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Repair or Replace Your Ailing AC Unit: 6 Critical Factors to Consider

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Last Updated on July 29, 2015


It’s an age old question: how can you tell when a piece of equipment has outlived its useful life? Can you get your older unit to last another couple of years by fixing it, or will you have to continue putting money into it? Newer units are more energy efficient and can lower your electric bill, but what about the upfront cost?

One reason this is such a commonly asked question is that there is no cut and dried answer. There are many factors to consider when making this decision. You’re probably aware that some service providers will try to sell you a new system when your old one just needs a simple repair. Other providers that make their money on repeat service calls may encourage you to keep fixing a unit that’s become a money pit. So how can you decide? Consider the following:

1. The age of the unit.

Most light commercial air conditioning units are designed to last about 15 to 20 years under optimal conditions. Many factors can reduce that “typical” lifespan, including poor air quality in a large city like New York and exposure to the elements for a rooftop unit. If your air conditioner is more than 10 years old, and especially if it is exposed to harsh conditions, it may not be worth investing much in repairs at that point.

2. Condition and service history.

How the equipment has been cared for has a major impact on the lifespan of an air conditioning unit. Has it been regularly serviced and cleaned according to the manufacturer’s recommendations since it was installed? If so, then most parts may be in good shape even if the system is more than 10 years old, and the unit is less likely to keep failing.

3. What’s broken.

When it’s a simple fix, like an electrical connection, repair is probably the way to go. But if the compressor goes, especially on an older unit, it’s time to replace. The compressor is one of the key components of the system, and the investment to fix it is often not worth the money. Also, compressors often fail because of secondary problems, so if you replace the compressor you will likely encounter another problem before too long. Refrigerant leaks are also a tricky problem, especially on an older system that has corrosion on the coils. Finding the source of multiple leaks can be time consuming and expensive, and even once you fix them an older system may continue to develop more leaks. In this case, replacement is likely to be the wiser option.

4. Cost to operate.


You’ve probably heard that newer air conditioners are more energy efficient and can reduce your electric bill. What you may not realize is how much you can save and how quickly that savings can make up for the cost of new equipment. Check out these resources to calculate how much you can save:

5. The green factor.

There are also environmental issues to think about when making a repair or replace decision. Do you feel guilty dumping the old unit in a landfill when you could get a little more life out of it? Some contractors recycle old equipment, so be sure to ask your provider about that option if replacement looks like the right choice for you. Also, in addition to consuming less energy resources, today’s units use more environmentally friendly refrigerants that don’t deplete the ozone layer.

6. Comfort factor.

If your system has been in place for a while, and especially if the building’s occupancy and usage have changed, your system’s capacity and ventilation may no longer be adequate for the space. If this is the case, if you fix your old unit you will still be left with temperature variances and even air quality problems. If you are experiencing hot and cold spots, humidity issues, odors, and even reports of “sick building” symptoms from occupants, replacement is probably the way to go. Your contractor can then evaluate the usage, capacity and location of your unit and ventilation equipment, increasing the comfort levels in your building.

Consult with experts you can trust

If you’re in a repair-vs-replacement situation, be sure to consult with an HVAC company like Arista 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. After an inspection of your equipment, you’ll get an evaluation of the problem, your equipment’s condition and energy efficiency, and advice you can trust. You’ll have the information you need to make an informed decision.

For more information on whether you should repair or replace that HVAC equipment, download a free copy of our Repair or Replace Guide. 

Should you repair or replace that broken HVAC equipment? Download the complete guide.