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Should You Replace or Repair Your AC Unit?

Home Hacks Bryson Buehrer August 02 5 minutes reading time

The old adage rings true: You never know what you have until it's gone. Whoever coined that phrase was very obviously talking about when their air conditioning stopped working. If your unit has ever broken down or it seems to take all day for the house to reach your desired temperature, you may be considering keeping your local HVAC repair service on speed dial. In the last 20 years, the share of households with AC installed has risen by almost 30%. With many of those old units needing repair or replacement, those with air conditioning woes will find themselves in good company. Here are some things you should consider when deciding whether to repair your current unit or shop for a new one!

repair or replace ac unit

Broken AC Unit: Repair or Replace?

Consider the cost of Repair or Replacement.

This is the first and most obvious step in your decision-making process: Which one will cost more? The question is more nuanced than that. For a properly-operating system, it shouldn't need maintenance every year, and should only undergo a routine inspection once every year.  If your unit is currently broken, but this is the first time it has needed service, you shouldn't need to worry. If your unit is relatively new (first 25% of its life) and has broken down multiple times, consider contacting the manufacturer to make good on any active warranties.

However, if you're scheduling multiple repairs each year, you may want to consider a replacement. Some jobs, like replacing a drain tube or flushing a drain line, tend to be on the cheaper end of the repair spectrum. A blown compressor or a malfunctioning condenser coil, on the other hand, could easily mean a 4-digit repair bill. As a general rule, if the annual repairs cost a third of what it would take to replace the unit altogether, then a replacement might be your best bet!

How old is your AC Unit?

In moderate climates with similarly manageable cooling loads, a new air conditioning unit should last around 15 years. In warmer, more humid climates with higher peak loads, this number drops to about ten years. These numbers are subject to change based on the brand chosen, the surrounding climate, the quality of the installation, and how regularly you've been keeping up with the maintenance of the system. 

If you're wondering how old your unit is, look up your make and model online or find documentation on when the air conditioner was installed. If it's in the last three-quarters of its life span, it may be worth exploring a replacement option before you begin to encounter unnecessary and costly repairs, as mentioned above.

At 13 years old, the average air conditioner begins to look a bit long in the tooth, and you should consider replacing it.

What is the efficiency of your current system?

If your home still has the system that it did when you moved in, likely, it doesn't meet the current new-installation efficiency standards. The minimum requirement for residential installations is currently 13 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Many older systems installed before that time have SEER ratings of 6 or less. This difference in efficiency means that a new system, while seemingly expensive, may payback quite rapidly based on your monthly savings. Many modern systems easily exceed the set standard, and solutions like a geothermal heat pump are even more efficient than the latest traditional central AC unit. 

Your air conditioner can also lose efficiency over time. The constant starting and stopping of a fan and compressor, outdoor placement and exposure to the elements, and lack of maintenance can all affect the overall efficiency of the unit. If you hear the constant whirring of your unit and it seems to be running nonstop, that's a good indicator that it's not as efficient as it once was. The higher amount of work required to achieve the thermostat's set temperature increases the wear on your system and raises your energy bills. If you can't monitor your unit 24/7 to listen to its daily activity, just look at your year-over-year cooling costs. If they are rising at a rate that is higher than the price increases for energy in your area, that could be indicative of an air conditioning unit that is lagging in performance.

Look into new methods of cooling your home.

If the repairs are too frequent, or you want to maximize your home's performance and comfort with a new unit, you don't have to resort to the same old traditional AC units. Geothermal heat pumps, even though they have "heat" in the name, excel at cooling your home. 

A geothermal system can heat, cool, and provide all of the hot water needed for your home. That's three systems rolled into one compact, quiet, and highly efficient package. Because the unit is so silent, it is kept inside the home and avoids the environmental wear and tear (rain, snow, grass clippings, etc.) that a conventional AC unit takes on. This indoor lifestyle provides the unit with a much longer and more efficient life span: 24 years on average, often more! The underground loop system that extracts heat energy from the ground lasts well over 50 years.

Ultimately, geothermal is over twice as efficient as a traditional system and can save the homeowner 50% on their monthly cooling bills, 40% on hot water costs, and up to 70% when heating season comes around. You can cool and heat your home with clean, renewable energy that is safer, quieter, and longer-lasting than virtually any other technology on the market!

Want to learn more about geothermal?

Download Our Simple Guide to Choosing a Heating and Cooling System


Bryson Buehrer
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