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How Long Should an Air Conditioner Last?

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Last Updated on January 17, 2020


how long should an air conditioner last

With the hottest temperatures of the year staring us down, the last thing we need is a meltdown over an air conditioner breakdown. Home and business owners and facility and property managers across the NYC metropolitan area are keeping their fingers crossed that mature air conditioning systems make it through the summer. This tenuous situation can’t help beg the question, “How long should an air conditioner last?”

HVAC experts say an air conditioner should last about 15 to 20 years under normal conditions. However, many factors can reduce that life, including poor installation, operating conditions, system sizing, and neglected maintenance.

If you’re trying to assess how long should an air conditioner should last because you’re facing a repair or replace decision, here’s another useful rule of thumb:

If your system has reached 75-percent of its projected life expectancy and you are facing a repair equivalent to more than one-third your system’s replacement cost, replacement might be the prudent road to take.

Let’s take a look at a full range of issues that impact whether or not your air conditioner should last 15 to 20 years.

Top factors to consider when evaluating air conditioner life expectancy issues

1. Age

Doesn’t it usually come down to age when considering the life expectancy of all living and manufactured things? So, why should an air conditioner life expectancy be any different? Though HVAC experts say an air conditioner should last 15 to 20 years, there are several factors that can reduce or expand the life expectancy of a unit.

Neglected routine service and exposure to harsh weather and outdoor dirt and debris can deplete the life of your system, which is something you should be aware of when predicting how long an air conditioner should last. If you are facing a costly repair, you have to gauge whether it’s worth the investment considering the age of our system. If you have an older, repair-plagued system, you may be painfully aware that parts are becoming harder to find and more costly.

2. Quality of system & installation

While you don’t have to go out and buy the most expensive system on the market, it pays to research the reputation and ratings of the manufacturer and the model you intend to purchase. Here’s another little-known fact: the quality of the installation is as important as the quality of the equipment. If the installer is not an HVAC expert, they may take shortcuts and make mistakes that shorten the life of the equipment. So make sure you also research the installer’s reputation.

When determining how long an air conditioner should last, look at whether your equipment and your installer are known for topnotch dependability.

3. Routine service history

It cannot be under-emphasized that regular preventative maintenance will prolong the life of your system. If you realize maybe you haven’t been exactly proactive with routine maintenance, you might be setting yourself up for a premature equipment replacement. However, if you have had your system serviced regularly, your system may defy its age and your air conditioner should last the full 15 to 20 years or even longer.

Learn more: Air Conditioning Maintenance Doesn’t Cost. It Pays.

4. Overall equipment condition

When debating the how long should an air conditioning last question, are you looking at the number of visits you’ve had from repair technicians? Are you nursing your unit through another season? Constant repair especially of an aged system is a telltale sign that replacement might very well be in order.

5. Type of repair

If your air conditioner is getting up there in years and/or is in poor condition, it may not make sense to make a very costly repair.

It’s one thing to repair a minor electrical problem, but quite another thing if your compressor goes. If you have an older system, a compressor repair could be a repair non-starter. Besides a failed compressor being the most costly repair, a worn-out compressor often signals other problems. Commonly, refrigerant leaks are linked to a malfunctioning compressor and once one leak is found it’s not unusual for another to be found around the corner.

Incidentally, if your system was installed prior to 2010, it probably uses Freon (also known as R22 refrigerant), which is being phased out by the EPA. That’s a critically important factor in your repair or replace decision. Learn more from this resource: R22 Refrigerant Phase Out: Do You Need to Replace Your AC?.

R-22 refrigerant phase out

6. Operating conditions and location of system

When looking at how long an air conditioner should last, do not overlook the significance of location. Rooftop and street level systems are exposed to harsh weather, debris, dirt and soot. Outdoor units are more likely to become clogged prompting the units to work harder to achieve set temperature levels. When a system is continually overworked, it increases wear and tear on the parts, ultimately causing more breakdowns and shortened system life.

7. System sizing

Whether the air conditioning in your home or business space is not achieving an acceptable comfort level, a decline in operational consistency could be a sign that you might be on the brink of needing a new system, especially if your system is getting up there in years.

If your building’s configuration or occupancy has changed, that can have an impact on how long the air conditioner will last. Your HVAC system may no longer be adequate for your space.

If your system is oversized, it cools down the temperature rapidly, but does not run long enough to remove moisture from the air and could leave you feeling cool, but sticky. To compensate, many people will lower a thermostat to allow the air conditioning to work longer. This puts a lot of wear and tear on a system and could lead to humidity problems and odors and prompt the growth of mold and mildew.

If the system is undersized or poorly designed for your space layout, it has to run constantly trying to reach set temperature. Again, increased operation wears out the parts and the entire system faster.

Learn more: The Goldilocks Syndrome: Incorrect HVAC Sizing Can Cost You

8. Energy efficiency

Though you may not relish laying out a substantial amount of money for a new system, you should not discount the efficiency factor when mulling how long should an air conditioner last.

If you have an older system, it certainly is not as efficient as their air conditioning systems of today. When looking into whether to repair or replace your older air conditioner, keep in mind efficiency equals savings on electric bills. In many cases, the savings achieved on electricity makes up for the upfront costs of a new system in a short period of time.

9. Freon is anything but free

As we mentioned earlier, an important matter to consider is the continued availability of the refrigerant your system uses. Under federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Freon (R22 refrigerant) can no longer be produced or imported in the U.S. effective January 2020. If your system was installed before 2010, it likely is cooled with R22.

Now that the Freon phase-out is complete, only reclaimed R22 is available for repairs. Not surprisingly, the cost of the dwindling supply is very high. This has resulted in R22 refrigerant related repair costs rapidly increasing.

How long should an air conditioner last? Making a final decision.

When exploring how long an air conditioner should last, and will it last 15 to 20 years as expected, our final decision is likely to rest on dollars and cents (sense). When weighing repair costs against replacement costs and digesting the factors mentioned above, the rule of thumb mentioned earlier can be a big help.

Also, get this helpful guide that gives more examples of the types of repairs that might be worth fixing, and helps you calculate the ROI from energy efficiency: Repair or Replace? A guide to making an informed choice when your HVAC system is down.

Repair-vs-Replace CTA