Refrigerators are a major appliance purchase for many families because of the high cost and the substantial amount of room it requires. The door itself often becomes the focus of the kitchen and doubles as an art gallery, memento keeper and message board. Wanting to stretch the life of the refrigerator to its expected maximum of 20 years may seem like good financial sense but actually may not be in the best interest of the consumer.
In the late 1960s a new phrase was entering into the American consciousness -- "planned obsolescence." This ominous-sounding phrase grated on the sensibilities of many consumers with the idea that companies were building products that were designed to fail after a period of time. From the company's point of view it made perfect sense. A product that didn't need replacing was one less item they could sell down the road.
Over the years a refrigerator will continue to deteriorate and need more repairs. Typical breakdowns include failed door gaskets, broken defrost timers and malfunctioning ice makers and dispensers. When the compressor quits working, it is a sign that the repair cost is beginning to approach the replacement cost. Spending hundreds of dollars to fix a refrigerator when another costly repair may be just around the corner is a difficult decision.
Manufactures encourage the purchase of new refrigerators by continually adding features that attract consumers. Examples over the years include self-defrosting freezers, ice makers and water dispensers in the door. The government has provided incentives to consumers by working with companies to reduce the amount of electricity needed for refrigerators. By replacing an older refrigerator with an Energy Star compliant one you can save up to 65 percent on your electric use, according to Iowa State University.
The encouragement to purchase a new appliance before the old one fails leads to a situation where there are two effective life spans for something such as a refrigerator. Yuhta Alan Horie of the University of Michigan wrote in his thesis in 2004 that there is an observed lifetime for a refrigerator of 14 years, which is the average length of time that a family will keep one, and a maximum functional lifetime of 20 years. With the average refrigerator lifespan reported by Iowa State University to be only 13 years, most families understand that around that time it would be good to purchase a new refrigerator.