Should I Replace My 20 Year Old Air Conditioner? 3 Reasons To Keep Your AC

Like saying goodbye to an old, dependable friend, you may never have imagined parting ways with your trusted air conditioner. 

But now you may need to replace your furnace and have been told it’s best to replace everything. Or you have been noticing a few changes in how your old HVAC performs: it does not blow cold air like before, your electricity bills give you a shock every month, and your HVAC repairman is always at it quite often recently. 

So you started to wonder: “Should I replace my 20 year old air conditioner?”

DP should i replace my 20 year old air conditioner

You start browsing the Internet for helpful answers (like everyone who has a question does nowadays), and my, oh, my! A great deal of supposedly credible sources immediately advises you to get rid of your ancient HVAC unit and switch to the latest “state-of-the-art” air conditioning system!

But before you get blown away by these countless online “experts” (usually selling air conditioners by the way) saying it’s time to get rid of your old unit, carefully consider first why you should keep your aged but reliable air conditioner.

3 Critical Reasons Why You Should Keep Your Old HVAC System

Some people may be shocked, a few even horrified, at the thought of you having a 20-something year old air conditioning system. 

Instead of being embarrassed about your old unit, there are at least three important things you should be proud of about your rather older HVAC which make it a keeper: 

  1. Older air conditioners tend to be less complicated so they tend to break down less. A new air conditioner could have technological advancements that make it more complex to operate and maintain.
  2. Besides using an older refrigerant (which can make it a reason they SHOULD replace), the parts to repair an older, simpler AC can be easily found and are less expensive. A new AC might mean harder-to-find components and an even scarcer skilled technician to work on it.
  3. In general, older air conditioners tend to be built with heavier materials that were built to last longer. A well-maintained air conditioner can last well over 25 years with minimal repairs.

From the first time that your air conditioner got installed, it might have been love at first chill. Your air conditioner has been with you through the hottest times of the year and has kept you comfortable through the worst summers.

But let’s be honest. As soon as the novelty of having conditioned air all the time wears off, you hardly notice your air conditioner exists. Until it breaks down.

Then, you desperately clamor for a technician to come quickly to investigate what is wrong with your precious device and immediately fix it. You were astounded when the repairman sadly looked at you and said the most dreadful words: “You need to replace your air conditioner.”

Can an AC Really Last 20+ Years? 

You just could not believe his words. It seemed like it was only yesterday when you first bought your HVAC system for your home. But years have passed, and now they are saying your cooling device is retiring as it is too old and needs to be replaced.

Well, how many years should an AC last? Most sources would tell you that your AC should only last for 10 to 15 years, even if it was well-maintained. 

Before quickly believing such an unhappy claim, consider the source first: are they in any way suggesting you purchase a newer, more expensive, and lavish model to replace your quite outdated yet still efficiently functioning unit? Their advice on air conditioner replacement may only be a decoy to sell you their modern air conditioners but with higher costs. 

As we discussed in our previous article, the great secret that most distributors would like to keep from you is that an air conditioner can reach its optimum lifespan of 20 to 25 years.

Twenty to 25 years lifespan of a home device may have been impossible to believe at first but countless homeowners have reaped the benefits of maintaining and keeping their old HVACs tight and running smoothly.

The key is knowing what factors contribute to its long life and achieving them. Likewise, you would do better as a homeowner if you are familiar with the issues that can damage your AC and limit, if not eliminate, those factors. 

Why Did My Unit Need to be Replaced Early?

If your AC is just well over 10 years old, and air conditioners have the potential to last 20 or more years, then, how in the world did it break down so early?

We hate to break it to you, but the problem may have started a long time ago. Here are the common factors that cut down the life of a perfectly good cooling system. 

Your AC is Oversized or Undersized

It must have been an exciting time when you first bought your very first air conditioner, not just because it would change the way your home environment feels, but because it is one of the most expensive units you will install in your house.

But when you came to the store to get an AC unit, a clever-sounding salesman told you to go for the bigger units. Sure, it is a lot more expensive than regular-size ones, but he said if you want to cool your room fast and easily, a bigger unit would do just that.

Also, he pushed, that you could get your money back with a bigger unit since it does not need a lot of time to cool your space. It will also last longer because it is not working too hard to do its job.

