In the past year I’ve had to repair or replace many broken appliances and fixtures around my house. The bigger items include the dishwasher, refrigerator, and washing machine. Every time something breaks I try to take the most environmentally friendly and fiscally responsible approach to solving the problem. In the process I’ve made some mistakes, learned a lot, and come up with some pretty smart solutions that I’d like to share with you so next time an appliance you own has a problem you might approach the situation a little differently and with a little more knowledge than you had before.
My first major appliance to have an issue since I bought the house 8 years ago was the dishwasher. The dishwasher was older and within the first year of owning it both door springs broke, so I had to lower the door carefully and use the lock to keep it in the upright position. A minor inconvenience.
Six years later the gasket around the door started leaking so I had to decide whether to repair or replace it. At first I wanted to get a new dishwasher with a sterilize cycle for canning, one that would match the refrigerator too. However, I looked online and saw a gasket and 2 springs would cost less than $40. There was also an instructional manual to show me how to do the repairs. The repairs were fairly easy and cost efficient, but in the end it wasn’t worth it. The dishwasher itself had slowly degraded over the years, and after another 6 months it was barely washing the dishes so I stopped using it.
I was so focused on what was broken, and keeping the dishwasher out of the landfill, I failed to realize the whole unit was reaching the end of it’s useful life. The door works great, but that’s about it.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to replace an appliance, be sure to you recycle the old one. Most companies that deliver new appliances will recycle your old one for free. Some cities, including Pittsburgh, offer free curb-side recycling for appliances too. If these aren’t options for you, consider giving it away on Freecycle or Craigslist. Post an ad clearly stating it’s for parts or scrap.
Shopping local has been a challenge. The parts stores in Pittsburgh are usually only open during normal business hours on weekdays, which is also when I’m working. I could leave work early one day and make a special trip, but none have their inventory online and my voicemails or emails inquiring about what they stock are never answered. These stores are mostly wholesalers and my search for a $15 part is not that important to them, so I opt to shop online instead.
My favorite website is PartSelect.com. It’s easy to find what you are looking for, the selection is huge, prices are fair, and they have a lot of useful information and videos to help with the repair. It’s also a good idea to check the manufacturer’s website where parts are often competitively priced and some offer mechanical diagrams too.
If your repairing a wear and tear issue, and there are multiple parts like the broken one in the appliance, consider buying and replacing all the parts. If they are used evenly, like the springs in my dishwasher, they will all break around the same time.
Also, consider purchasing parts for cosmetic enhancements. Since I was already shopping for a refrigerator part, I also decided to replace the chipped and stained tray below the ice cube dispenser. Cosmetic damage has a way of swaying people into wanting new things, so anything that keeps you satisfied with what you already have is a good thing. I doubt anyone would buy a new refrigerator just because of a chipped tray, but after replacing the only visible damage to my refrigerator it looks brand new and that makes me happy.
Watching repair videos can be helpful but it can also be misleading. This 11 minute video for a washing machine repair, set in a studio with a new machine, is far from realistic for those of us who have used our machines and are living in the real world. Consider these differences between the video and real-life repairs I did:
Having everything you need on hand will help decrease points of frustration and it will make the repair go more quickly.
Before my washing machine broke I knew nothing about washing machines. I didn’t even know how to take mine apart, so when it broke I hit the internet. Using the model number and description of the symptoms I narrowed the problem down to two possibilities. Both were inexpensive to fix with parts costing less than $30 but one would be a much more difficult repair than the other.
I thought the more difficult repair was required, but not wanting to waste time undertaking the wrong repair I did something unconventional and scheduled an appointment with a Sear’s repairman, solely for a diagnosis. Since I had done my homework, I could ask intelligent questions about the diagnosis which helped me get even more useful information on doing it myself. It also impressed the repairman and made him more willing to give me advice and he left the machine partially disassembled too.
The repairman’s visit cost $55 which might seem high, but I was wrong, the cheaper, easier repair was needed. So I saved time, the cost of the wrong part, and frustration, by paying for the diagnosis. To me it was definitely worth the price, and I still saved $75 by not paying him to fix it. Now that I’ve repaired the washing machine and know a lot more about it’s inner workings, I hope I won’t need help with a diagnosis if anything else goes wrong.
We live in a consumer society where we are encouraged replace perfectly good items with the latest models and throw away items that might just need a repair. That can be an expensive way to live and it creates a lot of waste. Next time an appliance in your house breaks, consider repairing it first.
Fixing an appliance yourself can be a rewarding endeavor. There’s great satisfaction in learning something new and making a machine work again. It can also save you money and even take less time than researching and buying your next appliance.