How Long Should My Central Air Conditioner Last?  

Have you ever heard of “programmed obsolescence” or “designed obsolescence?”  If you haven’t, it really plays a big factor in the way this question is answered. 

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Also, during this video, if you have any thoughts about how long you think an air conditioner should last, let me know in the comments below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

How many more years is my AC system supposed to last?  This is one of my favorite questions to answer. And it usually gets all the HVAC technicians and owners out there all stirred up.  The reason is because, companies that are highly motivated by sales are going to tell you that your central air conditioner will not last as long as I’m going to tell you in this video.  

I will tell you, they don’t make ‘em like they used to!  The original home air conditioning systems were built with quality parts and were extremely durable for up to 30 years.  Believe it or not, we just serviced an air conditioner from the 1970’s!  That’s almost 50 years old!   

But the industry quickly realized, just like car companies did back in the 1920’s, that sales were stagnating.  It was like they were building them too good for those companies to sustain growth, and more importantly to them, become rich. Companies began making their products just a little bit less durable “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little more “efficient,” and just a little sooner than necessary.  

As with anything, the answer to this question depends heavily on how well the system as been maintained.  Rental properties are notorious for having tenants that just plain old refuse to change their air filter. So, of course that system is crapshoot.  Who knows right?  It might last 10 years, it might last 20 years. 

But if you have the system cleaned and maintained every know and then, there is no reason that system can’t last you 20 years.  I know, parts will fail now and then, and everyone expects they’ll have to make certain repairs to their aging system, but if the parts are available, there’s no reason to have someone convince you to buy a new air conditioning system.   

That’s just another example of planned obsolescence!  Someone putting in your head that you need a new system at 12 years is almost kinda like being a bully.  They know more than you do about that air conditioning system, and it would be pretty easy for any “technician” in a white button up shirt with an American flag on it to deceive you about your air conditioner.  The big companies around town are banking on it. 

I live in a 21-year-old neighborhood built by, let’s call them a fictitious name like BK Homes.  The HVAC contractor who won the job to install all those units, did so because they were the lowest bidder who could install them the fastest.  Those contractors aren’t putting in top of the line systems either.  They call them contractor grade HVAC systems.   

So, my system is 21-years-old this year, and I’m thinking I’m going to try and make it last one more year.  A lot of us say that!  But when that system was 11 years old my compressor failed.  Well, for most people, that’s about a 2 to $3000 job to make that repair and refill the refrigerant.  So yes, major failures like this do happen.  Is it planned obsolescence?  Maybe. But it’s also machine, and machines break sometimes.  I happened to know a guy (me) who could get a good deal on a compressor.  So, I fixed it.  And the system has run great ever since.   

The point I’m trying to get across is, it’s your decision how long you want to keep your system around.  If the parts are available, your system can be repaired.  Old systems blow cold air out of your registers the same temperature as the newer systems, but here’s where those words “planned obsolescence” comes back around when the pushy sales guys start telling you, you need a new air conditioner.  They’re just trying to persuade you that you need something a little newer, a little better, a little more “efficient,” and just a little sooner than necessary. 

Here are some reasons why I would be interested in changing my air conditioner:   

So, I changed my compressor when it was 11 years old right?  That was almost 10 years ago!  That air conditioner is a lot noisier now that it ever has been.  I’m kind of over it…Every time it comes on and I’m out on my patio, it comes on loud and turns off loud. 

If I had more major repairs like the compressor was, I would have gotten to the point where I was tired of putting money into the past with the old system and preferred to invest my money in the future with a new system. 

If I was leaking refrigerant every year and we could find the leak, I would want to change my system.  Not only for the cost of the refrigerant being so high, but it’s just very bad for the ozone layer to be seeing all that chlorine, and future generations will suffer because of it. 

If the system was installed wrong in the first place, it’s tough to fix that without taking everything out and putting it back together the proper way.  This could be another reason to start all over with a new system.  As an installer myself, I know how people can suffer from a system that never worked right or was too small in the first place.  The most important day of a system’s life is the day it was installed. 

Now, here are some reasons companies that are only motivated by sales will tell you, you need a new system: 

Extremely salesy companies will tell you (and you see it written in blogs all over the internet too), that if your system is over 12 years old, you need a new system.  They’ll tell you it’s not worth repairing, or the parts aren’t available, literally lying straight to your face.   

They say if you’ve had the system over a decade, it’s time to replace your system. This also doesn’t compute for me.  Why? 

Some of my customers have told me another company told them R-22 freon wasn’t available anymore.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, it’s on its way out, and super salesy technicians will say big words like “Montreal Protocol” which states we have to phase out of producing R-22 by 2020, but there are also alternative refrigerants we can use for a long time, at half the price!   

R407c can be used to replace the R-22 in your system.  Your experienced technician will remove the existing R-22, and without getting all technical, replace it with the new R407c refrigerant.  There are plenty of other alternative and safe refrigerants to use out there.  Just don’t let them add the alternative stuff on top of your existing R-22.  That would not be acceptable as the refrigerant needs to be either-or. 

Even after they stop making R-22 freon, there will still be recycled R-22 available for years.  It might be more expensive then, than it is now, but it’s still an option that you get to decide on, and not a misleading technician. 

This video is all about you knowing what the real truth is out there is about how long your central air conditioning system should last.  You should get about 20 good years out of your system as long as it was installed correctly.  And that considers you installer followed several detailed instructions from the manufacture of the system.   

Sure, anyone can put a few boxes together up in your attic for a really cheap price and call it good.  And you’ll believe them too.  Its sad, because these types of companies continue to give HVAC a bad name, while companies like Fox Family are trying to lift the HVAC industry by following instructions closely so your system will last a good 20 years.  Of course, that’s with proper maintenance.