Public meeting tonight on new roads in N. Charleston

We never seem to realize our dependence on our appliances until one of them suddenly stops working.

It could be that one day the microwave quits heating, we catch on to the fact that our refrigerator isn't quite keeping our foods cold enough or, in my case, a dishwasher that indicates the dishes are clean even though food is still stuck to them. Yes, there's nothing appetizing about a dishwasher that's not doing its job, especially with two kids at home.

I dreaded the thought of going dishwasher shopping and shelling out money I hadn't budgeted.

However, it took me just a few minutes to find out that my dishwasher's problem could be fixed for just a few dollars.

Well, it wasn't quite that simple at first.

That's why I want to share my experience with you so you can avoid some of the same headaches. At first, a repairman told me I needed a new electronic control panel, which would cost hundreds of dollars. Two displays later and the dishwasher still didn't work.

In the end, it turned out to be a small piece of calcified tubing that was simple to replace and extremely cheap.

So it got me to thinking about how often we all ditch appliances that still have a lot of life left in them when repairing them is easier on our wallet and on our planet. In fact, dishwashers should last around 10 years. It's the same for microwaves and washing machines.

Clothes dryers and full-size refrigerators have a life expectancy around 13 years.

The best rule of thumb when it comes to these appliances is to fix it unless it's already well past its life expectancy.

Tackling these projects yourself is easier than ever, even if you don't consider yourself handy.

There's a "Virtual Repairman" tool on PartSelect.com that not only helps you figure out what's wrong, it shows you what you'll need to make the fix and step-by-step instructions.

You can find quick links to these pages at DoYourPart.com/columns.

Of course, it's important to point out that doing a little maintenance on your appliances will help keep them running longer.

Cleaning the coils underneath the fridge and replacing the sealing on the doors can help.

For dishwashers, making sure food traps are kept clean is important. And clothes dryers benefit from periodic cleaning of the vent line all the way to the exterior of your home.

If one day you do decide that you need to upgrade your appliance, choose an energy-efficient model and be sure to responsibly recycle your old one.

Many contain valuable components that should never be dumped in a landfill. Earth911.com will help you find appliance-recycling resources near you.

"Do Your Part" when making decisions about your appliances because sometimes a little elbow grease can make all the difference in the world.

Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, syndicated columnist and host of DoYourPart.com, where you can find everyday green living ideas. Send questions to terri@do yourpart.com.