Should I Repair or Replace My Air Conditioner?
You probably don’t think much about your air conditioner until the moment it stops working. AC repairs can be incredibly expensive. In fact, the repair cost for certain parts can be just as expensive as installing a brand-new air conditioner.
Let’s cover the factors you should consider when you’re debating whether to repair or replace your AC.
Things to Consider When Considering HVAC Repair or Replacement
Replacing your air conditioner is a major investment, so most homeowners opt to repair their broken AC instead. However, some AC parts are extremely expensive to repair, and AC units that are in poor health will break down more frequently, costing you more money in the long run.
Here are some important things to consider when you’re deciding whether to repair or replace your air conditioner.
- Is the AC unit safe?
- How long will the AC and its individual parts last?
- Has your AC unit been well-maintained?
- Does your AC unit frequently break down?
- How much are repair costs vs. replacing costs?
- Is my AC efficient?
- How long will you be staying in your home?
- Does your current AC satisfy your needs?
- Is your AC unit outdated?
AC Unit Safety
Safety is the most important thing to consider. Remember that air conditioners handle flames, gas, and toxic exhaust fumes. It’s important that your HVAC is running properly so you and your family won’t be exposed to gas leaks, carbon monoxide poisoning, or fire hazards. AC units in very poor states of repair should always be replaced so you can prevent potentially dangerous situations from happening in your home.
How Long Do Air Conditioner & AC Parts Last
The average air conditioner lasts between 10 and 15 years. Well-maintained air conditioners can last 20 years or more. Most of the time, you can determine whether you need to repair or replace your AC based on its age:
- 0 – 9 Years: Most of your HVAC equipment should be in good shape and probably have many more years of life. Repairing your AC might be the best option.
- 10 – 15 Years: Some HVAC units that receive heavy usage may start to show their age after 10 years. If you’ve scheduled an AC tune-up every year, then the parts should have plenty of life and you could most likely opt for a repair instead of a replacement.
- 15 – 20 Years: Well-maintained ACs should remain functional for 15 to 20 years. However, int might be time for you to replace the AC if you have a major breakdown.
Your AC won’t break down all at once, it’s usually the individual parts inside your AC will age and stop working. Often when this occurs, it’ll be cheaper to install a brand-new AC than to replace all the parts that are worn-down.
The primary components that have a major impact on the health and lifespan of your air conditioner and tend to break down are the:
- Indoor evaporator unit
- Outdoor condenser coil
There are many other components that get worn out, but the compressor and coils are the largest and most labor-intensive parts.
On most air conditioners, these parts will begin to break down after about 10 years. If they need repairs frequently or the replacement costs are very high, it might be better to replace your entire AC. However, if your AC is younger than 10 years old and you don’t suffer frequent breakdowns, it’s probably better for you to repair these components.
The compressor is located inside the air conditioner. Its main job is to pump refrigerant to the heat exchanging parts inside your unit, using both electrical and mechanical parts. On average, the compressor lasts anywhere from 12 to 20 years, or even longer on well-maintained AC units.
Unfortunately, the compressor usually can’t be repaired once it fails, so you’d have to replace the entire part.
Indoor Evaporator Unit
The evaporator unit usually sits on top of the furnace or on the inside of the air handler. Its main job is to absorb the heat from your house and send it to the compressor. They’re usually made of copper, aluminum, and steel, and will naturally degrade over time.
The evaporator unit may start to leak refrigerant between 15 and 20 years, or as early as 12 years on poorly maintained air conditioners.
Outdoor Condenser Coil
The outdoor condenser coil removes the heat that was absorbed from your home. This is a large component, but the failure rate is very low. It’s rare that you’ll have to replace the condenser coil, and it most often only needs minor repairs or cleaning.
Problems with the condenser are usually caused by:
- Low refrigerant
- Bent / damaged fan blades
- Dirty coils
- Burnt circuitry
Thankfully, most of these problems can be repaired by an HVAC technician, who will clean all the parts, bend fans back into shape, or replace old circuitry.
However, you should keep in mind that a poorly maintained condenser will cause your entire HVAC unit to age faster. Dirty coils or inefficient fans will cause your HVAC system to work longer and harder, putting much greater stress on the motors—which aren’t so easy to repair.
You should also be aware that older condenser units (10+ years) may be using an outdated refrigerant called R22. R22 is now illegal to produce in the United States. If your condenser is only compatible with R22 refrigerant, you may have to replace the entire unit. (Hurricane AC can help you find replacement parts that are suitable for your type of HVAC unit).
