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Air Conditioner Replacement or Repair? How to Decide.

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Last Updated on July 29, 2015


Congratulations, New Yorkers! We’ve made it through a long, nasty winter, and it’s finally spring. The robins have arrived, there are tulips poking through the ground, and it seems like everyone is walking around with a smile. It won’t be long before it’s time to turn on the air conditioner and break out the flip flops.

Speaking of turning on the air conditioner, actually the time to turn it on is NOW, before the hot days arrive and you really need it. Give it a test run to make sure it starts up ok and no problems have arisen from the unit sitting unused all winter.

But what happens when you turn on your AC and it starts making hideous noises? Or it blows a fuse? Or it starts up but no cold air comes out? Or worse, nothing happens at all? Unfortunately, you’ll have to make that dreaded emergency service call.

One of the reasons you hate making that call, especially if you have an older air conditioner, is that you have a pretty good idea what the outcome is going to be: your air conditioning unit is DOA and you’ll have a decision to make. Is it worth repairing, or is it time to throw in the towel and invest in an air conditioner replacement?

Do you need an air conditioner replacement?

It’s a tough decision to make, partly because there’s no cut and dried answer. You might be able to get your older unit to last another couple of years by fixing it, but you may end up sinking a lot of money into a unit that’s on its last legs. If you buy a newer air conditioner replacement that’s more energy efficient, you’ll lower your electric bill, but the upfront cost can be a significant chunk of change.

It doesn’t help when the service guy either won’t give you advice (it’s up to you!) or you’re not sure you can trust the advice you’re getting. Some service providers will try to sell you a new air conditioner replacement when your old one just needs a simple repair. Others that make their money on repeat service calls may encourage you to keep fixing a unit that’s past its useful life.

So how can you decide whether to repair or replace your ailing air conditioner? Consider these factors to help you make the best choice:

How old is the air conditioner?

Most light commercial air conditioning units are designed to last about 15 to 20 years under optimal conditions. In New York City, the poor air quality can take its toll and reduce that typical lifespan considerably. If your air conditioner is more than 10 years old, especially if you have a rooftop or outdoor unit exposed to smog and pollution, its condition may prohibit investing much in repairs at that point.

What’s broken?

Some problems, even though they may seem serious, are actually easy and relatively inexpensive to fix. Electrical issues often fall into this category.

But if the compressor goes, especially on an older unit, it’s usually time to replace. The compressor is the heart of the system, and the investment to fix it is often not worth the money. That’s also true because many times compressor failure is caused by a secondary issue that won’t be discovered until after you replace it.

Other issues, such as refrigerant leaks, can go either way. One small leak might be an easy fix. But finding the source of multiple leaks on an older system with a lot of corrosion on the coils can be time consuming and expensive. And ineffective, since more leaks will continue to develop. In this case, replacement is likely to be the wiser option.

How has the performance been over the past few years?

Has this unit been running reliably for years? If this is the first time it’s had a service issue, and the parts are in good shape, there’s a good chance it’s worth fixing. On the other hand, if it’s had a history of breakdowns and poor performance (like inconsistent cooling and humidity problems) then even if you fix it, you’re likely to keep experiencing problems.

Has the unit been regularly maintained?

How the equipment has been cared for has a major impact on the lifespan of an air conditioning unit. When was the last time it had a tune up and inspection? If the unit has been regularly serviced and cleaned according to the manufacturer’s recommendations since it was installed, the air conditioner is probably in good shape even if it’s more than 10 years old. If maintenance has been neglected, it’s more likely to keep failing, and you’re better off with an air conditioner replacement.

How’s your comfort level?

Are you experiencing hot and cold spots, musty odors, or even outbreaks of illness among the occupants of your space, air conditioner replacement is probably the way to go. If your system has been in place for a while, it’s likely that the usage and occupancy of the space have changed over the years, and the system’s capacity and ventilation are no longer adequate to meet your needs. Even if you fix the problem that’s caused it to break down, you’ll likely still be plagued with comfort and air quality issues.

Related Article: Could Your New York HVAC System Be Making You Sick?

How much can you save with a more efficient air conditioner replacement?

All equipment sales literature promises that an efficient new air conditioner will save you money by reducing your electric bill. Can the savings really be worth the cost of a new air conditioner replacement? Especially if you have an air conditioner that’s more than 10 years old, the cash you save each month can be substantial and can add up very quickly. To figure out how much you could save with a new, energy efficient system, check out these calculators:

Related Article: Understanding Air Conditioning Energy Efficiency Ratings

Trust the experts to help you decide

If you’re in a repair-vs-air conditioner replacement situation, be sure to consult with an HVAC company that handles both repairs and new installations. Experts who do both have no reason for steering you toward one option or the other based on their own best interest.

Make sure you get not just a diagnosis of the current problem, but the following information from the technician who inspects your air conditioner:

  • an evaluation of other ongoing issues
  • your equipment’s condition
  • its energy efficiency rating
  • anticipated life span of the unit

Armed with this information, you’ll be in a position to make an informed decision about repairing or investing in an air conditioner replacement. Want more detailed advice about making this decision? Download our free guide: Repair or Replace? A guide to making an informed choice when your HVAC system is down.
Should you repair or replace that broken HVAC equipment? Download the complete guide.