In theory, the life span of an air conditioner is about 15 to 20 years. But that estimate doesn’t take into account factors which can affect individual installations. For example, has the unit been well maintained? Has it been damaged in events such as home flooding? How much use does it get every year? What model is the air conditioner, and was it properly installed from the outset? While general measurements of air conditioner life span can give you a rough idea of how your A/C should be functioning, knowing how to gauge your own A/C performance over time can be of great benefit.
There are three major indicators you should keep an eye on.
Rising Energy Bills
While it’s true that energy prices fluctuate, and rising energy costs can mean higher energy bills year-round, air conditioners can also contribute. Toward the end of an air conditioner life span, efficiency tends to decrease. This is especially true for air conditioners which have not been properly maintained across their operating life. If your energy bills tend to rise dramatically during the cooling season, or if the increase itself seems to grow from year to year, it could be a signal that your air conditioner is wearing out.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that, even if your air conditioner is still well within its operating life span, the models available to homeowners a decade ago are not as efficient as the models available today. Upgrading an old model to a new, high-efficiency A/C can save a significant amount of money in the long term – perhaps even enough to pay for itself before the original unit would have finally failed.
When Willis Carrier installed the first modern air conditioner in the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing Company, he wasn’t trying to keep people cool; he was trying to control the humidity that interfered with printing and storage of paper stock. Cool air can hold less moisture than warm air, so Carrier’s approach to control humidity involved cooling the air. It wasn’t until later that he discovered that cooling itself, far from being just a means to an end, had significant demand.
When your air conditioner begins to fail, indoor humidity can become a problem. And it can happen due to a number of factors, not all of which are related to the end of an air conditioner life span.
For example, sizing your air conditioner is extremely important when it comes to home comfort. A unit that’s too small won’t provide adequate cooling, and a unit that’s too large won’t operate efficiently. If your home’s cooling needs are reduced by better sealing, insulation and energy recovery, your air conditioner may become oversized for your home’s cooling load. That means that it will cool your home too rapidly and shut off, which means less continuous operation – and less continuous dehumidification.
Frequent Repairs as the Unit Ages
All air conditioning units should be inspected and maintained annually – often during spring, or at the beginning of the cooling season. Ideally, these inspections should catch problems before they develop into issues needing repair. But as a unit ages, especially toward the end of the air conditioner life span, it’s realistic to expect that repairs will be needed – either after sitting idle for an entire season, or during hard use in the summer.
As repairs increase in frequency, you should keep track of both how often they happen and how much they cost. Your HVAC professional should be able to give you advice on whether or not your system needs replacement, but you should also keep in mind your own comfort level with ongoing repairs vs. replacement. One rule of thumb is that if a repair would cost half as much or more as a new installation, opt immediately for the new installation.
In any case, as your air conditioner approaches the 15-year mark, you should start planning for a replacement. There’s generally no economic or home comfort benefit in waiting until your unit becomes irreparable before upgrading to a new one.
Speak With Your Professionals
To learn more about how air conditioners age, the air conditioner life span, and how to get the most long-term use and savings out of your HVAC system, contact us today at Griffith Energy Services, Inc. We’re proud to help our neighbors in the Baltimore area achieve their home comfort goals.
Written by Kevin Spain