How Long Should My Central Air Conditioner Last?

Getting the Most Out of Your AC System in the Sacramento Valley

How long is your central air conditioner designed to last?  Have you ever heard of “programmed obsolescence” or “designed obsolescence?”  If you haven’t, it really plays a big factor in the way this question is answered.

How Long Should my Air Conditioner Last?

This is one of my favorite questions to answer. And it usually gets all the HVAC technicians and owners out there all stirred up.  The reason is that companies that are highly motivated by sales are going to tell you that your central air conditioner will not last as long as I’m going to tell you it will.

Air Conditioners Then and Now

I will tell you, they don’t make ‘em like they used to!  The original home air conditioning systems were built with quality parts and were extremely durable for up to 30 years.  But the industry quickly realized, just like car companies did back in the 1920s, that sales were stagnating.  It was like they were building them too well for those companies to sustain growth, and more importantly to them, become rich. Companies began making their products just a little bit less durable and instilling in the buyer the desire to own something “a little newer, a little better, a little more efficient,” and just a little sooner than necessary.

So, how long should your air conditioner last?  As with anything, the answer to that question depends heavily on how well your system has been maintained.  Rental properties are notorious for having tenants that just plain old refuse to change their air filter. So, of course, that system is a crapshoot.  Who knows, right?  It might last 10 years, it might last 20 years.

Periodic Repair and Maintenance

But if you have the system cleaned and maintained every now and then, there is no reason your system can’t last you 20 years.  True, parts will fail now and then, and everyone expects they’ll have to make certain repairs to their aging system, but if the parts are available, there’s no reason to have someone convince you to buy a new air conditioning system.

That’s just another example of planned obsolescence!  Someone putting in your head that you need a new system at 12 years is almost like being a bully.  They know more than you do about that air conditioning system, and it would be pretty easy for any “technician” in a white button-up shirt with an American flag on it to deceive you about your air conditioner.  The big companies around town are banking on it.

I live in a 21-year-old neighborhood built by, let’s call them a fictitious name like BK Homes.  The HVAC contractor who won the job to install all those units did so because it was the lowest bidder who could install them the fastest.  Those contractors aren’t putting in top of the line systems either.  They call them contractor grade HVAC systems.

It’s Your Decision

My system is 21 years old this year, and I’m going to try and make it last one more year.  A lot of us say that!  But when that system was 11 years old my compressor failed.  Well, for most people, that’s about a $2,000-$3,000 job to make that repair and refill the refrigerant.  So yes, major failures like this do happen.  Is it planned obsolescence?  Maybe. But it’s also a machine, and machines break sometimes.  I happened to know a guy (me) who could get a good deal on a compressor.  So I fixed it.  And the system has run great ever since.

The point I’m trying to get across is, it’s your decision how long you want to keep your system around.  If the parts are available, your system can be repaired.  Old systems blow cold air out of your registers the same temperature as the newer systems, but here’s where those words “planned obsolescence” come back around when the pushy sales guys start telling you you need a new air conditioner.  They’re just trying to persuade you that you need something a little newer, a little better, a little more “efficient,” and just a little sooner than necessary.

Why I would be interested in changing my air conditioner

I changed my compressor when it was 11 years old.  That was almost 10 years ago!  That air conditioner is a lot noisier now that it ever has been.  I’m kind of over it… every time it comes on and I’m out on my patio, it comes on loud and turns off loud.

If I had to complete additional major repairs like the compressor was, I would have gotten to the point that I was tired of putting money into the old system and would instead want to invest my money in a new system.

If I was leaking refrigerant every year and we could find the leak, I would want to change my system.  Not only because of the hight cost of the refrigerant, but it’s just very bad for the ozone layer to be exposed to all that chlorine, and future generations will suffer because of it.

If the system was installed wrong in the first place, it’s tough to fix that without taking everything out and putting it back together the proper way.  This could be another reason to start all over with a new system.  As an installer myself, I know how people can suffer from a system that never worked right or was too small in the first place.  The most important day of a system’s life is the day it was installed.

Reasons companies that are motivated purely by sales will advise you to get a new system

Extremely salesy companies will tell you (and you see it written in blogs all over the internet too), that if your system is over 12 years old, you need a new system.  They’ll tell you it’s not worth repairing, or the parts aren’t available, literally lying straight to your face.

They say if you’ve had the system over a decade, it’s time to replace your system. This also doesn’t compute for me.  Why?

Some of my customers have told me another company told them R-22 freon wasn’t available anymore.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, it’s on its way out, and super salesy technicians will say big words like “Montreal Protocol” which states we have to phase out of producing R-22 by 2020, but there are also alternative refrigerants we can use for a long time, at half the price!

R407c can be used to replace the R-22 in your system.  Your experienced technician will remove the existing R-22, and without getting all technical, replace it with the new R407c refrigerant.  There are plenty of other alternative and safe refrigerants to use out there.  Just don’t let them add the alternative stuff on top of your existing R-22.  That would not be acceptable as the refrigerant needs to be either-or.

Even after they stop making R-22 freon, there will still be recycled R-22 available for years.  It might be more expensive then than it is now, but it’s still an option that you get to decide on, and not a misleading technician.

The Bottom Line

You should know the real truth about how long your central air conditioning system should last.  You can get about 20 good years out of your system as long as it was installed correctly.  And that assumes your installer followed several detailed instructions from the manufacturer.

Anyone can put a few boxes together up in your attic for a really cheap price and call it good.  And you’ll believe them too.  It’s sad because these types of companies continue to give HVAC a bad name, while companies like Fox Family are trying to lift the HVAC industry by following instructions closely so your system will last a good 20 years.  Of course, that’s with proper maintenance.

Thank so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you at my next blog.

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

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