Appliance upgrades - Fireplace insert or new washer dryer?
November 3, 2016 7:57 AM   Subscribe

We have a small budget ($4k) for home improvements. Please help me choose which would be better in terms of bang for my buck and energy efficiency.

We have a wood burning fireplace that we used a handful of times last winter. I was thinking of getting a wood burning insert with the understanding that it would be more energy efficient. We currently use oil and it's costing us approximately $300 every time it gets filled. Would an insert reduce our oil usage in any way? I really love having a fireplace but I don't want to be irresponsible.

I've also been having some issues with the washer and dryer. The washer (purchased in 1997 - holy crap) stinks. I've tried cleaning it with baking soda and vinegar but it still smells once it fills up. Are my clothes even getting a proper cleaning? The water doesn't get hot enough and it doesn't seem to handle lint very well.

The dryer (purchased in 2001) also doesn't feel hot enough and is also having lint issues. I have 5 cats so pet hair is a major consideration. This is the first time I'm using a home washer and dryer. I've been going to laundromats practically my entire life so my expectations might be out of whack.

I'm leaning towards replacing the washer and dryer since we use it more. This is my first home and navigating the care and maintenance is a little overwhelming.
posted by mokeydraws to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How often are are you filling your oil tank? $300 every 10 days is different than $300 every 3 months. For what it's worth I though I was using a lot of heating oil ($3-400 every 45-60 days during the coldest part of the winter) but the oil guy told me that my usage is on the low side because he has other customers who spend that much every 10 days.

I would replace the washer and dryer, then spend the rest of the money on improving the insulation of the house.
posted by eatcake at 8:03 AM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I would replace the washer and dryer now and nth checking for insulation issues as eatcake suggests. There are frequently city/state programs that will help you subsidize those costs.

If you end up wanting an insert, I suggest saving up for a pellet insert as pellet stoves are significantly more efficient and low-emissions.
posted by veery at 8:09 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't help you decide but I will speak to the fireplace.

I have a fireplace insert and I love, love, love it. We use it almost every night from the fall through spring. We spend (I think) about $300.00 for a cord of wood every year. It will help heat your house, but unless you install blowers or ducts it's mostly going to just heat the room it's in.

Our house is heated by a ground source heat pump, which we keep at a steady 68 degrees. It's not the sort of system that you can crank up to warm up the house quickly, so the fireplace lets us hang out in the living room and be super warm and cozy.

The thing to keep in mind about a fireplace, if you're using it for supplemental heat rather than just occasional atmosphere, is that it takes a bit of work. Every year we have to order wood, stack it, split some of it (the larger logs into smaller, some smaller logs into kindling) . Every couple of weeks we move some wood from our wood rack to the porch. Every couple of days we move some wood from the porch to the living room. Every night we clean the glass and set up the fire.

None of it is hard. The initial stacking (I built some nice racks a few years ago) takes a few hours, the daily glass cleaning/fire building takes a couple of minutes. But it is work. You don't just turn a knob and get heat.

That all said, it is awesome and I highly recommend it.

But if you really need a washer and dryer, you should do that first, and then schedule an energy audit to find out if you can improve your insulation.
posted by bondcliff at 8:09 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

You should look into if your state has any energy efficiency programs. My state of Maine has an amazing program involving rebates and tax incentives for upgrading your home and buying energy efficient appliances.
posted by mayonnaises at 8:10 AM on November 3, 2016

Washer and dryer. You didn't say how fancy you want to go but both pieces should be more like $2K. When you amortize that cost you'll look back and say yeah, that's like 200 bucks a year for ten years of use, less than five bucks a week. The fireplace insert is cool, but gets used only seasonally and really only heats the room it's in. When we bought our house someone gave us some advice - spend on the stuff you use every day, all the time. Kitchens and bathrooms, but washing your clothes should be pretty seamless, a nice nuetral experience, smellsy moldy washer and not-quite-hot-enough dryer don't sound like fun.
posted by fixedgear at 8:48 AM on November 3, 2016

I'd do both if I were you. I'd spend less than $1000 on used appliances and get the insert (mine was around $2000 installed) for ambiance without massive particulate emissions, to increase the number of "I really don't need to turn the heat on" days, and for emergency preparedness.

But if you're set on new high-end appliances, they'll make more of a difference to your daily life and energy efficiency.
posted by metasarah at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can do both. I mean, if you want to buy new energy efficient machines, you can spend $800 each and be very happy for the next 10 years.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:18 AM on November 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

+1 that the w/d won't eat that whole budget. I just bought a house and bought a super fancy new washer/dryer that work great -- my total with stacking kit, hoses, installation, delivery and tax was under $1700.
posted by hrj at 9:34 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

nth what everyone else is saying. Peruse Black Friday and pre- Black Friday sales, get a washer and dryer that are going to be pleasant every day to use. Then see what money you have left over (should be at least half) and reconsider your options.
posted by Night_owl at 9:48 AM on November 3, 2016

I've never regretted my fancy washer / dryer. I'd love a new fireplace insert (gas, but more efficient than the one we have), but it's been waiting for years, and will wait for longer.
Having a high efficiency washer that goes super hot and gets your clothes clean? Especially when potty training twin toddlers? Worth every single penny. And our pair cost under $2000 CAD, so you'll have extra in your fireplace savings account for a few years from now.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:49 AM on November 3, 2016

I recently bought a nice pair of super discount Samsung front loaders for $625-ish each- one had a dent on the side, an aesthetic problem I solved by putting the appliance in question in a closet.

You can spend $1200-$1500 on a washer dryer, then save, say, $500 more and go get a wood insert which would be awesome and toasty and would save on the oil bill.
posted by slateyness at 11:43 AM on November 3, 2016

I'd say it depends on how much you're home and on whether you enjoy doing practical things (chopping wood) during your free time. I'm a lazy person who likes to spend my limited free time doing fun, useless things like riding my bike, so I kind of hated our fireplace insert. Splitting, hauling, and stacking wood, cleaning up the ashes and the tracked-in mess when we carried wood into the house, etc. felt like drudgery when we had to do it all the time; I'd rather buy a quarter cord once a year for the occasional crackling fire on snowy weekend days. The insert was also impractical during the work week, since we were only home and awake for an hour or two before/after work. (This isn't an issue if you're comfortable leaving yours burning while you're asleep or out of the house. That works fine for a lot of folks who know their stoves; it wasn't doable for us because of our schedules and extremely high winds and backdraft issues where we lived.)
posted by xylothek at 11:57 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

A heated blanket or heated mattress pad, and good wool slippers and some very comfy warm lounge clotnes that you enjoy wearing, can help you lower heating usage as well. Putting shrinky plastic on the windows is great too. Both of those are inexpensive practices that pay huge dividends in energy savings.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:04 PM on November 3, 2016

How much does a fireplace insert cost???? Because we just got a brand new energy efficient washer and dryer with a ton of bells and whistles for $1600 for the pair at Sears. That leaves quite a bit left over for a fireplace insert.

Protip: buy them in white which is usually $50-$100 cheaper than silver.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:47 AM on November 4, 2016

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