These workhorses can last decades with proper repair and maintenance
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An HVAC system is a big—but essential—investment to keep you and your family comfortable year-round. But how long do HVAC systems last? Getting the best longevity out of your system is all about selecting the right type for your home and climate and staying on top of maintenance and repairs.
If your 20-year-old HVAC system regularly blows lukewarm air or makes loud clunking noises, it could be a sign it’s time for a replacement. Here’s a look at how long HVAC systems last and how to know if you need a new one.
How Long Do HVAC Systems Last?
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, your HVAC system could last anywhere from 10 to 30 years, with an average life expectancy of around 20 years.
Many factors contribute to how long an HVAC system lasts, including how well you clean and maintain your unit, and that’s why there is such a wide range of lifespans.
Factors That Affect HVAC System Lifespans
The type of setup you use plays a big part in how long your HVAC system will last, but you’ll also have to consider the following when estimating its longevity.
Maintenance and Repairs
Neglect is typically the biggest culprit contributing to a system's premature demise. Regular cleaning and annual professional HVAC servicing by a local HVAC technician can significantly extend its lifespan.
Complex HVAC installation isn’t a job for the average weekend warrior. Mistakes won’t just reduce the system’s lifespan; they can also compromise your safety. Calling in a certified pro means you’ll start off with well-fitted equipment that meets appropriate safety standards.
It pays to take advice from the pros regarding HVAC brand comparisons. Some manufacturers and systems will go the extra mile. High-quality products could run for a decade longer than budget brands that might start to crack and leak sooner.
It’s rare for systems in coastal homes to last longer than 15 years—salt exposure corrodes and clogs the system. Living in dry, dusty, desert locales can also result in a buildup of life-shortening debris.
If you live in a region that regularly experiences extreme heat (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) or cold (below 30 degrees Fahrenheit), expect the system to need replacing sooner than in a temperate region because of how much longer and harder it has to work.
Your HVAC system won’t have to work as hard if you improve your home’s insulation. You’ll see savings on your energy bills and be able to use the system for longer.
It could be as simple as sealing doors and windows and adding some thermal curtains, or you could get the pros in to overhaul the insulation in your floors, walls, and ceiling.
One of the problems of selecting the wrong AC size or heating unit is that it won’t run as efficiently, causing unnecessary wear and tear and a reduction in lifespan.
An oversized unit that is constantly short cycling isn’t good for the motors, and it can lead to overheating. Too small, and the system has to run for much longer than it should, putting unnecessary pressure on the components.
If you have a heating rather than an air conditioning system, it might last a decade or so longer. Air conditioning components take a battering from moisture and corrosive chemical products.
Also, it depends on the component that is malfunctioning. Thermostats or vent hoses, for example, are often easy and inexpensive to replace. But if there is a major malfunction with an aging heat pump or the air conditioning electrics, this usually signifies it’s time for a full system replacement.
Type of HVAC System
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The complexity and type of HVAC system you select play a big part in how long it lasts. Some have more intricate components that wear out more quickly than others. The common examples below will help give you a better idea of what to expect when it comes to lifespan.
Furnaces typically last around 20 years. You could get as much as 30 years out of an oil furnace, but maybe only 15 from a gas one. This is because oil furnaces burn hot, and there’s less corrosive condensation.
Typically a furnace needs replacing when the important and expensive heat exchanger begins to leak.
Air Conditioning Units
Because they have outdoor components subject to extremes in weather and have more delicate parts, they are more likely to last around 15 to 20 years. If the compressor fails or there is corrosion or leakage in the condenser, this typically signals it's time to wave goodbye to your old AC.
Expect your heat pump to last 10 to 15 years. Heat pumps provide heated and cooled air, so they tend to be used year-round. This means that they won’t typically last as long as air conditioners or heat pumps that are only used seasonally.
A traditional cast iron boiler could last 30 years or more, and modern varieties will still last at least 20 years with the right maintenance. While it isn’t unheard of for old cast iron steam boilers to still run after 50 years, don’t forget that they won’t run nearly as efficiently as modern models. Investing in an energy-efficient modern replacement could work out more cost-effective in the long term.
Signs It’s Time to Replace Your HVAC System
If it's getting old and noisy, you might wonder how to tell if it’s time to replace your heating or cooling system. While it might still be salvageable with simple repairs and maintenance, watch out for these telltale signs that it’s reaching the point of no return.
Frequent Costly Repairs
HVAC repair costs average $350. However, if you’re regularly shelling out for more costly repairs and your system is at a decent age, you might be better off investing in a new one. If the cost of the repair works out at over one-third of the value of the aging system, this is a good indication that investing in a new one will be money well spent.
Rapidly Increasing Energy Bills
Old or overused systems don’t operate as efficiently as modem models subject to moderate use. When they are on their way out, you might see your bills take a sudden hike. If you are concerned, arranging an energy audit by a certified professional will give you a better understanding of how energy efficient your system is.
Your A/C Uses R-22 Freon
If your system was installed before 2010, there’s a good chance it uses this refrigerant. As of 2020, the United States Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t allow the manufacturing of R-22 freon due to the damage it causes to the environment.
Supplies are running low, so replacement might make more sense when a major system repair involves this refrigerant.
Poor Indoor Air Quality
If even after maintenance and repairs, your old air conditioning is contributing to dust, high humidity levels, and mold and mildew buildup, then it’s time for an upgrade.
System Uses Dirty Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels, like heating oil, are some of the least environmentally friendly energy sources, according to Swarthmore College. Swapping to a modern electric HVAC system is often better for the environment and the bank balance.
Your System Isn’t Keeping You Comfortable
Always feeling too cold in the water or too hot in the summer, despite having your air conditioning or heating blasting? Uneven temperatures or whole system malfunctions in aging systems can be a sign it’s going to be an expensive repair and replacement might be a better investment.
The Extended Warranty Is Expiring
If you’ve been lucky enough to have a 15- or 20-year warranty on your system, but it’s expiring soon, it might be time to start looking at options for a new system. This is especially true if you’ve been facing pricey repairs recently or strange noises or odors are emanating from the system.
What’s the Average Cost to Replace an HVAC System?
It’s worth putting aside some funds, so you don’t end up with an unexpectedly big bill when your existing system eventually kicks the bucket.
The average cost of a new heating and cooling system is $7,500. The final amount depends on the size and style of the unit, whether you need new components, and the brand you select. Contact an HVAC company near you for a quote.
Frequently Asked Questions
The average life expectancy of an HVAC system is 20 years, but they can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years. Many factors affect an HVAC system’s lifespan, including the brand you purchase, how often it’s used, and if you keep up with maintenance, like changing filters and cleaning your unit regularly.
To extend your HVAC system’s lifespan, it’s crucial to keep up with maintenance. This includes changing filters and thermostat batteries, keeping the outside unit clean and clear of clutter, and lubricating moving parts. Watch out for leaks, mold buildup, and blockages to ensure your unit stays in good working order. Spotting these issues early can be the difference between a simple inexpensive repair and having to replace an older system.
Turn your system off when you're toasty or when you're out to prevent unnecessary wear. Using the timer on your thermostat, so it switches off when it reaches a certain temperature or turns on just before you get back from work, is best. An annual maintenance contract can be helpful to ensure your system receives these important services at regular intervals.