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Air Conditioning

Your Air Conditioner Should Last Over 20 Years: Here’s How

 April 28, 2020

By  Robert Bradford

Whether you are adding air conditioning to your current system or you need to replace an old, broken unit, you have every right to question, “How long can my air conditioner last?”

After asking around and doing your research you were given the same old standard answer: a maximum of 15 years. You almost accepted that as the sad truth until you learned that some homeowners have had their air conditioners for two decades now and it is still as functional as ever. How did they do it?

People are often told that their air conditioner will only last 10 to 15 years. The truth is an air conditioner can last for 20 to 25 years. The three biggest factors to getting a long-lasting air conditioner are 1) Proper installation by a high-quality contractor; 2) Accurate sizing of the unit; 3) Identifying and minimizing factors that shorten the life of an air conditioner.

The most crucial aspect of these three is a quality installation. That does not necessarily mean purchasing the most expensive equipment, but it could mean spending more on top tier installers. Choosing a contractor that uses best practices and takes the time to do the job right may come with a higher upfront cost but believe me, it is worth it and yields long-term benefits for your home. If it can double the life span of your equipment, then it will more than pay for itself!

A Quality Installation is Crucial

That does not necessarily mean purchasing the most expensive equipment, but it usually means spending more on top tier installers.

Getting the correct sized air conditioner for your home is of utmost importance because it significantly impacts how the unit functions. If an air conditioner is too large for your home, it will chill the air very quickly but will not dehumidify it. This greatly affects how comfortable your home feels. 

On the other extreme, if the air conditioner is too small for your home it will never stop running as it attempts but fails to cool the environment. Again, your comfort is compromised but even worse you will be stuck with a huge electricity bill. 

Finally factors such as climate conditions where you live, voltage spikes, and lack of regular maintenance are the most common indicators of an air conditioner that will only last the minimum amount of years. Most, if not all, of these issues can be mitigated to maximize your investment.

Considering the cost of installing a new air conditioner you no doubt want it to last as long as possible while still keeping you comfortable. Especially since it’s not even a fun home purchase like new cabinets or a bigger TV! This article will show you exactly how you can get your air conditioner to reach that 20 years or more lifespan.

Get It Right from the Start

If you have priced out a new air conditioner recently you may have had a bit of sticker shock! The rising cost of raw materials as well as government mandates for higher efficiencies have pushed prices to an all time high.  You might be tempted to try to save costs by going for the cheapest unit you can find or hire the first guy that offers discounted installation. You might even think you could do the installation yourself.

 Your best bet is to view an air conditioning system as a long-term investment.

We don’t blame you. In this economy, all of us are trying to get a bargain and save some hard-earned money. However, you could be economizing now at the risk of costly repairs or even a replacement before they should be necessary. Your best bet is to view an air conditioning system as a long-term investment. The more thought you give on which contractor to trust and which unit to buy, the longer you will enjoy its benefits. So how to get started:

Keep It Simple

When we say think of your air conditioner as an investment, we do not want you to simply focus on the unit with the most staggering price tag. In fact, the more “high-tech” a machine is, the more complicated the parts and repairs can be.

For example, you might be pressured to go for a two-stage air conditioner or the even more techy variable speed, instead of just a single-stage unit. If you research these options online, most sources will tell you to purchase the more expensive units. They might persuade you with phrases like “more energy efficient” or “more comfortable”. What they don’t tell you is, not only are the upfront prices of these "higher end" significantly more expensive than the single stage, but the costs to maintain and repair them could also be much more expensive and frequent.

The key point to remember is to keep it simple. The more “technologically-advanced” a machine is, the shorter its life will be. Why?

Since a more high-tech unit such as two-stage or variable-speed air conditioners has more complex designs, they normally have a larger number of parts. These components are expensive and often more difficult to find.

Additionally, not all technicians are skilled enough to repair the more complicated mechanisms of these air conditioners. Sadly, many contractors use this opportunity to charge you gross amounts for repairs or pressure you to replace the unit altogether since the repairs are so expensive.

All in all, more expensive units live relatively shorter than a standard priced version due to costly repair.

