Why I Didn’t Buy a High Efficiency Front Load Washer

05 Jul Why I Didn’t Buy a High Efficiency Front Load Washer

Repair top load washing machine

Last month I wrote a few articles about our broken washing machine and our options to either repair it or replace it. I compared front load washers to top load washers. I then investigated the option of repairing the old washer. When I left off with the articles I was on the fence with what I should do. I really wanted to buy a high efficiency front load washer but I really didn’t want to spend the money yet. I was ready to get rid of the 20+ year old washer we had, but it was so much cheaper to just get it repaired.

Well, the more my wife and I investigated our options, the more we leaned to one side. Here’s what we found: high efficiency front load washers do indeed save you money. The savings is mostly in the form of lower water usage, but there is a minor energy savings in the amount of water that needs to be heated per cycle and in the length of time you need to dry your clothes. If you do the math, you’ll find that a new front load washer will pay for itself in energy savings over the course of its lifetime. This assumes the average lifetime of 10 years for these models of washers.

But there’s where the problems begin with the math. The average lifetime of these high efficiency washers is around 10 years, according to Consumer Reports. Not knowing what the data distribution looks like (sorry for my engineering nerdiness coming out here), there could be a large percentage of these washers that don’t make it past seven or eight years. The break-even point is right around ten years, so your machine has to be average or above average to make the purchase worth it.

In fact, when we started quizzing our friends who own high efficiency front load washers, the majority of our [unscientifically selected, non-random] population sample reported that their front loaders didn’t make it more than six years without having problems. This started to scare us a little. We then talked to our friend who happens to be an appliance repairman. He had nothing good to say about the front load washers. From his perspective many of them are poorly designed and they are prone to premature failure in the bearings, which are not an inexpensive repair. Now we were really concerned.

Then we thought about what comes with the new washer. If you get a new washer, you just HAVE to get a new dryer, don’t you? OK, we all know you don’t but that’s the logic that flows through our minds, isn’t it? Washers and dryers are a fashion statement so it’s important to have matching ones. Well we realized that wasn’t exactly necessary but if we chose to get a high efficiency dryer, the cost savings isn’t nearly as good as the front load washer so it doesn’t exactly pay for itself.

So that brings us to decision time. Do we spend upwards of a thousand dollars in the hope of our new washer lasting long enough for the energy savings to pay for the purchase of the washer? Or do we spend just a little on our low efficiency but dependable Maytag top load washer? We called our repairman and fixed the old one for $115. We have no idea how long the washer will last from this point forward, but given that it’s lasted this long I think we’ll definitely get our money’s worth.

The other option to consider is checking your home warranty policy to see if it covers appliance repair costs. Many do and it’s worth looking into if you are faced with a costly appliance repair. Check out AFC review to find out what people had to say about their home warranty plans.

  • Carnival of Wealth #46 – July 10 2011 Edition — Personal Dividends - Money+Lifestyle
    Posted at 15:46h, 10 July

    […] answered here. We cover everything from downsizing to credit card applications!”Matt presents Why I Didn’t Buy a High Efficiency Front Load Washer posted at Living in Financial Excellence, saying “So that brings us to decision time. Do we […]

  • James Dibben
    Posted at 11:28h, 27 August

    Interesting story, Matt.

    Julie and I chose a front load machine back in 2006. So far no problems of any kind. We are only 5 years in so thanks for the not-so-happy information!

    Julie does so much laundry for our family of 6 that we saw the savings right away. Our water bill dropped by $60 a month right from the start. Our previous washing machine was super old and had been purchased used.

    Our dryer was dead at the time as well. We chose a cheap regular front load dryer at the time. It seems to have held up.

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 07:53h, 29 August

      Wow, that’s a big savings in water James! So yours has paid for itself in the first 1-2 years. Cool. That brings up a good point though. The individual family’s water savings will depend on the size of the family.

  • Julie
    Posted at 10:05h, 15 January

    I bought a HE set from a friend in April. I am still waiting to see the savings. My water bill hasn’t decreased at all and neither has my electric bill. We didn’t even water a lot this year as we had sufficient rain, so what is the deal? Am I doing something wrong? We still have the same amount of people, our laundry usage has not increased. I noticed I have a lot of “estimate” readings on my water bill, but the last one was an actual and it’s about the same as always. Should I investigate my village’s reading of my meter? There’s 8 people in my house, so I should have seen a significant decrease in my water usage right?

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 14:03h, 15 January

      Hmmm, not sure Julie. Are you increasing the size of your loads? They’re supposed to use drastically less water because they wash larger loads and tumble in the same water over and over, thereby reducing the number of fill – and – drain cycles. It may be worth your time to have the water meter checked out.

