This is an update to one of our most popular and helpful blog posts. We’ve added advice for those of you who have an older R22 AC unit that uses the Freon refrigerant which is being phased out. Here’s the original: Repair or Replace An Air Conditioner: The Right Way to Decide.
If you’ve got an aging air conditioner, you may be breathing a sigh of relief when Labor Day rolls around. You made it through another summer with the old unit! But don’t talk too soon, September can still get steamy in NYC and if your unit is not performing as it should be, you could still experience a breakdown during a brutal week of Indian summer weather. Then you’ll need to decide whether to repair or replace it.
If you’ve got an R22 air conditioner (one that uses the old R22 refrigerant that’s being phased out) that decision gets even more complicated. That’s because repairs for an R22 air conditioner are getting very expensive as the available supply of the refrigerant declines and the price rises. Also, there’s another option besides paying the price for R22 and fixing it, or buying a brand new system. There may be the possibility of converting (also called retrofitting) your old R22 air conditioner to use one of the new refrigerants.
To learn more about the impending phase out of R22 and what it means for your air conditioner, read this guide that lays out your options: R22 Refrigerant Phase Out: Do You Need to Replace Your AC?.
Here’s the good news: fall is really the best time to take control of your air conditioning issues and decide if it makes sense to repair or replace your R22 air conditioner, or if retrofitting may be an option for you:
- If you decide to replace, you’ll have more time to find the right system for your needs since the weather is cooling off and there’s less pressure to make a quick decision.
- You may also have the opportunity to get a great price on “leftover” units.
- If you decide to repair or convert your older R22 air conditioner to use a new refrigerant, it’s easier to get time and attention from the best HVAC service experts since they’re less booked up than in the summer.
Repair or replace your R22 air conditioner? It’s a tricky decision
So, how do you go about making that decision to repair or replace your older R22 air conditioner? 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 keep throwing money into it, especially as the price of R22 continues to skyrocket? Newer units are more energy efficient and can lower your electric bill, but can you manage the upfront cost?
The unfortunate truth is, there is no cut and dried answer. But you can make the best decision to repair, retrofit or replace your R22 air conditioner when you know what factors to consider about your equipment and its history, and whom to trust for advice.
How to get advice you can trust
It’s no secret that some service providers will try to sell you a new system when your old one just needs a simple repair (you’ve probably seen the YouTube videos and TV news stories exposing fraudulent service providers!). 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 whose advice can you trust to help you decide whether to repair or replace your R22 air conditioner? Here are two tips for weeding out vendors who might steer you wrong:
NEVER DECIDE ON THE SPOT. Be wary of any service provider that insists you need to rush into a decision to purchase new equipment. Be even more wary if they have not offered an adequate explanation – or one that’s unintelligible to someone who’s not an HVAC expert. You should never decide to purchase expensive equipment on the spot, because it’s easy to make the wrong choice and spend more money than you need to. It’s your right to take the time you need to decide whether to retrofit, repair or replace your R22 air conditioner.
SEEK OUT AN UNBIASED SERVICE PROVIDER. Look for an HVAC company that does both new equipment installations and repair service. That way, you can be sure they have no vested interest in advising you one way or another about your R22 air conditioner. The advice you get will be based on what makes the most sense for your situation, not what’s in the best interest of the vendor.
Related article: Broken Air Conditioning? 3 Steps to Avoid Being Taken to the Cleaners.
The facts you need to make a good decision about your R22 air conditioner
Even with the best advice, you need to understand the facts of the situation to make the most informed decision about your R22 air conditioner. Here’s what to consider:
THE RISK FACTOR
Hanging on to an R22 air conditioner until the bitter end (January 1, 2020 is when R22 will no longer be available at any price) does pose some risks, especially for a business that relies on air conditioning. When you finally need to replace, how long will you have to wait for a new system because you’re in line with everyone else who is forced to replace their R22 air conditioner?
Some problems, even though they may seem serious, can actually be easy and relatively inexpensive to fix. Electrical issues often fall into this category. And if your system is making so much noise that you’re afraid it’s about to die, the news may not be as bad as you think. You may just need some maintenance or redesign work.
Related article: Air Conditioning Problems: Repair or Redesign a Noisy AC Unit?.
However, if the compressor has failed, especially on an older R22 air conditioner, it’s often time to replace. The compressor is the heart of the system, and the investment to fix it may not be worth the cost. 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.
When it comes to issues that require adding refrigerant to the system (such as a refrigerant leak), the fix might be prohibitively expensive for an R22 air conditioner. In that case, it’s probably time to consider replacement or a retrofit. However, you should know that retrofits are not an option for every system. There are technical variables and you’ll need a system inspection to determine your options.
Most residential and light commercial air conditioning units are designed to last about 15 to 20 years under optimal conditions. However, if you have a rooftop or other outdoor unit in a large city like New York, it’s unlikely that your R22 air conditioner has experienced optimal conditions! If your R22 AC unit has been exposed to harsh pollution for more than 10 years, it may not be worth making a large investment in repairs at this point.
CONDITION AND MAINTENANCE HISTORY
How the equipment has been cared for has a major impact on the lifespan of an air conditioning unit, and hence your decision to repair or replace your R22 air conditioner. 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.
Related article: Air Conditioning Maintenance Doesn’t Cost. It Pays.
Has your R22 air conditioner been running reliably lately? If this is the first time it’s had a service issue, and the parts are in good shape, it may be worth fixing. On the other hand, if it’s had a history of breakdowns and poor performance, even if you fix it you’re likely to keep experiencing problems.
Here’s another tip: if the occupancy and usage of your space have changed, your system’s capacity and ventilation may no longer be adequate or even properly designed. If this is the case, if you fix your old R22 air conditioner you can 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 space.
HOW MUCH CAN YOU SAVE ON ENERGY BILLS WITH A NEW UNIT?
HVAC 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 R22 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 online resources:
Here’s a free resource we’ve developed to help you decide whether to repair or replace your R22 air conditioner. To learn even more about what kinds of issues and situations warrant replacement and which may allow for repair, get a copy of our helpful guide to Repair or Replace? A guide to making an informed choice when your HVAC system is down.