Choose a Top-Notch Contractor

A quality contractor is your best partner in the pursuit to get your air conditioner to last 20 years or more. Most long-term problems with air conditioners are caused by poor installation. A true professional will be proud if you tell them you got 20 plus years out of a unit they installed. A product pusher will act shocked and dismayed that you are living with an A/C any older than 10 years!

Know Your Contractor

A product pusher will act shocked and dismayed that you are living with an A/C any older than 10 years!

What might stop you from picking a high-quality contractor is the upfront installation cost. They may charge higher than your average technician, but it is truly the biggest factor in a durable air conditioning system.

So, how can you pick the right contractor to get a quality installation?

The ​Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), known for promoting “the development and availability of energy-efficient products and services for lasting public benefit”, makes excellent suggestions on how to find a high-quality contractor.

First, ask around for referrals. Your friends and neighbors would most likely tell you straight what they do or do not like about contractors they have worked with. You can compare their responses to online reviews, but I would always put more stock in the opinion of a trusted acquaintance. 

However you find the referral be sure that it lines up with what you are looking for in a contractor: the exceptional installation of an efficient cooling system that will last you for many years! If the highlights of the referral are “super cheap” or “really fast” then that might not be your best source of information.

Next, talk to these contractors yourself. Make your requirements clear since not all homes or homeowners are alike. The more they know about the installation project, the more equipped they will be to do it. A competent professional will be happy to thoroughly answer all your questions. It is better if you can get more than one estimate to compare the prices, services, and information offered. 

Finally, educate yourself with the standards of proper installation. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) aims to improve the quality of heating, ventilation and cooling installations by raising the awareness on what homeowners should look for in a contractor. ACCA even made the HVAC Quality Installation Specification available to the public with a downloadable PDF on their website.

A high-quality contractor would adhere to these standards to guarantee a comfortable, safe, and energy-efficient indoor environment for their customers. It is never a waste of money to find superior contractors because it always pays off in the long run!

Why Size Matters A Lot

A good sign that you have found a high-quality contractor is that they would pay close attention to sizing the air conditioner for your specific house size and structure. They understand that how long that air conditioner will last depends largely on how well it was sized. This is the second most important factor to getting 20 plus years out of an A/C.

Unfortunately, most incompetent or dishonest contractors will push an oversized unit. It will cost more, and many people are willing to believe that bigger is always better.

Air Conditioner Size Matters

Most incompetent or dishonest contractors will push an oversized unit. It will cost more, and many people are willing to believe that bigger is always better.

However, if an A/C is too large for the house, it will turn on and off quickly, which is called short-cycling. An air conditioner is designed to release cold air into an area until the temperature set by the thermostat is reached. Since an oversized unit can quickly chill the home, it will short-cycle many more times than it should throughout the day.

Air conditioners will suffer excessive wear and tear because of this relentless on and off. In an air conditioning system, the compressor, which is the most critical component of the unit and most expensive to repair, would experience the most damage. 

Another disadvantage of an oversized A/C is it will not run long enough to dehumidify the house, leaving it cold yet damp which will still feel extremely uncomfortable. As if being uncomfortable was not bad enough it could allow for the growth of mold and mildew in the home. 

On the other hand, if an air conditioner is undersized for the house it would have to work extra hard to even reach the thermostat setting. This means your A/C could be running all day and you will never feel comfortable. You know what comes next, soaring electric bills! 

Most importantly, this day-to-day strain could seriously shorten the life of your unit to the point that it might not even reach the shortest life expectancy of 10 years.

A highly qualified contractor will be able to properly size an air conditioner for your house and they should be able to provide a load calculation if you ask for it. They can factor in such vital elements such the age of your home, how many windows it has and what state are they in, how well insulated your home is, how many stories it has, and many other technical factors.

Factors That Kill an Air Conditioner

So, you did well by getting a professional high-quality contractor to install your air conditioning system. You got a simple yet properly sized air conditioner. Are you all set for a 20-year or more relationship?

The third strategy accomplish this is to identify common causes of issues that shorten the lifespan of an air conditioner, and then eliminate these or at least minimize them.

