To Repair or Replace: How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last?

April 22, 2020

As hard as it is to believe during winter, summer is eventually coming; and as hard as it is to believe in our winter coats, it’s wisest to start looking at your cooling system before you need it. Canada’s National Observer stated that 74% of Ontarians reported some sort of air conditioning system in their home, which means that most will come up against the question of whether to repair or replace their unit before the hot weather hits.

There’s a few things that factor in to the decision: installation and maintenance quality, the age of the unit, and the general repair of the unit.

Keeping Repair on the Table

Proper installation and maintenance throughout the years of your air conditioner’s life is perhaps the most important factor in the overall lifespan of the unit. Some types of A/C units are straightforward enough that owners install them on their own: while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, a mistake during installation could work against the longevity of your unit.

Maintenance is also vital after installation. An air conditioner is made of several vital parts, all which need to be observed for potential blockages, dirt, and debris. A unit’s:

  • filters,
  • coils, 
  • coil fins, 
  • condensate drains and, depending on the unit, 
  • window seals,

all need to be regularly checked and maintained. This doesn’t even touch on central vac systems, whose duct work also requires regular maintenance.

A professional is able to identify problems before they start affecting the lifespan of your unit. While owners are able to perform the general cleaning of filters and unclogging of condensate drains, a professional can perform more tasks that the owner doesn’t necessarily have the tools for. They can:

  • manage refrigerant, 
  • check that machinery is running efficiently and make mechanical repairs if it isn’t, and 
  • make sure that the owner is getting accurate readouts of temperature and is able to make adjustments.

With regular maintenance and professional installation, owners can be confident that when it comes down to whether they should replace or repair their unit, repair will at least be on the table.

Repair vs Replacement: The Numbers Game

Installation and maintenance obviously play a huge part, but sometimes the owner doesn’t have complete control over how thoroughly a unit has been looked after. In a situation where:

  • you rent with a unit included, or purchased a house with a preinstalled system,
  • have bought or received a unit secondhand, or
  • have just been neglecting maintenance over the seasons,

there may not be much that repair has to offer you.

If your air conditioning unit is significantly damaged or worn, the decision of whether to repair or replace is a numbers game: it comes down to what would cost more, and if you and the contractor you hired think that the unit could be saved with a little care. Keep in mind that neither repair nor replacements have much value if you don’t invest in proper maintenance. 

Eventually, everything breaks down beyond reasonable repair, and finding that point is up to you and a professional. Don’t feel obligated to replace the moment anything goes wrong, but keep in mind that some mechanical problems should be treated as deal breakers.

Why Age Isn’t Just a Number

Sometimes air conditioners have problems that are more indicative of when they were built, rather than anything going mechanically wrong. Your air conditioner can show its age without breaking down, and with the approaching heat it may be in your best interest to look into something more modern and convenient.

How hard would it be to find replacement parts for your current unit? More than that, how hard would it be to find a contractor who is willing and/or able to work on an older machine without an up-charge for the complexity of the project? With parts and help hard to find, it might be time to consider a replacement unit.

This scarcity doesn’t just apply to standard parts, however. As far back as 1987, the United Nations signed a treaty indicating that the involved countries should begin to phase out substances that are known to deplete the ozone layer. What does that mean for your air conditioner?

Over the years since then, certain refrigerants have been phased out of popular use, meaning that if your air conditioner still uses them they will be impossible to source. The process has also been ongoing since 1987, meaning that air conditioners installed brand new even in 2010 could be using environmentally harmful and phased out refrigerants. Even the currently accepted refrigerants are always being reexamined for environmental impact. 

If your system is over fifteen years old, it might be worth the investment to avoid the investment of one or multiple repairs. Between the difficulty finding reliable service and parts, and the havoc that damage could wreak on a unit without the modern technology to handle it, your budget might be better served with a new system.

Is It Better to Repair or Replace?

Ultimately, the choice is up to you. If your air conditioning system is less than fifteen years old and has been well maintained, of course repair should be an option. Between you and your contractor, it should be easy to make a decision that you believe you can sustain for as long as possible: after all, this is a question of financial investment.

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Providing Residential and Commercial Plumbing, Heating & Electrical Services in London Ontario