Is Your Current AC Unit Well Maintained?
Maintaining your AC is the best way to prolong its lifespan and reduce the frequency of breakdowns. Most breakdowns can be avoided by doing just a few simple things:
- Scheduling an annual tune-up with your local HVAC company (Hurricane AC offers an annual servicing plan for homeowners in Southwest Florida)
- Changing the air filter every month during the cooling season
- Trimming back your plants at least 3 feet from your outdoor condenser to minimize the debris that falls into it
Maintenance will also save you money in the short-term by increasing the efficiency of your AC, so it uses less power and costs you less money.
Repairing your AC is generally less expensive than replacing an AC. However, if you’re frequently having to repair your AC, the costs will add up significantly, and it might be more cost-effective for you to install a new one. Your AC will breakdown more frequently as it gets older.
Your AC probably doesn’t need to be replaced if it breaks down less than once per year. If your AC has been working without any issues, it’s possible the breakdown is just a minor fluke.
On the other hand, it might be better to replace your AC if it’s breaking down once per year or more. Emergency repairs every year are unusual and could be a sign that your AC system its reaching the end of its life.
AC Repair vs. Replacement Costs
For most homeowners, the cost is the biggest factor in determining whether to repair or replace your AC.
On average, here’s what it costs to repair or replace the most important components on your HVAC system:
- Compressor: $2,000
- Indoor Evaporator: $1,500
- Outdoor Condenser: $1,700
- Small Components: $300-$800
Here are a couple popular rules you can follow to decide whether to repair or replace your AC:
- $5,000 Rule: Multiply the age of your AC by the repair costs. If the repair cost exceeds $5,000, then it’s better to replace the entire AC unit.
- 50% Rule: If the repair cost is less than 50% of the replacement cost, choose to repair. If the repair cost is greater than 50% of the replacement cost, choose to replace. This rule is best used for HVAC systems that are under 10 years old.
Your AC doesn’t only cost you money through repair / replacement costs. Your air conditioner’s efficiency has a tremendous impact on your energy bills. Consider both the SEER rating and the size of your property.
Air conditioning efficiency is measured by the SEER Rating (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). SEER ratings range anywhere from 8 to 25, and air conditioners with a higher rating are more energy efficient and increase energy savings.
In Florida, new air conditioners must be rated at least 14. That wasn’t always the case, though. In the past, air conditioners were only required to have lower SEER ratings, so if you have an older AC then it might not be up to par with modern units that are being sold today. If your AC unit has a SEER rating of 13 or lower, you can save as much as 25% in on cooling costs by replacing it with a new 16 SEER unit.
It’s true that annual maintenance can significantly improve the efficiency of your AC unit. However, maintenance will not make your older AC unit more efficient than modern ACs. Newer units have more advanced technology that just can’t be installed in older systems.
Size of Your Property
Another thing to keep in mind is the size of your property. Your air conditioner should be appropriately sized to your home so it can efficiently cool it.
A small AC unit on a larger property will have to work harder to cool your home, which costs you more money. On the flip side, a large AC unit on a small property will consume more power than needed to cool your home, which also costs you money unnecessarily.
You should consider replacing your entire AC unit if it’s not the right size for your home (an HVAC technician can help you determine whether or not your AC is a good fit).
How Long Will You Be Staying in the House?
How long you plan on staying in your home may also help you choose whether to repair or replace your AC.
- More Than 3 Years: If you plan on living in your home for 3 years or more, it might be better to replace your AC unit if it breaks down frequently or has poor energy efficiency. The new AC unit will immediately lower your energy costs and you can avoid unexpected repair costs. New ACs units typically have warranty of 10 years (so long as you schedule an annual tune-up), and these warranties can be passed on to the next homeowner if you decide to sell the house.
- Less Than 3 Years: If you plan on selling the house within 3 years, it might be better to pay for repairs than a brand-new AC unit. AC units are expensive to install, and you might not want to shoulder that cost if you don’t plan on being in the house for much longer. However, you should keep in mind that the buyer of the home may request a lower price if the air conditioner is in poor shape.
Does the AC Currently Satisfy Household Needs?
You should replace your air conditioner if it doesn’t meet your household needs. We aren’t necessarily talking about efficiency here, but your own personal home comfort.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the AC too noisy?
- Is the AC located in a good location? Does it cause too much noise where’s it’s located, or is it interfering with any home improvement projects?
- Is the AC an eyesore?
- Does the AC do a good job of dehumidifying your home?
