To trash or not to trash? New refrigerators can consume 75 percent less energy than those produced 20 or 25 years ago.

Planet Green

This is the first in a series of posts about determining if you should replace or repair a broken appliance.

If you've got appliances in your home, then you'll eventually be faced with a tough choice when it goes on the fritz: fix it or forget it. There are few automatic choices; new appliances are often much more energy-efficient than their older counterparts, but new appliances also take a tremendous amount of resources and energy to create. Plus, let's face it, it's another thing, more stuff, that enters the world, and older appliances can be tricky to recycle; you can't exactly just leave 'em on the curb for regular recycling pick-up.

So, what should you do when your refrigerator goes down? Well, it all depends, on a few factors. Refrigerators are one of the biggest energy users in your house, but awfully tough to live without, these days, so going without isn't a viable option.New refrigerators can consume 75 percent less energy than those produced 20 or 25 years ago, and are even much more efficient than those made just seven years ago. The most recent federal standards-those employed by Energy Star-went into effect in 2001, so contemporary models can save up to 40 percent over made before the new standards were put in place. Essentially, that means that if your busted fridge came from the 20th century, it'll behoove you to replace it with a new, Energy Star-certified model.

The savings will add up quickly: replacing a refrigerator bought in 1990 with a new Energy Star-qualified model would save enough energy to light the average household for nearly four months; when you add in the rebates you can get for going with energy-efficient models, the savings will be quite tangible. When looking for a new one, look for one with the fridge on top and freezer on the bottom (they're more efficient, when compared to a side-by-side model), and avoid the temptation to keep the old one around if it "sorta works"-old refrigerators can cost you $100 a year, or so, in energy costs alone. Instead, hit up earth911.org for information on properly recycling the old one, since many communities have specific requirements for disposing of refrigerators and other large appliances.

Difficulty level: Moderate