Updated: May 19th, 2019
Like any appliance in the house, the air conditioner is subject to wear and tear. Its various components have differing lifespans, and regular maintenance can keep them up and running for a long time. But the big question is how long do AC units last, and this can range from a decade to maybe even twenty years, depending on the upkeep. Companies do not produce air conditioners of equal quality, and as a result, your AC may take different degrees of care to last long.
Depending on the price of the failing components, maintenance cost and the price effectiveness impact the units life. This is why, although it might seem practical to budget for the average lifespan of an AC unit (10-30 years), the specifics of your particular unit make a huge difference. These include its usage, size, build, quality of its parts and so on. They have such a major impact on your AC’s lifespan that it is always likely to be far from the average durability. A combination of regular maintenance and knowledge about what wears out an AC can help you maximize its lifespan. Below are the factors which determine your unit’s longevity.
Whether your AC is a single stage or two-stage system makes a big difference to how efficient it is. The compressor of a single stage system essentially operates on full blast at all times. It then switches off when it reaches the temperature specified by your thermostat. This does not mean that the fan is at maximum speed. Rather, it means that regardless of the fan or the temperature setting, the compressor of the AC has to perform the same amount of work in cooling the Freon gas. As a result, single-stage systems use a lot of power, and the repeated on-off cycle it goes through also weakens the compressor over time.
On mild days, when the full strength of the compressor is not required, using a single-stage unit wastes a lot of energy. The two-stage system, however, solves this problem. It has a high stage and a low stage, and you can use either stage depending on the heat or humidity. The compressor is less active at the low-stage, and can run continuously without shutting off, which saves a huge amount of energy costs. Further, this also helps draw out the moisture from the air. The two-stage model will last much longer than the single-stage one, especially in areas with high humidity.
Other than the air conditioner, if you have an HVAC system, then it might be a good idea to install a heat pump. These may cost a lot initially but easily pay for themselves with the amount they’ll save you in utility bills and efficiency. If you’re buying a fresh product, it would be highly advisable to get a system based on geothermal heating instead of oil or gas. Geothermal energy is environmentally friendly, helps your system last much longer, and can channel the extra heat to other utilities in the house.
Air conditioner units are given a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio), in order to standardize the evaluation of an AC’s efficiency. The average SEER numbers among all ACs has steadily increased over the past ten years. This is not surprising since improved technology would certainly have an impact on better air conditioner. This rating applies specifically to the US. Even so, that includes such a large range of temperatures and weather patterns that the SEER becomes a highly reliable measure of an AC’s capacity. The SEER is calculated as the ratio between the total cooling output against the total electrical input of an AC unit. The higher the SEER for a unit, the more efficient it is.
Furthermore, it also considers the seasonal usage of an AC unit. This makes a lot of sense considering how differently the air conditioner is used throughout the year, depending on location. So it’s always worth knowing your air conditioner’s SEER number to get a sense of what degree of efficiency it is built to have.
Environmental conditions are also a big factor. High humidity in the home means that the AC’s evaporator coil has to work double time. Thus it lowers its efficiency as well as needs you to perform repairs and replacements more frequently. Air conditioners in coastal regions have a generally low average lifespan because of the combination of saltwater and humidity. This stands in addition to the rigorous usage that these units see all around the year. Air conditioners in northern or inland areas however, are both less humid and less frequently used. This makes them last well beyond the national average.
All the above that contribute to the answering of the question how long do AC units last, though useful for making decisions about long-term maintenance and financial feasibility, are all fixed factors. You can’t do much about them once you have the unit or have been using it for a period of years. However, regular maintenance and intelligent usage of the AC can simultaneously bring down utility costs. It can also keep the unit energy-efficient for as long as possible. Often, maintenance can prove to be more crucial to the life of an air conditioner than the fixed factors.
The air filters perform an important, but often unnoticed function. They keep ventilation up and help smoothly dehumidify the air at the same time. However, this requires that the air have smooth passage to and from the air conditioning unit, and a clogged air filter isn’t making that task easier. Replace the air filter regularly to overwork your AC as little as possible. It would also be a good idea to make sure that no air vents in the house are being blocked by furniture. This can cause similar problems to clogged air filters.