Neglected Regular Maintenance

Probably the most underestimated factor in having a long-lasting air conditioner is thorough and regular maintenance. CNN Money highlighted the need for proper maintenance of HVAC systems to reach that desired 15 to 25 years lifespan.

This report is backed up by the Department of Energy which states that "Neglecting necessary maintenance ensures a steady decline in air conditioning performance while energy use steadily increases.”

How often should you schedule your air conditioner for maintenance? Most sources would suggest once a year but if your schedule or budget do not permit it, at least every other year would suffice. 

Just as you wouldn’t wait for the check engine light in your car to come on before you had an oil change, do not wait for an issue to pop up with your air conditioner before you have maintenance done. It will not be maintenance then; it will be a repair!

There is one warning about maintenance. You must use a well-qualified technician to perform this maintenance. They will have the proper tools, equipment and training to do a thorough clean and check that most individuals do not have.

In addition, if you pay less than $100 for the maintenance, you didn’t get a tune up. You paid for a salesperson to come to your home and see if they could sell you a new system. Most low priced maintenance offers are used just to upsell. In fact, low priced tune ups are expected to convert at least one in five to new equipment.

Watch Out For Low Priced Offers

Most low priced maintenance offers are used just to upsell. In fact, low priced tune ups are expected to convert at least one in five to new equipment.

Low Voltage and Voltage Spikes

Most homeowners fear power surges due to thunderstorms but what is more common and oftentimes ignored are voltage spikes and low voltages.

Voltage spikes are abrupt increases in electrical energy which lasts for less than 3 nanoseconds. While low voltage, usually referred to as brownouts, happen when the flow of electricity is reduced due to disturbance in the electrical grid or for prevention of a power outage.

These sudden changes in the current powering your air conditioner can cause major damage to the compressor, capacitor, breaker, and wiring.

Even though it is out of your control when these voltage spikes and low voltages happen, you can still take some preventative measures to minimize the harm when they do occur. This can be especially helpful if you live in an area where these are common occurrences.

A product called Compressor Defender by Intermatic is one of the many devices you can employ to protect the compressors and circuit boards in cases of brownouts, surges and short cycles.

Intermatic CD1-024R Compressor Defender

Protects Central Air Conditioner and Heat Pump Compressors and their Circuit Boards

Salt Air in Coastal Areas

Not many people know that where you live can affect how long your air conditioner is going to last. Living near the ocean, for example, can expose your unit to salt air which can harm the finned coils.

Condenser coils are commonly made of aluminum fins bonded to copper or aluminum tubes. These fins easily disintegrate due to the high amount of salt in the environment which reduces the performance to transfer heat. 

If this corrosion of fins persisted, the compressor and condenser would work too hard to cool your home and result in remarkably cutting the lifespan of the AC.

If you live in a coastal area where the salt level in the air is high, there are practical ways you could still minimize this problem and prolong the life of your air conditioner. One of the best ways is to use copper tubes and aluminum fins with a polymeric dipped coating that is baked on.

Washing the outer parts of the unit with fresh water at least monthly also reduces the damage caused by salt. To aid in this there are even some in-place wash systems available.

For the most lasting effects and the best solutions you need to reach out to your trusted HVAC company.

How To Extend the Life of Your Air Conditioner

1

Have your air conditioner installed by a high-quality contractor.

2

Ensure the unit is properly sized to your unique home. (See #1)

3

KISS. Keep It Simple Silly. Don’t be fooled by all the bells and whistles of the “high end” equipment.

4

Add devices that protect from low voltage and voltage spikes.

5

Be sure to maintain your air conditioner at least every other year.

6

Minimize the damages caused by salt air if you live in a coastal area.

Robert Bradford


I'm Robert Bradford. I've been in the heating and air conditioning industry for 30 years. Ov​​​​​er 40 if you count the years I helped my father as a kid. On this site, I share everything I've learned about finding the best HVAC contractors and equipment for your home. I'm happy to say that over the last few years, The Comfort Academy has grown into a trusted site with thousands of informed site visitors each year.

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