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When To Replace An Air Conditioner

a homeowner calculating if it's worth it to replace their air conditioner

The worst time to discover your air conditioner is failing is when the sun is blazing, there is no breeze and you need some cool air right away. In order to avoid sweating inside your home, waiting for the repair person to save everyone, you will want to know how to tell when your AC is failing so you can be proactive. If you notice any of the following, it’s best to call in a licensed professional to find out exactly what is going on.

  • Loud or increasing noise or vibrations.
  • You notice more dust on your furniture. Your vents could be clogging up.
  • You start to smell a moldy or burning odor from around the AC unit itself, if it is easily accessible. That could mean too much moisture or a problem with wiring.
  • Energy bills spike up suddenly, with no other electrical or gas issues.
  • Nothing happens when you flip on the unit, or you can’t turn it off.
  • The air coming out of the vents is warm no matter what temperature you set the AC unit on.
  • The air in your home feels humid and thick even when the AC is running.
  • You notice leaking water around the unit.

Of course, if your AC has already broken down a few times, a visit from a pro will help you determine if your next step is to fix what’s wrong or replace the entire system. Here are a few things to think about when making the repair-vs.-replace decision.

How Old is the Unit?

Even the best air-conditioners have a pretty standard lifespan. You should expect yours to last between 10 and 15 years, longer if you have been vigilant about AC preventative maintenance. If your AC is in the 10 to 15-year range and you are looking at a pretty pricey repair, a replacement can sometimes be a better option than fixing it to work a bit longer.

How Much Will the Repair Cost?

If your AC is pretty new, and especially if it is still under the manufacturer’s or installer’s warranty, it is unlikely that any repair would cost too much. Also, it likely would be covered under your warranty plan, depending on where you bought it. However, if it’s 10 to 15 years old, chances are higher that your repair bill will be higher. And, without any warranty, you would be paying it all on your own.

Some AC professionals suggest that you multiply the quoted cost of a repair times the age of your unit to help you make a decision. If the answer is less than $5,000, it is more likely to be worth the repair cost. If it’s over $5,000, replacement is probably a better option. Talk to the licensed pro who diagnosed your AC’s issue. They can help you decide whether to fix or replace it.

The Refrigerant Issue

Any air-conditioning systems older than 10 years use what is called R-22 Freon refrigerant. Why does this matter? Because it is now illegal to make that product in the United States, so any parts needed to fix your problem will cost more. And then there is the environmental cost to consider as well. Continuing to use an AC running on R-22 is harmful all around.

Higher Utility Bills

As with most appliances, newer AC units are more energy efficient. AC efficiency is measured in SEER units, and units from the 1990s required a SEER rating of 10. The rating required now is at least 14, though more modern systems have a SEER rating of more than 20. The higher the rating, the lower the cost to run the unit. So when making the replace or repair decision, consider the savings you might realize from a brand-new system. Your AC professional will be able to tell you the SEER rating of your current AC system and show you what kind of savings you might expect from replacement.

Staying or Going?

If your current unit is acting up and you are facing a moderate-size repair bill, it might be worth the cost to replace it if you plan to stay in your home for a good while. However, if you plan to move soon, you might be better off fixing it and being done with it. Remember, though, that potential buyers will ask about the age of your AC system, and an older unit is less attractive than a new one. It’s a trade-off that you will have to weigh.

Consider the Climate

For people who live in areas where temperatures are routinely above 75 degrees or so, AC use is much higher than someone living in an area where the summer months are really the only time the unit is needed. Running the AC more often causes more wear and tear—and likely more frequent repairs—than one that runs occasionally. The last thing you want when the forecast calls for 95 and sunny is an AC that decides it has had enough! Geography can be a determining factor for fixing or replacing. If you are new to the area and not sure what to expect, talk to a licensed professional. They can inform you on what to expect as far as AC use and what that does to the expected age of your unit. You might find replacement is more attractive at a lower repair price threshold if you will need to run the AC for most of the year.

The Going Rate

Depending on what is wrong with your AC system and the parts that would need to be replaced, costs can really vary. A small refrigerant issue might be a couple hundred dollars, whereas a new compressor might be around $2,000. The average price for a new AC unit is around $5,000, with others running around $10,000, depending on the size needed for your home’s size and location. Work out the numbers with the help of a professional. Many licensed AC experts will help you break down the cost of a repair vs. the cost of replacement for a unit that is necessary for home. Use their knowledge to help you make the right choice for you and your home!

ABC Can Help You Decide Whether to Repair or Replace Your AC Unit

Making the decision to repair or replace your AC unit can be a tough one. Fortunately, the licensed professionals at ABC Home & Commercial Services can help. We offer free inspections and honest advice, that way you can feel confident in your decision to replace or repair your AC unit. We also offer ongoing AC maintenance to help extend the life of your system.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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