It all sounds logical, right? WRONG.

The truth is, an oversized or an undersized cooling device is both money-wasting and overly frustrating since you will not achieve your desired comfort either way. 

Additionally, one of the most critical factors to having a long-lasting AC is proper sizing. 

The US Department of Energy supports this statement when they released a fact sheet entitled, Right-size Heating and Cooling Equipment, which talks about the benefits of a properly-sized air conditioner and how to correctly measure your space to find the AC that is “just the right size” for it.

“Determining the correct size of residential heating and cooling equipment is key to achieving comfortable interior conditions — temperature and humidity — and saving on initial and operating costs. Size of cooling systems is particularly critical for optimal energy efficiency and comfort,” the 2002 technology circular said.

What could go wrong if you picked a unit that is too big? You will experience short-cycling, where the powerful AC will cool the small room too quickly and so it will reach the temperature set in the thermostat in record time.

The system will then shut on and off too quickly without completing a full cycle. This constant starting-up and shutting-down is harmful to the internal mechanism of your unit and inevitably subjects it to overheating and burnout. Such hazards not only apply to a central air conditioner but also a heat pump and other central heating systems. 

In a different report, the US Department of Energy exposed another problem that may result from an oversized unit. Because it will not run long enough like an accurately measured unit, an oversized AC will fail to efficiently remove excess moisture from the indoor air.

This will leave you feeling very cold, yet moist and clammy—far from being comfortable. Another danger of it is you might be unintentionally making your house a breeding ground for molds, mildews, and pesky insects.

Contrary to what the salesman made you believe; an oversized unit will not save you from burning a hole through your pockets as it consumes more energy when it short-cycles. A study revealed a 9% increase in annual space cooling energy consumption for ACs that were 50% oversized.

So, should you automatically go for the smaller units? Not at all! It is equally infuriating to be at the mercy of an air conditioner that is too small for the room.

Because the unit is undersized, it will fight long and hard to reach the thermostat setting, but at your expense. You will never be at your preferred temperature, and worst you would be facing some significantly higher bills at the end of the month.

Obviously, because the tiny unit is consistently strained to lower the temperature of a room that is too large for it, it will experience early signs of wear-and-tear.

Now you know why your cooling unit has retired prematurely: it could be oversized or undersized. This is a lesson learned that can save you when you finally pick your AC replacement.

You Had a Low-Quality Installation

You might have realized that you spent an enormous amount of money on an air conditioner cost that you decided to cut your losses by going for the services of a cheap contractor.

That is the worst thing you could ever do! A quality installation and service performed by a qualified and top-notch contractor is as important as picking the right unit for your home.

In fact, even a not-so-expensive air conditioner yet properly sized and installed by an expert HVAC contractor can outlive the expensive brand that is poorly installed.

True, the upfront installation cost can make you hesitate but think of the future benefits and less cost for repairs.

You do not have to choose the first contractor you talked to. It is your right to shop around and ask for referrals. It also would not hurt if you make yourself familiar with the standards of proper installation. There are more than enough resources available online like the one published by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). 

So if you have been a victim of the services of a cheap yet poor installer, do not make the same mistake twice in your pursuit to replace your air conditioner with a long-lasting one. 

You Neglect Regular AC Maintenance

Deciding on a quality contractor to do the air conditioner installation is only the first step toward your relationship with a skilled technician. You will need to call him up at least once a year to perform a check-up, cleaning, service, or repair if necessary.

Like our human bodies that need a regular visit to the doctor, a vehicle that you need to tune routinely, and plumbing that needs to be inspected regularly to prevent future repairs, your HVAC requires at least an annual service and upkeep by a qualified professional.

Please don’t say that there has been no need to call a technician because there has been no problem with your AC since you bought it years ago. Serious mechanical and electrical problems do not just happen in an instant but develop over time from a lack of adequate attention and services.

The Department of Energy once again weighed in on the matter of proper maintenance of the air conditioner.

“Neglecting necessary maintenance ensures a steady decline in air conditioning performance while energy use steadily increases.”

Some of the AC components that DOE cited that should have adequate maintenance are the air filters, coils, fins, and condensate drain.