Another area that should be kept clean is the condenser coil. Even with clean filters, fine dust particles can accumulate on this coil and form a dense layer on top of it, which causes problems that are best avoided. This coil is where the action of cooling the air actually happens, so it should be cleaned at least a few times a year.
The AC drain line is an overlooked but important component, especially with high humidity. It allows the safe disposal of moisture pulled from the air, and can compromise the efficiency of the air conditioner. Pour a little white vinegar into the T-shaped vent of the drain line to clear out any mold or algae that is starting to grow inside it. Once a month is a good pace at which to clean the drain line.
The air conditioning unit itself needs some amount of temperature regulation in order to perform at maximum efficiency. The indoor components don’t need looking after in this area, but the outdoor ones can be hampered. Most often this damage is by direct sunlight and overgrown shrubbery, in case these are likely to be present. You can take measures to ensure that the outdoor portion (which often holds key parts like the compressor and condenser) stays cool. Start by making provisions for shade and trimming the shrubs/hedge. This is often enough to prevent humid air surrounding the AC all the time. By doing this, you will also allow the unit to have space for expelling warm air.
Most air conditioners today come with thermostats already. In case yours doesn’t have one, or has only a very basic one, you should consider getting a thermostat with a wide variety of options. Programmable thermostats will enable your AC to use energy only when you’re in the house or when you are awake and active. This can make a big difference to your air conditioner’s energy efficiency. It also allows you to customize its functions according to your habits. Specifying sleep schedules, timers, and keeping the temperatures only as low as required, will all contribute toward making your AC a more regulated and efficient machine.
It is also important to remember that direct sunlight is almost always a problem for air conditioners. When the sunlight falls directly on the thermostat, it can cause artificially heightened temperature readings and other malfunctions. Best to make sure it’s in the shade.
This depends on the size and shape of your house, as well as the size of the AC or HVAC unit you have. You can use the AC as little as possible while still retaining your desired level of comfort by preventing too much heat from getting into (or, in the winter, getting out of) your house. Insulation is usually placed inside the roof and outer walls, so as to keep the sun and frost out. The less the AC has to work, the better it is for you and your air conditioner.
While retaining the preferred temperature, it is also important to keep the air in circulation; stagnant air comes with its own problems. The proper placement of vents can help circulate the air across the house, but not within each room. For that, use fans (ideally, ceiling fans) to prevent the formation of warmer layers of air, which will require you to switch on the AC more frequently.
The durability of an AC or HVAC unit depends in turn on the durability of its most essential and sensitive parts. A unit with a faulty compressor isn’t going to last long, and a new compressor might cost so much that you’re probably better off buying a new unit altogether. But a faulty thermostat isn’t going to impact durability that much and it’s a quick fix.
We can manage quick fixes on our own; if you are lucky enough to catch a problem or technical glitch in your AC unit early on, you could even avoid disaster later. However, the older your unit gets, the less chance there is that you will be able to maintain it at a low cost. If you live in a humid coastal area, then the chances are even slimmer. That is why it’s always best to be prepared.
Home warranties come highly recommended with air conditioners. Not only are they offered as part of the standard plan for most of these, but certain components can also be protected if you so wish. A home warranty, unlike home insurance, covers the damage to your property that occurs through routine wear and tear. The home warranty is a service contract, usually lasting up to a year and renewed annually. A service call fee is paid for each visit, beyond which any repairs your system might need can be taken care of at the home warranty company’s expense.
The cost of any major work you do on an air conditioning unit can be surprisingly high. Repairs on major parts like the condenser coil or the compressor can be nearly as expensive as a new unit. This is definitely true about the outright replacement of these parts. So if you are considering getting a home warranty, be sure to include your air conditioner under that protection. It could greatly help you avert some serious expenditure in future, not only for your HVAC but also for a range of appliances.
Home warranty coverage for AC units is often conditional on the SEER number, so if you have an old unit then you might have to search around a bit for the right warranty plan and a reliable company. Choice Home Warranty, American Home Shield, and First American Home Warranties are some companies which offer a good selection of plans featuring coverage of air conditioners. Consult a professional to know how long each of your major components has, and make an informed decision accordingly.
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