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How Long Should an AC Unit Last? Tips to Extend Your AC’s Life

9 min Read
AC Life | AC Replacement | AC Repair | Best AC Company | Kennett Square, PA
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Is your AC unit on its last legs? How can you tell when it’s time to replace your AC? Discover how to extend your AC life and when to plan for replacement.


Are you constantly worried about your AC breaking down in the middle of summer? This is a common concern for homeowners who look to get the most out of their air conditioner before updating with a new system.

Delaying replacing your AC by riding it out with an aging system can help with short-term finances, however, equipment failures often come at the most inopportune times.

Just going through a summer day or two without it would make anyone understand just how essential AC is to maintaining our comfort, lifestyle, and the health of our homes. What folks did before the first modern air conditioners were invented in 1902 is beyond me.

Like all mechanical systems, air conditioners have a finite lifespan that’s influenced by many factors. It’s paramount to ensure you get the most out of your AC, but knowing when to replace it can make all the difference in your continued comfort and the system’s energy efficiency.

With over 75 years in the HVAC industry, Mattioni understands the ins and outs of air conditioning systems, how to get the most out of your unit, and when it’s time to plan for a replacement.

In this article, we’ll uncover the average lifespan of an AC unit, factors that influence its lifespan, signs that yours might be on its last legs, and tips to extend its life.


What’s the Expected AC Lifespan?

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On average, a central air conditioning unit will last between 10 to 12 years, and those who rely on a window unit can expect around 10 years of operation. The factors impacting exactly how long your system will last are:

  1. Quality of Installation
  2. Your Maintenance Practices
  3. Usage Patterns
  4. Environmental Factors
  5. System Quality

While 10 to 12 years is the range that you can expect to get out of your central AC, here’s a closer look at the factors that can prolong, or shorten, this lifespan:


5 Key Factors That Influence Your Air Conditioner’s Lifespan

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1. Quality of Installation: Proper installation is crucial to long-term performance, optimal energy efficiency, and maximized air conditioner lifespan. A poor installation that lacks thorough considerations can lead to premature failures, inefficiencies, and increased wear on components.

Imagine two neighbors installing the same AC unit. One hires a certified HVAC contractor, ensuring optimal performance, while the other opts for a cheaper, inexperienced installer, leading to frequent breakdowns. This shows how a proper installation can dramatically influence an AC’s lifespan.


2. Maintenance Practices: Regular maintenance is perhaps the most significant factor in determining the lifespan of your air conditioner.

Annual inspections and tune-ups are essential to prevent small issues from becoming major problems. By scheduling maintenance appointments ahead of time, you’ll ensure that your cooling system is running properly, stays clean, and can receive timely repairs.


3. Usage Patterns: AC equipment is tasked with keeping us comfortable no matter what the outdoor weather conditions are. Nevertheless, cooling systems contain many moving parts that encounter wear and tear. AC systems that are used heavily will wear out faster.

For instance, consistently setting the thermostat too low will cause most systems to work harder, leading to a shortened lifespan. Regular maintenance (once a year) is important for homeowners who constantly use their air conditioners throughout the summer at a low thermostat setting.


4. Environmental Factors: Geographic location and environmental conditions play a significant role in the lifespan of your AC system.

Equipment in areas with extreme temperatures and humidity will have to overcome a greater temperature difference between outdoor conditions and the thermostat settings, leading to more stress on the system. Equipment operating in coastal areas also face salt-induced corrosion, leading to mechanical problems and the need for more frequent repairs.


5. System Quality: There are several classes of air conditioners available on the market, most notably differentiated by the number of compressor stages within the system. Single-stage, two-stage, and variable-speed are the three major system types, as each has different run-speed capabilities.

While single-stage systems can only run at 100% capacity or turn off, leading to increased start-up sequences, variable-speed systems can throttle their run speed virtually anywhere between 30% and 100%, leading to fewer start-up sequences.

Higher-quality systems, such as two-stage or variable-speed units, will generally last longer as a reduction in the number of start-up sequences leads to diminished wear and tear.


5 Warning Signs that Your Air Conditioner is Aging

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Recognizing the signs of an aging air conditioner can help you prepare for replacement before it fails completely. We recommend prioritizing avoiding a cooling emergency as they often happen at the worst times and can leave you with a hot, uncomfortable house.

Here are some indicators that your system may be nearing the end of its use:


1. Rising Energy Bills: Older systems become less efficient over time, leading to higher energy consumption. If you notice a significant increase in your energy bills without a corresponding rise in usage, your air conditioner’s age might be to blame.


