Computerized, front-load washing machines are all the rage these days, with proponents touting their energy- and water-saving capabilities. While these appliances are considered green machines by some, many people also buy them simply to cut back on their utility bills. But how much can you really save by buying a front-load washer?
Let’s start with the cost of the machine itself. The price tag on an average top-load washer is between $300 and $500, while a front-load machine will run you between $600 and $1,200, so you’ll be paying at least twice the price for one of these units up front. But the added cost isn’t such a big deal if you can offset it with energy savings over the life of the machine, which averages from seven to 10 years.
For a typical family of four, a traditional top-load machine will consume about 400 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, at a cost of about $48. This is based on a national average, so check to see how much this will cost in your area.
A front-load machine, on the other hand, uses about 150 kwh per year, at a cost of about $18, saving you around $30 each year in electricity costs.
In addition to using less electricity, front-load washers also use one-third of the water of a traditional top-load unit, about 13 gallons less per load. Again, how much money this will save you is going to depend on the cost of water in your area, so check your water bill and do the math. But, on average, you stand to recoup about $30 per year. And for those in rural areas that rely on a septic tank, the less water you pump into the tank, the less that needs to get pumped back out, so you’ll see an even greater savings there.
While the decreased utility costs make front-loaders seem like a wise choice, many people fail to realize that these machines, which are more complicated than top-load washers, also come with higher maintenance costs.
“You can’t send a junior tech to work on a front-load washer; you have to know how to work on them,” said Vitaliy Lerman, owner of Lerman Appliances in Los Angeles.
The labor alone can run about 20 percent more for these units, Lerman says., and parts are more expensive, as well.
“Usually with a front-load washer, the parts cost a little more,” said Robert Wilson, owner of The Fix-It Guy appliance repair service in Chicago. “Front-load washers are also highly computerized.”
For instance, replacing the barrel in a traditional top-load washer costs about $80, according to Wilson, but the same job on a front-load washer can run much as $250 or more. On average, parts on a front-load machine cost anywhere from two to five times the amount of their top-load counterparts.
The high-tech electronics found in front-load machines control everything from dispensing laundry soap to locking the front door. These complex circuit boards can make it nearly impossible for a serviceman to troubleshoot a problem, requiring him to replace the malfunctioning board entirely, which can cost between $150 and $250. Old-school top-load machines often contain no circuit boards and are controlled by a low-tech, but effective analog timer.
So Which Washer to Buy?
So should you buy a front-load washer purely to save money? Yes and no. Yes if you live in a state with higher-than-average utility costs, yes if you have a septic tank, and yes if you are doing a lot of laundry each week. However, even in these cases, the cost savings over the life of the appliance are not going to be as high as the salesman might have you believe.
For those who live in a state with low utility costs, it might make more sense to stick with a traditional top-load machine, at least until the cost of high-efficiency units come down.