How Long Do Air Conditioners Last?

How Long Do Air Conditioners Last?
Luke Watson
Residential Sales Professional

I am a Residential Sales Professional for Fire & Ice. I provide customized solutions based on a customer’s home needs and desired comfort.

About This Article

How long should you expect your new air conditioner to last? Find out the answer, and the factors that affect it.

You should expect your new air conditioner to last you 15-20 years with proper maintenance and upkeep. Other variables can affect lifespan, but that's a reasonable average if you're not neglecting it.

Is that it? Is that all you need to know?!

No, but I promise everything else below is equally useful information. If you go in expecting 20 years of efficient service from your air conditioner, but with no knowledge of how and why this is and what you can do to ensure that you get to that number, you’ll be lost.

We’ve made it easy for you, though, because we see thousands of air conditioners a year. And we’ve replaced equipment that’s 30 years old and as little as 5 years old.

Do you want to avoid being the person giving us a call for a new AC after only 5-10 years? Read on.

Air Conditioner Unit

What’s the Average Lifespan for an Air Conditioner?

Many variables contribute to air conditioner lifespan, but a well-maintained AC system will last 15-20 on average.

There are two things I want to call attention to from that last sentence, though:

  1. This is an average for a well-maintained system. If we look at the full range of lifespans, it’s much wider.
  2. There can be a lot of variables that affect lifespan. We’re going to talk about those below.

For example, we replace a lot of systems that are 10-12 years old. Why is this? Sometimes it’s because a system has been neglected. But other times it might be a newly constructed home that had a “builder’s grade” air conditioner installed a decade ago.

It can be a valid decision to upgrade from this type of system even if the unit is still cooling your home. The upgrade in comfort and cost-efficiency can be significant.

Case Study: Next-Door Neighbors

Your next-door neighbor installs a new air conditioner the same week as you, and it’s the exact same model and even the same installation company. What are the odds?!

But then they find themselves replacing the AC in 10 years, while you spend another decade

What was the difference? It could be several things:

  1. They are in their home more often and run the AC constantly in the warmer months.
  2. They have numerous pets and clog their air filters faster, particularly when it’s being used more.
  3. They skip maintenance every other year, and forget to change out their air filters on time.
  4. Their ductwork is leaky, making the system work harder to achieve the same results.

Those things might not sound like much, but they can absolutely be the difference between 10 good years and 20 good years.

Air Conditioner in Rain

What Are the Oldest Air Conditioning Systems?

So wait a minute, I can hear a few of you saying, my grandparents had the same air conditioner and furnace in their home for 40 years! Are new AC units just made more poorly?

It’s true that I’ve seen a handful of homes with HVAC systems that are over 30 years old, and they’re still running strong. So what changed?

For decades, HVAC technology didn’t meaningfully increase. This meant that it was rarely cost-efficient to buy a new system. Nearly every air conditioner was a basic, single-stage unit that could reach a maximum of 8-10 SEER (a measure of efficiency).

So if a part broke, why would they replace the system? A new one wouldn’t be any better. As a result, it always made more sense to simply replace the part and have the equipment repaired.

So yes, there are 40-year-old systems still out there, but most don’t have the original parts in them. And with advances in technology, it’s now often smarter to replace your A/C unit when there’s a costly repair needed.

Hopefully this makes more sense now. It’s not that equipment was made better in the old days, it’s that the market was different and incentivized numerous repairs over decades instead of newer, better equipment.

Cleaning and Maintenance of HVAC Systems

Here’s the simple truth: have professional maintenance performed on your air conditioner once a year, and the chances of you getting 15-20 great years out of it skyrockets.

That’s it. That’s the big secret. It’s not the only secret, but it’s the most important one.

And if you know you’ll need maintenance on your AC once a year (and, similarly, on your furnace once a year), why not save a bit of money with a yearly maintenance agreement. These often come with bonuses like reduced costs and priority scheduling.

What does maintenance protect against? Several things:

  • Keeping your condenser coils clean reduces the amount of time your system needs to run.
  • Reducing the dust and debris in the system lightens the burden on your filters, which in turn affects airflow.
  • Loose or corroded parts can be identified and fixed at a reduced cost, instead of waiting until there’s a major breakdown that will cost you thousands to repair.

If we could get every Columbus, OH resident to schedule yearly maintenance, we’d show you a city in which the average lifespan of air conditioners goes up by 5-10 years. While other variables do exist, it really can be that simple.