  • Marilyn
    Posted at 13:35h, 18 February

    IS IT POSSIBLE TO BUY THE OLD STYLE WASHER – TOP LOAD WITH AGITATER??? We moved across 2 states which was quite a feat since we are in our late 60s. We left the washer and dryer for the new owners since the washer was over 10 years old and we didn’t want to move them. We would have made a different decision if we had had any knowledge of HE washers and the fact that freedom of choice would be limited to a washer that DOES NOT WASH CLOTHES and obviously uses more energy in the process. Now after 6 months the Whirlpool Cabrio WTW5640XW will not drain the water completely and spin the clothes. They are wringing wet. Lowes is taking it back and we are upgrading to a more expensive washer. My fear is that after all this money we will be just as unhappy with it. I can’t believe we citizens of this free nation are putting up with shelling out tons of money for High Efficiency appliances which are anything but efficient. The environmentalists are killing this country with this ridiculousness. We will soon be forced into buying cars which will only go 40 miles on an electric charge (requiring many hours) and will not do anything good for the environment.

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 13:51h, 18 February

      Wow Marilyn, tell us how you really feel 🙂 I think it is possible to buy the old style (seems like I saw one at the store not too long ago) but I have also heard that the government is requiring manufacturers to phase them out. Otherwise, there are still garage sales and things like that. But eventually we won’t have a choice anymore.

  • Jen
    Posted at 14:22h, 27 April

    It seem like your paying the Sam amount either way. It’s just a matter of who you are paying it to the manufacturers or the utility companies.

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 07:28h, 28 April

      Ooooh, that’s a good point Jen. Either way we won’t have a choice in a few years when the new government regulations are in place and we can only get the high efficiency machines.

  • Jon
    Posted at 10:34h, 26 September

    I know this is an old article, but I wanted to add my comment anyway. Growing up, my parents’ washer and dryer sets lasted 20 years or so with minimal problems. In 2006, they bought a HE top loading washer and a dryer. They remodeled a couple years later, so they gave the set to us. While grateful for the gift, I’m disgusted by the quality of the washer. I’ve repaired it twice myself – two different issues. Now, it seems like the bearing for the drum is going out. This is a $250 part + $300 or so in labor, or an entire weekend of my time if I do it myself. I talked to a lady at my church this last weekend about it. She and her husband own an appliance store. She said that the new HE washers just don’t last as long, and that California is phasing out the old style washers. She said confirmed the lifetime already stated – about 10 years is the max that they will last without major problems, mainly due to the electronics and the tub bearing, which is not strong enough to handle the increased spin cycle speeds. Pretty frustrating. I looked at a Speed Queen commercial washer online just for fun – they are built to handle anything you can throw at them. They are also several thousand dollars for the front loaders.

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 11:29h, 26 September

      I agree with your frustration Jon. My friend is an appliance repairman and he echos the sentiment that the bearings just don’t last on the HE washers. They’re built to be affordable, not to last.

      I also agree with your thoughts about the commercial washers, but the cost may not offset any savings you’ll see.

  • Miss Too Darn Happy
    Posted at 03:28h, 02 October

    Hi Matt!
    When we ran our inn, we had one laundry with 2 Sears top loaders, and one with an HE machine. The Sears were better hands down. When my hubbie and I needed a new set, though, we found a practically brand new HE set. I hate it. All the loads I run are thru the delicate cycle. I had to run the spin cycle twice and a double dryer cycle to get everything dry. I will never buy another HE machine again. Time to vote these idiot politicians out who mandate good products out of our lives!

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 19:05h, 03 October

      You may not have a choice before too long, Kim. I will say I like the set we got with the house we just bought. We wash way fewer loads now, which is much more convenient. We did have to replace the heating element in the dryer because the previous homeowners didn’t appear to clean out the dryer vent very often. Otherwise they seem to be working fine.

  • Laura
    Posted at 13:55h, 12 December

    Three years ago we purchased the Whirlpool Duet Washer and Dryer (front load). Recently my washer showed an error. Turns out it is a communication error which could be ANYTHING in the washer. Repairman checked for what could be the “cheap fixes” naturally it wasn’t any of them. Apparently it is one of the main components, but there is no way to test to see which one is bad. Whirlpool recommends replacing ALL OF THEM when this code shows up. Guess What? This weekend I’ll be out purchasing a TOP LOADER and yes, they do make HE top loaders with the agitator in them (also without).

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 20:04h, 12 December

      I think if I were buying a new one I’d probably go with a top load like you did, Laura. I do have to say, though, that once we moved into our new house and got the HE front loaders that were already there, I LOVE them! Mostly for the capacity. I don’t know if we save any energy but the time savings is big because we do far fewer loads to get the same amount of laundry done.

  • Rick
    Posted at 07:49h, 23 April

    I just like how front load washers and dryers are easier on my clothes. I refuse to buy my front load washers and dryers new. I bought a Samsung front load washer for $70. It only needed the main board replaced. I paid $110 for the main board, cleaned the rest of the machine and it has been running great ever since.Someone paid $1,200 for that machine when it was new. I bought it when it was 2 years old.No more ripped jeans from that crazy top load washer. I am now helping people that live near me understand the benefits of the front load washers and dryers. For those people that complain about the smell that front load washers get over time, just take the time to clean your washer and dryer, there is a liquid cleaner you can buy to run through your machine. Take the time to understand how to maintain what you buy and it will last for a long time.

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 17:33h, 23 April

      Awesome job getting the benefits of the front load machines without paying the full price! I agree with your thoughts on the maintenance of the machines – if you take care of them, they’ll last much longer. Just like any piece of machinery we own, I suppose.

