If you have an older fridge, have you ever wondered whether it’s costing you more to run than to replace it? After all, a new Energy Star certified refrigerator uses only 25% of the energy of a refrigerator from the 1970s. This, despite the fact that it is now larger than in the past. It makes sense then, that if you have an older fridge, you might want to consider upgrading to a newer, more efficient one. Today, the majority of refrigerators sold are Energy Star certified.¹

Energy efficiency improvements 1990 - 2015
Energy efficiency improvements in refrigerators from 1990 to 2015. Source: http://oee.rncan.gc.ca/publications/statistics/cama07/index.cfm

The graph above shows the progressive improvements in energy efficiency in refrigerators over the years.  but after 2009, improvements have been minimal. So, if you have a refrigerator that’s 10 or more years old, you might want to consider replacing it. But hold that thought for a minute, there’s more to the story….

Do new refrigerators last as long as ones from 25 years ago?

The short answer is no. It doesn’t matter who you talk to – repairmen, manufacturers, salespeople — they will all tell you that a refrigerator will now last between 6 and 10 years. Maybe some in the luxury class, such as Sub-Zero, Gaggenau and Miele will last the 20 years they’re supposed to (or maybe fixing them is just worth the effort because they’re so much more expensive than other brands), but in any event, keep your eyes open as you embark on your search for a new fridge with the understanding that current lifespans are considerably less than those of old.

What is the current life expectancy of a refrigerator?

The (US) National Home Builders Association states that the average life expectancy of a refrigerator is 13 years. Now, many of you out there have refrigerators that are much older than that, and many of you have had to replace 5-year-old refrigerators because they’ve konked out too early and weren’t worth fixing.

An academic report written in 2004  looks at the optimal age to replace your fridge. Assuming that a refrigerator will last its full life expectancy,  the optimal time to replace the fridge from an energy efficiency and cost perspective is every 18 years. One of the reasons for replacing even a well-running older refrigerator is because the insulation around the refrigerator loses its effectiveness so the running costs increase. The reason the report was written was to help support the replacement of older, energy-sucking refrigerators that were still being used all over North America. Reports like this and others led to programs such as Toronto Hydro’s “Refrigerator Round Up” program (discontinued) to help unplug those inefficient appliances. That’s no longer a problem because those programs were successful. But the reality is  many of these newer models won’t even make it to 13 years before they’re recycling bound.

So now I’m going to contradict what I said at the beginning of this post: if you have a well-running fridge that is 10 years old, although its energy efficiency isn’t quite as good as the newer ones, consider holding on to it until it’s 18 years old. At that point, you can start researching alternatives (including buying a refurbished or used fridge). But from an investment perspective, you might be better off saving your money and sparing yourself the anxiety of appliance roulette.

For more information on how to buy refrigerators, check out our other articles.

Footnotes:

  1. Source: An Insider’s Look At The Canadian Appliance Market: Appliance Industry Trends and Facts, by Canadian Appliance Manufacturer’s Association/Electro-Federation Canada, 2012, p. 9. [Ed. note: CAMA was dissolved shortly after this report was produced and AHAM doesn’t produce these reports, so, unfortunately this type of information is no longer publicly available, which is why these facts are so outdated.]