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Buying a new washing machine

Washing machine technology has come a long way since the days of the corrugated washboard. Today's machines are faster and quieter and clean better than ever before. But that doesn't mean they last forever.

While washing machines typically have a 14-year average lifespan, experts suggest it's probably time to replace your current washer when the cost of a repair is more than half the ticket price of a comparable new appliance.

Before you head to the showroom with its rows of seek machines and fancy features, you'll need to decide what's more important to you: price or efficiency.

"Do you want the lowest possible price now, or do you want something a bit more expensive that will pay for itself in energy savings throughout the years?" asks Todd Coupal, merchandising manager for the Future Shop.

If you're on a tight budget, a traditional top loader may be your only option. While top loaders can range in price from $400 to $1,000, a basic front loader starts around $800, and luxury models will set you back $2,300. Keep in mind, though, that the ticket price isn't the only cost to consider.

"One of the things to look for is the EnerGuide label," says Anne Wilkins, program manager at Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE). "The rating tells you how much energy the washer uses in one year based on an average of seven loads per week or 392 loads per year." The lower the number, the more efficient the appliance.

This EnerGuide rating can also help you calculate the secondary price tag -- the cost of running the appliance over its lifetime. For example, a standard-sized top-load washer with an EnerGuide rating of 438 kWh/year costs $613.81 to run over its lifespan while a more efficient front-load washer, with a 152 kWh/year EnerGuide rating, costs $213.01 over the same time period -- a $400 difference.

To calculate the "bottom-line cost" of a new washer based on its EnerGuide rating, visit the OEE's Interactive Energy Cost Calculator. Or, check out this comprehensive, up-to-date list of hundreds of top- and front-loading washers with information on water consumption, EnerGuide ratings, annual electricity cost and second price tags.

Top loaders versus front loaders
While a traditional top loader cleans clothes by submersing them in a tub of water and rubbing them around a central agitator (the big paddle in the center), front-load washers use a tumbling action, whereby clothes are picked up inside the drum, lifted to the top and then dropped into a layer of water at the bottom.

The cleaning method isn't the only discernible difference: front-load washers are more efficient, using 30 to 50 percent less water than conventional top-load machines, they require significantly less detergent and fabric softener and they spin twice as fast -- between 1,000 and 1,300 rpm (rotations per minute) compared to 600 rpm for top loaders. This extracts much more water, resulting in a much shorter drying time. What's more, this tumbling action is much gentler on clothes as they're not twisted around the central post.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is the look. Today's front loaders come in a wide range of sleek designs, finishes and colours (such as red, navy blue and grey) to complement today's more sophisticated laundry rooms.

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-- Posted: Dec. 24, 2007
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