No matter what type of HVAC unit you have, there will eventually come a time when you need to have it replaced. Knowing when that time is can be tricky as there are several factors that you may need to consider. What you don’t want to do is wait too long and have the unit suddenly give out completely. If you do, you may have to go with whatever unit is available instead of being able to take your time and choose the heating or cooling system that best fits your budget and meets your needs. With that in mind, here are some of the most critical factors that can help you determine when to replace an HVAC unit.
Average Lifespan for Different HVAC Units
One of the easiest ways to know when you should replace a HVAC unit is when it’s at or near the end of its expected lifespan. Central air conditioners and heat pumps have an average life expectancy of around 15 years. Of course, this is just an average, and some units may last for 20 years or more while others may fail and need replacing after only 10 years. Gas furnaces typically have a slightly longer lifespan than cooling units and will usually last for anywhere from 15 to 20 years or around 18 years on average.
In most cases, how much regular use or how many hours per year the unit runs will significantly affect how long the unit lasts. This is especially true for heat pumps since these units often run throughout the entire summer and most of the winter. If you rely on a heat pump as your primary heat source, it likely won’t last as long as it would if you only used it sparingly in the winter and primarily relied on a furnace.
How often the unit is inspected and maintained can also determine how long you can expect it to last. To get the most out of any HVAC unit, you should always have it professionally maintained at least once a year. The only exception is heat pumps, which homeowners should maintain twice a year in the spring and the fall.
Just because you may be able to get 20 years out of an HVAC unit doesn’t necessarily mean you should try. The older your unit is, the greater the chance it will suddenly stop working entirely, potentially leaving you without heating or air conditioning for at least a few days, if not longer. Summer and winter are by far the busiest seasons for HVAC companies, and you will often need to wait quite a while before you can finally replace the unit. This is another reason experts suggest replacing your heating or cooling unit when it’s nearing the end of its life instead of waiting until it breaks down.
Energy Efficiency Ratings and Energy Costs
Replacing your furnace or AC is obviously a big investment, but it is also one that can provide major dividends by saving you money on your heating or cooling costs. Even with regular maintenance, most HVAC units’ energy efficiency and performance will continually decrease over time. This means your energy bills will likely keep increasing the older your unit gets.
Another thing to consider is that HVAC technology has advanced rapidly in recent times, which has ensured that today’s HVAC units are much more energy efficient than units produced a decade ago. The US federal minimum energy efficiency requirements have also increased to where units produced 10 to 20 years ago would be illegal to install nowadays. For instance, the minimum energy efficient requirement for central air conditioners and heat pumps in West Virginia and Pennsylvania is now 14 SEER, whereas the requirement was only 10 SEER until 2006.
A 14 SEER unit is around 29% more energy efficient than a 10 SEER unit, assuming that the 10 SEER unit is functioning at its peak efficiency. If you have an old 10 SEER AC, installing a new 14 SEER unit will lower your cooling bills by at least 29%. Since an old 10 SEER unit almost certainly doesn’t work as efficiently as it did when it was new, the total savings will likely be higher. Replacing your old unit could save you well over $100 a year and potentially more than $2,000 over the life of your new air conditioner.
Although the energy efficiency requirement for gas furnaces hasn’t changed recently, replacing your old unit will still save you money. If your furnace is more than 10 to 15 years old, there is a high chance it is a conventional furnace and may only have an AFUE rating of around 80%. AFUE stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency and measures the percentage of gas the furnace uses that it directly converts into heat. Most modern furnaces are high-efficiency condensing units, with an AFUE of anywhere from 90 to 98.5%.
If you were to replace an 80 AFUE furnace with a new 95 AFUE unit, your annual heating costs might drop by 15% or more. Installing a new unit can save you several hundred dollars a year in utility bills. This makes it an excellent investment that will defray the costs of installing a new unit while providing better temperature control.
Repair Needs and Costs
Older HVAC units also tend to be more prone to breaking down and will usually start needing more frequent repairs the older they get. If your furnace or AC suddenly needs to be repaired a few times each year, you’re certainly better off replacing it instead of continually patching it up. The total cost of any necessary repairs and how many years of life the unit likely has left is also essential to consider. Let’s say that your current AC is 12 years old and needs costly repairs. In this case, replacing it instead of paying for a repair bill probably makes more sense since the unit will likely last only a few more years.
There are also a few repairs that only make sense if a manufacturer’s warranty still covers the unit. This is especially true if your gas furnace has a cracked heat exchanger or the compressor motor in your AC unit has burned out. Replacing a cracked heat exchanger will usually cost anywhere from $2,000 to $3,500, which is often around the same price you’d pay to install a new 90 to 95 AFUE unit. Similarly, the cost to replace a broken AC compressor motor will typically be almost as much as installing a new cooling system. Even if your unit is under warranty, you’ll still have to pay quite a bit for either of these repairs since HVAC warranties only cover the cost of the necessary replacement parts and not any associated labor charges.
Contact the Professionals
Absolute Air is your local HVAC installation expert, and we can help if you need to install a new furnace, air conditioner, or heat pump. We also install ductless mini-splits, boilers, radiant heating, and geothermal HVAC systems. Contact us today for more information on our HVAC installation services or to schedule a service appointment in the Morgantown, WV area.