Simple as it may be but having your air filters cleaned or replaced with a fresh one can ensure your air conditioning’s effectiveness in removing the heat from your home. Dirt and dust buildup in your filters make it harder for the unit to circulate the air consuming unnecessary energy. By simply replacing or cleaning your filters, you can get up to 5% to 15 savings on your electricity bill! 

Air conditioning coils such as the evaporator coil and condenser coil share the same problem with air filters if they don’t receive routine service. Clogged coils will lead to diminished airflow and prevent it from absorbing heat. Some of the obstructions may also come from outdoor elements such as the wind blowing in leaves, small branches, or sticks, or they may be a dead animal stuck inside your unit. Routine service and cleaning will lessen these kinds of issues.

Coil fins can present another dilemma if they have been bent out of shape. If these fins have been deformed, they can pretty much jam the airflow reducing your unit’s efficiency. HVAC professionals use a “fin comb” to straighten out these bent fins.

A well-maintained AC directs the condensation from the cooling process away from the insides of your home. But without regular checking and service, the drain may be congested and fail to dehumidify your space. An easy solution is to run a rigid wire through the channels and check if there’s no obstruction. But if you prefer the services of a professional, they can better check the air conditioning condensate drain.

What are the Telltale Signs to Replace?

What if you are unsure whether it is the right time to replace your air conditioner? Maybe a little part of you is still hoping that one more repair could make things alright.

How could you tell if your old friend the AC is ready to make way for a new one?

The USA Today article lists some of the irrefutable signs that your air conditioner reached the end of its life. Let us discuss some of these scenarios and see if you experienced one or more of them.

You are not as comfortable indoors as before

Gone were the days when you rush to the comfort of your home from the harsh sweltering heat outside. You unreasonably sweat and have to fan yourself despite having the AC constantly running all day.

Ironically, there were parts of your home that are oddly colder than usual such as the kitchen, attic, bathroom, or basement. You feel cold and yet somehow feel damp at the same time.

A failing AC unit could cause you these irritating feelings since it cannot perform the cooling and dehumidifying at the same level that it used to.

Your air conditioner cost keeps soaring

You very well know how your AC consumes the greatest deal of energy among all other home appliances. But lately, you keep getting this shock when you find out how much you have to pay.

A worn-out AC could be the main source of your huge bill dilemma. Like a good soldier, an old AC will keep striving to lower your room temperature as you dictated in your thermostat. But since it is not in the prime condition that it used to be, it will take a long time to chill the space causing it to run longer than necessary, or in some cases, never turn off. And, voila! You have to endure costly utility bills without the comfort you deserve.

Your unit is always in need of services

You notice that your repairman has been around more frequently than your usual AC checkup, cleanup, and maintenance. It is either the same problem each time, or your technician keeps finding new issues to deal with.

A unit that is inching from retirement will show undeniable signs of failings and problems. If you notice that your AC system requires more and more repairs, which are getting more expensive as days go by, there is no escaping the fact that it is time to say goodbye to your old AC.

How Will I Know If It's Time for a Replacement?

A typical air conditioner has a standard lifespan of 10 to 15 years, but with proper care and attention, and regular services and maintenance, an AC could reach a maximum of 20 to 25 years.

If your AC is still in good condition, don’t just toss out your old unit just because other people are pressuring you to do so, or that you think your air conditioner is already outdated because of the modern versions available on the market.

Older models of air conditioning systems are less complicated, require fewer repairs, have easier-to-find parts if ever in need of replacement, and definitely last longer. 

Three major factors contribute to the long life of an air conditioner: accurate sizing of the unit, quality installation by a top-tier contractor, and regular annual service and maintenance of your HVAC. If you fail at the three crucial factors discussed above, then you might indeed be looking at an early replacement of your air conditioning unit.

The classic signs that your air conditioner is beyond repair are its growing inability to cool and dehumidify the space, the overwhelming energy it consumes and the resulting electric bill every month, and the unceasing amount of repairs it requires to keep on functioning.

If you find yourself in the position of replacing your air conditioning system, be sure to appropriately size the unit versus your living space, and do not simply go bigger. Find a top-notch contractor who can perform a quality installation. And as soon as you have your replacement unit, NEVER EVER miss out on annual service and maintenance.

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