How Long Should an Air Conditioning System Last?

Ben Giesbrecht

A homeowner asking a buddy, contractor, or even the almighty Google this question can feel like consulting with a fortune teller. Everyone gives a different answer that could be right, but you have to wonder are they telling me what they think I want to hear or is their answer motivated by self interests? It shouldn't have to be that way. Let's break it down as objectively as we can.

Air conditioning systems are designed to last 15-20 years. Typical warranties last 10 years, but with proper maintenance and some luck your system could last 30+ years. On the flip side, a poorly installed system with no maintenance done might be toast after just 5 years.

Why such large discrepancies? What factors are at play here?

Brand vs Maintenance vs Installation

Let's take a look at each of the major factors affecting system life.

Brand

Despite what manufacturers and dealers tell you, the brand of your equipment is the least significant factor in how long your system will last. For one thing how do we know if a system designed last year will last 30? All we can do is make an educated guess based on the reputation of the brand.

There are some brands that are known to be built to a higher standard, and some brands that have had major recalls. However each brand has produced excellent models and stinkers. In the moment its tough to know which products will stand the test of time.

I suggest not factoring brand in very high at all because all systems come with 10 year warranties and require annual maintenance. Thorough maintenance inspections and a few years of manufacturers fixing faulty parts (if there are any) should leave all brands on fairly even footing as you approach year 10 of your systems life.

Maintenance

Speaking of which, maintenance is the next significant factor on our list.

Maintenance is important for every system. Lets list a few different items and the impacts of ignoring them (not a complete list).

  • Missing air filter- lets in contaminants that cause excess wear in your system
  • Clogged filter- restricts airflow forcing the system to work harder
  • Dirty coil- causes system to run longer to overcome inefficiency
  • Improper refrigerant levels- excess wear and poor performance that can lead to the system running more often than needed
  • Capacitor out of spec- leads to burning out motors
  • Failed safety switches- could let a system burn out that would have been fixable

Just because a system can be fixed doesn't mean it makes sense to. Letting some of the little things go leads to a repair that yes, technically can be done, but in a practical sense is a waste of money.

Maintenance is a huge part of how long a system can last and is the largest factor but believe it or not I think the next point is the most important!

Installation

That's right, 10 years from now the difference between you doing your annual maintenance on your trusty AC system and replacing it could be based on if Chuck in a Truck or an actual HVAC installation expert installed the system.

The single most important day in the life of an air conditioning system is the day it's installed.

A system needs to be installed to factory specs to get the factory designed life. Undersized lines, some contamination from the old lineset, duct sizes that don't match the system, or any one of numerous other issues caused on the install day can shave years off the life expectancy of your system.

Sure, some of the problems could be caught and fixed with a good maintenance program, but the time frame of installation compared to the years of maintenance you'll do to your system easily pushes the installation to the most important factor for me.

Conclusion

Many things affect HVAC system life, these are just the highlights. Cosmic Comfort is dedicated to providing over the top maintenance and installation services for HVAC systems and we are always researching and training to improve our craft.

If you are located in Merced or Stanislaus counties of California and need system maintenance, a repair, or a no cost quote for a system replacement give us a call or shoot us a message! We are here to help.