Energy Star appliances typically use up to 30 percent less energy; but is any energy actually saved if we have to replace our appliances more often?

As apartment dwellers during the first 15 years of our marriage, we had to start from scratch when we furnished the house we eventually built. Thus, all of our major household appliances are now the same age: 26 years. We hope our geriatric machines won’t all require a funeral at the same time but, anticipating a coming need, we decided to visit an appliance showroom one rainy day last week to learn what’s available now and how much things cost.

We bought the best we could afford back then, not top-of-the-line, but not the cheapest, either. We didn’t want gadgetry, we just wanted reliable machines that would do the job for which they were made.

We chose a Maytag washer and dryer, in no small part due to great TV advertising. The lonely Maytag repairman whose phone never rang assured us that Maytag machines would be trouble-free and dependable. That — and a relative whose ancient Maytag washer was still sloshing and spinning after nearly two decades of washing the grimy wardrobes of seven children.

I didn’t know anyone who spoke ecstatically of her stove, so our Tappan was strictly a dark horse. My requirements were few: It had to be white, it had to fit at the end of the kitchen counter, and it would have to accommodate a large turkey. The Gibson refrigerator came on the enthusiastic advice of a food plan salesman.

The first thing our helpful appliance salesperson told us last week is that our machines are well past the age at which most from that period have failed. The second is that “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” because the life expectancy of major appliances now is between eight and 12 years.

And when it comes to buying a new refrigerator, size matters. Today’s fridge, with the same amount of storage space as our old one, is taller, wider and deeper to accommodate increased insulation so that it will comply with government Energy Star standards; toward that goal, too, is the use of a smaller compressor. In order for a new fridge to fit where my current one is, I will have to settle for less interior space.

There was bad news about the new washers and dryers, too: They’re noisier! (“So if you plan to put them anywhere but in the basement, you might want to reconsider.”) The washer’s Energy Star rating is achieved by rationing of the water level; even the largest load uses less water than my mid-’80s Maytag. I had heard complaints about new washers — front loaders, especially — not getting clothes clean, and this is why. (I didn’t inquire about a new stove. At the rate I use it, my current one will outlast me.)

Energy Star appliances typically use 20 percent to 30 percent less energy; but is any energy actually saved if we have to shop for groceries twice as often to fill the fridge, if we have to wash our clothing twice (or more) to get it clean, and if we have to replace our appliances two to three times more often?

According to our salesman, even more stringent Energy Star requirements are scheduled in 2012. Get the 2011s while you can.

Macedon, N.Y., resident Cheryl Miller writes for Messenger Post Media and can be e-mailed at Fortuna_reilly@yahoo.com.