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Repair or Replace Broken Appliances?

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 in For Your Home | 7 comments

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.

A Mistake: Repairing The Dishwasher

DishwasherMy 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.

Lessons Learned: Tips & Tricks For Undertaking A Repair

Buying Parts

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 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.

Refrigerator Ice Tray

Preparing For The Repair

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:

  • The repairman didn’t have to unhook the washing machine from the water supply. To do this I needed a large wrench and extra towels to clean up water that spilled.
  • My machine was actually broken so the basin hadn’t fully drained after the last use. More towels needed!
  • He’s working in a clean studio. I used a vacuum to suck up all the dirt and spider webs underneath the machine since it sits in an unfinished basement.
  • His machine is brand new, mine was 9 years old. Parts in mine had rust and required lubricant and more force to remove them.
  • My direct drive coupling motor was actually broken, which meant it was also jammed. Being rusty and jammed made it very difficult to remove.
  • The repairman is a big strong guy. Carefully setting the washing machine tub on the floor and lifting it again would have been challenging for me to do alone, I needed help.


Having everything you need on hand will help decrease points of frustration and it will make the repair go more quickly.

  1. Print the manuals so you don’t have to run to your computer.
  2. Watch the videos beginning to end so there aren’t any surprises.
  3. Collect all the tools the instructions say you need.
  4. Think critically, are there any things you need to do that was not covered in the video? Do you need more tools?
  5. Get a magnetic bowlto hold all the screws, bolts, etc. If you don’t have one, get a plain, light colored towel to keep the pieces from rolling away and make them easy to find (little pieces can get lost in patterns).
  6. Collect some extra rags and cleaning products, including a rust dissolver like Krud Kutter and a lubricant like WD-40.
  7. Get a flashlight, most of the time you’ll need one.
  8. Get a vacuum. This may the the only time this decade you move your appliance away from the wall. Take the opportunity to clean behind it and under it.
  9. Get a friend to help. Another set of hands is always a plus.
  10. Plan to spend 2-4 times performing the repair as you think you will need. After you’re done, you’ll swear you could do it in half the time if you had to do it again, and your probably right so offer your services to your friends!

Smart Solutions: What To Do When You Can’t Identify The Problem

Washing MachineBefore 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.

Stop Shopping, Start Repairing! 

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. 

Nicole knows making small changes for the greener add up over time and hopes you’re inspired to make some changes of your own after reading her articles. She focuses on easy, green, homemade personal products and green living tips for city dwellers. Nicole lives in Pittsburgh, PA and you can find her on twitter at @_nlg_.

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Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Zequek Estrada

    I completely agree that watching repair videos can be helpful, but it also can be misleading. I learned that the hard way and ended up paying for the damage that I created. That experience taught me that it’s good to get a professional opinion if you’re even thinking about doing a DIY.

  2. ashleyturns94

    I like how you suggest buying parts that are all used evenly at the same time since they’ll all break around the same time. My refrigerator has broken and we’re currently looking for replacement appliance parts. I’ll make sure I order all the parts used evenly together so that I won’t have to order more a couple of weeks later.

  3. Ridley Fitzgerald

    It’s good to learn more about appliance repairs. I don’t trust myself to repair our fridge myself, but I still think we don’t need to replace it. I think we’ll hire a professional to come and look at the cooling part of the appliance.

  4. jhonsmith8

    I blog frequently and I genuinely appreciate your content.
    The article has really peaked my interest. I will take a note of your blog and keep checking for new information about once a week.
    I subscribed to your RSS feed too.

  5. Elsa Anderson

    Thank you for sharing your experiences in buying and repairing appliances and coming up with tips and tricks in this article to save up. I like the part where you shared your insights in buying replacement parts for repair or for cosmetic use, say for example replacing the tray inside the fridge that’s old or damaged instead of buying a whole new. I bet businesses do replacements and cosmetic enhancements too with their refrigerators such as buying new fridge cases and the like to be more cost-efficient. I’ll consider adapting to that kind of thinking for practicality and look for replacement parts instead that will make my appliances look as good as new.

  6. Amanda Drew

    You make a good point that your appliance would be too heavy to actually lift on your own, so having a strong repairman was helpful. My dryer is my problem because the clothes aren’t actually able to dry in it and come out wet. It seems like I should definitely find a professional who’ll be able to repair it for me.

  7. Millie Hue

    I like that you pointed out that it saved you money when you had a professional to check and diagnose the problem for you. I guess I will be seeking the help of an expert for my washing machine. It just won’t spin anymore when I was about to do my laundry this morning.

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