specific product and its age, and how much a repair is likely to cost. When purchasing a new appliance, consumers should always choose high-quality products – they generally have a long lifespan and therefore offer environmental benefits and, in many cases, better value for money.

European directives lead to improvements in sustainable consumption

“The energy efficiency of a wide range of appliances has improved substantially in recent years, mainly as a result of the EU’s Energy Labelling and Ecodesign Directives,” says Siddharth Prakash, a sustainable consumption expert at the Oeko-Institut. “As no major advances in energy efficiency are anticipated in the near future, consumers can only help to protect the climate and resources if they invest in high-quality, durable products and have their faulty appliances repaired.”

Practical examples for five product categories

In order to help consumers make the right choice, the Oeko-Institut’s experts have drawn up practical recommendations for washing machines, fridges and freezers, dishwashers, tumble dryers and vacuum cleaners. For example, high-efficiency washing machines and heat-pump tumble dryers should be kept in service for as long as possible, if necessary with the aid of repairs.

“With other appliances such as fridges, the solution to the ‘repair or replace’ dilemma will depend on the old and the new model’s age and energy rating,” Ina Rüdenauer, home appliance expert at the Oeko-Institut, explains. “From an environmental perspective, it is worth replacing appliances that were purchased before 2000 or have a B energy rating or lower even if they are still in good working order, provided that the new model has an A++ energy rating or higher. However, there are currently no environmental benefits to be gained from replacing fridges with an A++ or A+++ energy rating. These appliances should be repaired if they develop a fault, in order to extend their useful life.”

Strengthening consumer rights

According to the Oeko-Institut, European policy- and law-makers should be doing much more to strengthen the rights and defend the interests of consumers, enabling them to play an active role in progressing the transition to durable, easy-to-repair products. This includes establishing a better repair infrastructure, setting minimum product quality and durability standards and creating more effective legal safeguards, such as warranties and guarantees, to counter premature obsolescence.

Oeko-Institut background paper: “Repair or replace? Extending the life of your home appliances – FAQs and helpful hints”

Oeko-Institut background paper on consumer rights: “What are my rights if I want my product to have a longer useful life?

Oeko-Institut infographic: “When replacing your appliance is the eco-friendly option – Keep in service or replace with an energy-efficient appliance”

Further information on obsolescence from the Oeko-Institut (in German language)