- Does the air in your home feel cool, breathable, and comfortable?
In some cases, these problems can be fixed without replacing your entire unit. For instance, you could outfit your AC unit with a whole-home dehumidifier if there’s still too much humidity when your AC is running. A noisy AC might only require a simple repair to fix, or you might be able to move your AC unit to a different location on your property instead of buying a new one entirely.
Your local HVAC company can walk you through your options on how to fix any of these problems, and whether these options are more cost-effective than replacing the whole AC unit.
Is the AC Unit Outdated?
The HVAC industry has rapidly evolved over the past decade with the rise of smart homes and eco-friendly technology. Modern HVAC units have advanced features that can dramatically improve your air comfort and energy efficiency. Zoning technology enables you to control temperatures in different rooms, while smart thermostats learn your household routines so cooling begins automatically just when you need it. You might want to replace an older AC unit with a new one if you think any of these technologies will improve the comfort of your home.
Furthermore, you might want to replace an outdated AC unit if there are environmental concerns or replacement incentives.
Refrigerant Environmental Impact and Availability
Many HVAC units that are older than 10 years use a refrigerant called R-22 Freon. This refrigerant is no longer allowed to be produced in the United States because of its impact on the environment. You can still technically buy this refrigerant, but it’s very expensive because there’s such a limited quantity.
You may have to replace your AC unit if it uses this type of refrigerant because:
- You might not be able to find any R-22 to refill the refrigerant
- Repairs are more challenging and expensive due to the presence of R-22
Any AC unit that uses R-22 is sure to be an older unit anyway, so it’s best for you to replace it and enjoy the benefits provided by modern HVAC systems.
You can receive a federal tax credit by replacing your older AC with a new one that’s energy-efficient and eco-friendly. Some of these may also grant you additional tax credits in your state or even utility rebates. Plus, you can feel good about reducing energy waste and making a positive impact on our planet.
Consider choosing products that are ERNEGY STAR certified or that exceed federal efficiency standards. Don’t hesitate to ask your local HVAC company for advice when you’re shopping for a new AC unit.
Signs Your AC Isn’t Working Properly
Here are the most common signs your AC isn’t working properly:
- Dust Around Your Home: You’re finding an unusual amount of dust and debris around your home.
- Too Much Humidity: You might have a water leak if the air in your home feels too humid.
- Bad Odors: Bad smells coming from your AC might also be a sign of a water leak.
- AC is Noisy: You’re noticing strange sounds or vibrations coming from your AC that didn’t happen in the past.
- AC Won’t Turn Off / On: Your AC won’t turn on or off, or it’s running continuous, short cycles.
- Frequent Breakdowns: Regular breakdowns could mean your AC is reaching the end of its lifespan, or your coils need to be replaced.
- Energy Bills are Increasing: You’ve noticed that your energy bills have increased far more than usual, even when there haven’t been rate increases by your local utility company.
- Home Doesn’t Feel Comfortable: If the air in your home doesn’t feel comfortable or breathable, it could signal a problem with your AC’s airflow, thermostat, motors, or ductwork. An HVAC technician can inspect your AC and determine exactly what the problem is.
Benefits of Replacing AC Unit
Repairs can be effective in getting your AC unit back to working order, but there are a range of benefits that come with replacing your AC:
- Newer AC units are more energy efficiency and can save you money over time
- Your house will be more comfortable with a new AC unit, and you can enjoy features like zoned cooling and smart thermostats
- New AC units are quieter than older units
- New AC units typically look nicer than older units
- You won’t be as stressed having to deal with emergency repairs
Final Decision: Repair or Replace HVAC Unit?
At the end of the day, only you can decide whether it’s better to repair or replace your air conditioning unit. Nobody knows your budget like you do, or what’ll make you most satisfied with your HVAC system.
No matter which way you go, it’s always best to consult an HVAC company before you make a decision. The best HVAC companies, like Hurricane AC, won’t push you into choosing one or the other. Instead, they’ll help you determine the health of your existing AC unit and lay out your options for repair and replacement. They’ll be happy to give you recommendations based on your budget and needs.
Contact Hurricane Air if You Are Debating Replacing or Repairing Your AC Unit
Not sure whether to repair or replace your AC unit? Contact Hurricane Air if you live in Southwest Florida. Our expert HVAC technicians will inspect your AC unit and help you determine whether it’s in your interest to have your AC repaired or to install a new one. We offer both AC repairs (including emergency repairs) and AC installations, and we can work with any type of home!