2. Frequent Repairs: If you find yourself calling the repair technician more often, it might be time to consider a replacement. Frequent breakdowns indicate that the system is struggling to operate. Scheduling regular maintenance appointments early in your AC unit’s lifespan can help avoid or minimize repairs in years to come.


3. Inconsistent Temperatures: If your home goes back and forth between cool, comfortable conditions and hotter temperatures, it could be a sign of an aging system. Similarly, if your home has hot and cold spots you may want to talk to an HVAC professional about options including zoning and system replacement.


4. Strange Noises: Unusual sounds such as grinding, banging, or squealing can indicate that components are wearing out or are misaligned. A tune-up may be able to adequately address an odd noise coming from your air conditioner, but it may also be a sign that it’s time to replace the system.


5. Poor Air Quality and High Humidity: An older air conditioner may struggle to filter and circulate air properly, leading to increased dust, humidity issues, or unpleasant odors. It may be worth learning how indoor air quality products can enhance your AC equipment.


6 Tips to Extend Your AC Life

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While replacement will become necessary at some point, there are several steps you can take to maximize the lifespan of your air conditioner:


1. Regular Maintenance: Schedule annual inspections and tune-ups with a professional HVAC technician. This includes cleaning components, checking for leaks, and ensuring the system is running efficiently.


2. Change Your Air Filters: Replace air filters every one to three months, depending on usage and the type of filter. Clogged filters can reduce efficiency and strain the system.


3. Keep the Area Around Your Unit Clear: Ensure that the area around your air conditioning unit is free from debris, plants, and other obstructions. Proper airflow is essential for efficient operation.


4. Use a Programmable Thermostat: Modern thermostats can help manage your system’s workload by reducing usage when you’re not home. This can decrease wear and tear and save on energy costs.


5. Seal Ductwork: Leaky ducts can lead to significant energy losses, as they’ll cause your system to work harder to deliver the same results. During your yearly tune-up, have a professional check and seal your ductwork to ensure efficient airflow.


6. Insulate Your Home: Proper insulation of your home’s exterior, including windows and doors, reduces the workload on your air conditioner by maintaining indoor temperatures, thus extending the system’s lifespan.


Determining When to Repair and When to Replace Your AC System

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Even with the best maintenance, there comes a time when replacing your air conditioner is the best option. Here are some considerations to help you make that decision:


1. Warranty Status and Cost: If your system is out of warranty (usually after 10 years) and the cost of repairs approaches $1,000, it might make financial sense to replace the system. A repair may buy you another year of operation out of your AC, however, sooner or later you’ll have the same choice to make.


2. Home Ownership Plans: If you plan on staying in your home for at least another few years, and you are increasingly running into problems with your air conditioner then replacement is likely the best option for you. On the other hand, if you plan to move within one year then you’re probably better off financially by repairing your system.


3. Efficiency Upgrades: Newer air conditioning systems are increasingly more energy efficient as DOE regulations tighten and demand increases. Upgrading to a new, more energy-efficient AC can save you money on energy bills in the long run, so if you’re looking for ways to reduce your monthly expenses then replacing your air conditioner can go a long way. If you’re more focused on your short-term budgeting, then repairs likely make more sense.


4. Improved Comfort and Air Quality: Newer systems also offer better humidity control, air filtration, and quieter operation, enhancing overall comfort and air quality in your home. It should be said that the best part of installing a new AC is that you’ll have a new AC. Your home’s comfort and indoor air quality will both see improvements and you’ll feel the difference.


How Does an Aging AC System Impact Your Home?

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As you can see, the lifespan of an air conditioner is influenced by a wide range of factors, including installation quality, maintenance, and usage patterns. While most systems can last between 10 to 12 years, regular maintenance and timely repairs will help extend their operational life.

The team at Mattioni has over 75 years of experience and is here to help recognize the signs of an aging AC so that you can determine if repair or replacement is the better option for continued comfort and energy efficiency in your home.

When it does come time to replace your air conditioner, investing in a high-quality system and maintaining it properly not only provides reliable performance but also contributes to long-term energy savings and improved indoor air quality.

By understanding the factors that impact air conditioner longevity and taking proactive steps to care for a new AC system, you can maximize its lifespan and enjoy a comfortable living environment for years to come. You’ll also be able to feel confident in your decision whether to repair or replace the system as it gets older.

To ensure your AC is running efficiently or to discuss potential replacement options, schedule a consultation with our experts today. Call us at 610-400-8510 or book an appointment online today.

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