  • Choosing The Right Washing Machine » Plumberologist
    Posted at 10:01h, 15 July

    […] more upfront. They typically cost a couple hundred dollars more upfront, but they do pay themselves over their lifetime, if you take care of them. They pay you back in about 10 years, which is the average lifetime of a […]

  • Cindy
    Posted at 17:25h, 08 November

    I was happy to find this blog. I realize no one has posted for over a year, but here are my thoughts.

    We’re replacing a Kenmore top loading, agitator model must be 16-20 years old. Until it stopped spinning, it was “old faithful;” never needed any work. I live in CA, where “drought” is a real concern, so saving water is important. In looking at a replacement, the HE option seemed like a no-brainer on that front. Plus, all the articles emphasized the savings in heating costs associated with gas and electricity consumption for both the wash and dry cycles.

    So, I looked at HE washers, top and front. Priciest are the front loaders. Opinions vary between which is better (personal preference probably). No matter top or front, the general consensus is their life cycles are significantly less than my top loading Kenmore was.

    As someone noted, the disposal cost doesn’t seem to be taken into account in the total analysis of these machines, either in the impact on the environment or the impact on the financial cost. If I pay an extra $100-$200 now in order to potentially save $200-$300 in energy costs, but I have to replace the washer in 10 years rather than 15 years, and the old washer gets scrapped and making a new one consumes resources, is my purchase really helping me financially or the environment?

    It feels like so many purchase decisions these days: tons of information, and, at the end of the day, it’s hard to know what the right choice is. Thanks for letting me vent 🙂

    • Matt
      Posted at 20:04h, 03 December

      Great thoughts Cindy. We just went through the same saga (again) with the front load set that came with the house we bought. We finally decided to replace both rather than repair them. We chose the HE top loader because we just didn’t feel like our front loader got our clothes as clean as we wanted. We are super happy with the top loader because they still use less water than old school washers, and they use water jets to help agitate the clothes. The result seems to be cleaner clothes and more capacity, at a lower price and decent water usage.

  • Susie Resen
    Posted at 17:27h, 17 February

    Just want to let everyone know that I bought a HE washer and replaced it with another one within two years. The second one only lasted 6 years when I owned a top loader machine that had last for 15 years. I am going back to top loader.

  • Brian Sweet
    Posted at 20:57h, 04 July

    They made great washing machines back when the focus was on performance, convenience and quality rather than meeting government mandated efficiency requirements and satisfying modern economic rationalism in a globalized economy. Many machines are now fully or partially imported from places with no environmental standards, where quality control is poor and where the workforce is treated like trash. These are other trade offs that one needs to consider when buying modern appliances. What the above article states is also correct. The life span of most modern washers is less than ten years and monetary savings are rarely realized by consumers. All in all its all just a sales pitch that panders to a sentiment about doing something for the planet. Washing machines have become very generic, mass-produced items that do not stimulate the imagination anymore and manufacturers have to come up with something to pique consumer interest. Promising the holy grail of green washing – which is largely a myth – is one way of doing so.

    I say if it is feasible to cheaply repair a 20 year old washer to get another 5 or 10 years out of it, go for it. That is far more environmentally sound than buying a disposable HE washer that ends up by the kerb in less than 10 years.

  • Georgia Ludwig
    Posted at 14:05h, 30 July

    In 2005, I purchased a new Maytag front loader washing machine and matching dryer. It’s now 2015, and I’ve not had a single problem with either machine. Water usage is huge issue here in CA, and the washer does the job perfectly with dramatic waters savings. It has plenty of settings: Hand Wash; Delicate; Heavy Duty; Regular, etc. Of course, since I bought my set, Maytag has sold out to another company–so who knows what the quality is now.

  • Maya
    Posted at 17:32h, 22 April

    I have owned 2 front loaders; one was a Bosch that lasted a year and was replaced under extended warranty because they didn’t have a repair person in my area. The other is a Maytag that has recently broken down after about 6 – 61/2 years. We got an estimate on the repairs which is $1457. This is not including repair of the drum which is under warranty for 10 years. Without that warranty, it would have been close to $3000 to fix for a machine that costed $900. I have always felt that the front loaders did an inferior job of cleaning the clothes though I never had an issue with mold or musty smells that many people encounter…maybe because we always left the door open when not in use..? in any case, we are once again on the hunt for a new machine….I vote for a top loader…

  • Audrey Hammer
    Posted at 16:46h, 23 August

    My HE front loader just died. It lasted a little less than 8 years. It saved me some water, but as it took 70-90 minutes to wash a load, I don’t think it saved me any electricity. The repairman said the new ones are made much more cheaply, often using plastic bearings that don’t hold up. I’m considering an HE top loader.

  • Cindy
    Posted at 06:56h, 22 September

    I have a whirlpool duet washer & dryer I purchased in 2004 I have had no issues with repair on washer. Dryer stopped working last year got it repaired for around 100.00. Now it just stopped working again, but washer is still working and I wash 2-3 loads or more a day. I think I got my money’s worth. But because of dryer going out again I just went out and purchased a new front load washer and matching dryer.