Household appliances are expensive investments, so it's an alarming moment when the hot water heater sputters to a stop or the washing machine starts spewing suds all over the laundry room. If you're lucky, the problem is something that can be inexpensively repaired. However, sometimes your appliance is telling you it's time for a brand-new model. In fact, depending on how old your current model is, you could actually save money and come out ahead by purchasing a new, energy-efficient unit. How do you know when it's time to call the repairman, or time to pull the plug? Carefully consider your options when a machine is on the fritz: 

Do It Yourself

The first step is to read your repair manual and search online for people who have had similar problems. It could be that the issue is something simple that you can fix yourself. Things like clogged drains or filters should be an easy repair. 

Are You Under Warranty?

Lucky you. If your appliance is still under warranty, you may be eligible for free parts, a free repair or even a whole new unit, depending on the terms of your contract. Make sure to save all the paperwork when you make a major purchase, and read it over carefully before putting out any money for a repair. 

Call a Professional

If your appliance is only a few years old, it's probably worth the money to have a reliable professional come look at it and give you an estimate on what a repair should cost. Fixes like installing new motors or belts probably won't break the bank. If it's less than half the price of buying a new machine, it's probably worth it to fix instead of buy. Ask how many more years you can expect the appliance to last after a repair.

Time to Go Shopping

If your appliance is more than 6 or 7 years old, or if it's broken down numerous times in the past, it's time to start looking for a new model. If you are still coaxing an ancient, decades-old device into health, you might be shocked at how much you can save with an upgrade.

If you decide it's time to buy a new unit, do your research before you buy. The federal Energy Star program maintains a directory of products that meet strict efficiency guidelines, so you can be sure that whatever you buy will help tamp down your utility bills. Do some math to figure out how long your expected energy savings will take to cover the cost of the appliance. Also, don't forget to factor in any delivery or installation charges, plus the removal bill for the old unit.

Take Care of Your Appliances 

Finally, don't forget to read and follow all manufacturer instructions and keep up with any routine maintenance for your household appliances to extend their life and prevent breakdowns in the first place. A few minutes of work per year can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.