Old AC Unit

Warranties and Protections

Most manufacturers include warranties with new equipment, which can protect you. The standard is 10 years for major equipment and parts, but with certain equipment (or when installed by specialized contractors), this can increase to 12 years.

For example, most of the equipment we install comes with a 10-year warranty on many major parts. But the condenser on certain Trane products in 12 years, because we’re a Trane Comfort Specialist and specifically trained in ways that allow Trane to guarantee it for longer.

However, there’s one caveat that everyone needs to know: Warranties are only valid with regular maintenance.

If you have a breakdown in year eight, you’ll likely be under warranty, but the manufacturer can request a service record to ensure you’ve had it properly tuned up and maintenance for those eight years. This protects the manufacturer, because even the best equipment can’t last if it’s not kept in good shape. It also incentivizes homeowners to do the right thing for their equipment by keeping it efficient and healthy.

Check the fine print on your AC agreement for details, but any major manufacturer will have similar language on this.

Lifetime Workmanship Guarantee

Here at Fire & Ice, we go one step further. We guarantee the numerous HVAC items for the lifetime of the equipment against defects in materials or workmanship from the date the system is installed.

These items include ductwork we install, insulation in that ductwork, numerous smaller parts and materials, electrical wiring, refrigerant piping or insulation, and more.

Similar to the manufacturers, this requires regular maintenance to be enforced. But it provides peace of mind for our customers above and beyond what most contractors are willing to do.

RELATED: The Fire & Ice Difference

Is More Complicated HVAC Equipment More Likely to Break?

We’ve heard some contractors tell their customers that the more complicated the equipment is, the more likely it is to break down. There’s a little bit of truth to this statement, but it lacks context.

HVAC is complicated. Even for us in the industry, our technicians need regular training to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies and best practices for installation and maintenance. This is why we provide 200+ hours of in-house training to our technicians every year.

But not every contractor has that luxury. So if someone has been installing HVAC equipment for 30 years, but has never installed a multi-stage, variable-speed, communicating air conditioner that’s top-of-the-line, what are the odds that it will be a sub-optimal installation?

That’s rhetorical, but the point stands that not every piece of equipment is built the same, which means they require different steps for installation, testing and upkeep.

So will high-end equipment break down more often? Not if it’s installed and maintained properly.

Air conditioner parts and technology

Does Furnace Matter for AC Unit Health?

The short answer is that a furnace won’t necessarily contribute to your air conditioner’s longevity, but there are plenty of other ways that the two are related.

To disagree with the statement I just made, if you fail to replace or clean your furnace’s air filter regularly, it will 100% affect your AC negatively. The air filter is in use any time your HVAC system is moving air, at any time of year.

Mainly, though, the blower motor in the furnace is the one piece of equipment that’s used for both cooling and heating. If it isn’t calibrated to your AC, or is in bad shape or dirty, it can hurt your air conditioner by making it work harder and longer.

But if the blower fan is in good shape and able to keep up with your AC, the actual model of furnace you have won’t meaningfully affect the lifespan of your air conditioning equipment.

Indoor Air Quality Products and AC Longevity

What can definitely make a difference in the lifespan of your air conditioner are indoor air quality products, or IAQ products.

What are IAQ products?

  1. Filters
  2. Dehumidifiers
  3. Humidifiers
  4. Air Purifiers

We’ve already talked about filters, which play a huge role in the health of your entire system.

Humidifiers are more to help out in the cold months, so we won’t be focusing on them here.

But I do want to talk about dehumidifiers for a minute, because they directly impact your air conditioning.

A large portion of the work air conditioners do is dehumidifying your air. This is a surprise to some people, but it’s true. Removing humidity from the air makes it cooler.

So a whole-home dehumidifier can directly help with this.

Dehumidifiers have other health and comfort benefits, but they can, in fact, help you to feel cooler in your home, which in turn means you’ll be able to use your air conditioner less. Over 10-20 years, this can add up, adding months or years to the life of your system, while providing you with superior comfort.

RELATED: Is a Whole-Home Dehumidifier Right For Me?

HVAC Lifespan Is Homeowner Responsibility

So how long will your air conditioner last? You tell me.

Now that you know the steps you’ll need to take to ensure a long, happy life for your AC, are you prepared to do things like change out your filter, schedule regular maintenance, and keep your ductwork clear and leak-free?

To be clear, you don’t have to do this alone. A trusted HVAC partner should be able to handle most or all of these. But it requires that you take the first step to find that trusted partner.

If you’re in Central Ohio, we’d love that company to be Fire & Ice. Get started by typing in your zipcode below, and start your journey to a great new system!

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