Most modern HVAC systems are built to be efficient and durable—but nothing lasts forever. Generally speaking, an air conditioner or heat pump has a service life expectancy of 10 to 12 years, while you can expect a furnace to last for 15 to 20 years. Those spans are affected by a number of factors that you can control, such as regular maintenance and filter changes, and some that you can’t, including weather conditions and how hard the system runs during the heating and cooling seasons. If you’re starting to wonder if your time is almost up—or if you’ve recently Googled “should I repair or replace my air conditioner?”—here are a few of the warning signs that it’s time to replace your HVAC.
HVAC Warning Sign #1: The system is requiring more frequent repairs
A system approaching the upper end of the age range isn’t necessarily a problem, but more frequent or expensive repairs can indicate that your HVAC is failing, has damage, or is leaking. This can be particularly problematic for older air conditioning units and heat pumps that use Freon©, which the government is phasing out to protect the environment. Rather than doing a retrofit with the new R410A refrigerant, it might be time to invest in a new system. There’s also a handy rule of thumb known as the “$5,000 rule” to help you decide if it’s better to repair or replace your HVAC system: Multiply the age of your equipment by the estimated cost to repair it. If the number is over $5,000, a new system probably makes more financial sense. For example, a 10-year-old system needing a $600 repair would come out to $6,000—indicating it’s likely better to replace.
HVAC Warning Sign #2: Your utility bills are going up
Even normal wear and tear can diminish the efficiency of your HVAC components over time. As a result, you might see higher utility bills even if you’re keeping indoor temperatures the same as you always have. In an era of rising fuel and electricity costs—not to mention inflation—that’s just throwing money away. A new, high-efficiency system will cost you money upfront but can represent savings over the long haul.
HVAC Warning Sign #3: The air conditioner or furnace is making odd noises or emitting strange odors
A properly running HVAC system should be relatively quiet. If you start hearing unusual squealing, screeching, banging, whirring, or grinding, it’s time to contact a service technician. Similarly, strange smells may be normal or could be a cause for further investigation. Turning on the heat for the first time since the previous winter may result in a brief burning smell from the furnace, which is normal. The first time you run the air conditioner in the warm season, you might need to address so-called dirty-sock syndrome. On the other hand, a burning electrical smell can indicate a much more serious issue with your furnace or air conditioner—so shut off the unit immediately and contact a licensed HVAC professional to fix the problem.
HVAC Warning Sign #4: Inconsistent temperatures in the home
Let’s face it: The purpose of an air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace is to keep you comfortable. Check the thermostat, filters, and air vents as your first step. But if your HVAC has been reliable in the past and it’s starting to fail at that job, it may be a sign that there’s trouble ahead.
HVAC Warning Sign #5: Your air is dusty or musty
Diminishing air quality isn’t just unpleasant, it can be a health risk. Abnormally high humidity can indicate that an air conditioner or heat pump is having efficiency issues, and may be spreading allergens such as mold and mildew into the air your family breathes.
HVAC Warning Sign #6: The warranty is expired or will be soon
HVAC warranties from most manufacturers last five to 10 or 20 years, depending on the type of unit, whether it was registered, and whether you are the original owner or if it was transferred with the sale of a home. The Bottom line, if parts and labor are covered for the repair, it might extend how long the unit makes sense. If a repair isn’t covered and major components are involved, refer back to the rule of $5,000 to help make your decision.
Keeping your HVAC system well maintained pays dividends over time, but eventually, even the most durable equipment needs to be retired. Contact your local Trane Comfort Specialist to help further diagnose your system’s problems and guide you to a solution that’s right for you and your budget.