Air Conditioner Repair vs. Replacement: Which Should You Choose?

Air conditioning maintenance man preparing air conditioning unit
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For the past few summers, your air conditioner has been a faithful guardian against sweltering temperatures and stifling humidity. But even the most faithful of air conditioning equipment can start to show signs of stress and aging, especially if you’ve had your AC system for the past decade or longer. At some point, you’ll have to decide if your system simply needs a few repairs or it needs to be replaced altogether.

Keep in mind that some air conditioning systems last for 30 years or more with routine maintenance, while others fall by the wayside in as little as 10 years. It all depends on how well you’ve taken care of your AC system, how often it’s used, and a wide variety of other factors.

When Should You Repair?

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when faced with an air conditioning problem. Fortunately, the vast majority of AC issues are relatively minor in scope and simple enough to fix without fanfare. For instance, a problem with your unit’s airflow may be the end result of something as simple as a clogged air filter or damaged ductwork. Many of these minor problems can even be solved on your own at little to no cost.

But what if the problem is a bit more significant than just a clogged filter? Then it becomes a matter of cost. A recent HomeAdvisor survey found that homeowners paid between $3,709 and $7,129 to purchase and install new air conditioning systems. In most cases, the cost of replacing a failed fan motor or a worn-out capacitor may be significantly cheaper than replacing the entire unit.

To keep from dumping a lot of money into repairing your AC system, it’s a good idea to have limits on how much to spend on repairs. This limit is especially important if your unit is over 10 years old. Start by multiplying the quoted cost of your AC repair by the age of your unit, and then compare the result to the cost of replacing the AC system entirely. If the multiplied cost of repairing your AC system remains lower than the replacement cost, then it’s still worthwhile to have your unit repaired.

When Is Replacement Necessary?

Sometimes there’s just no avoiding an AC replacement, especially if you have a unit that’s several decades old that finally decides to conk out. Given the sheer difficulty of finding compatible replacement parts and the amount of work likely needed for a successful repair, a complete AC replacement will likely be the more sensible option.

There are other factors that can make replacing your AC system more attractive than spending time and money on repairs:

  • Cost. Consider the general rule of thumb mentioned earlier. If the multiplied cost of repairs exceeds the cost of an AC replacement, then you’re better off investing in a newer AC system.
  • Repair frequency. If you find yourself having the same problems out of your AC system on a regular basis, then it’s time to consider an AC replacement. Repeated service calls can quickly add up in cost and time spent.  
  • Performance. A steady decline in overall performance often signals an AC system that’s ready for retirement. While certain repairs and maintenance can help restore some performance, it’s only a matter of time before a complete replacement is necessary.
  • Efficiency. Heating and cooling systems are responsible for nearly half of the energy consumption in the average home. Upgrading to a newer AC system could help reduce cooling costs by as much as 40 percent.

It’s a good idea to have your HVAC technician assess your current unit’s health and viability before committing to an AC replacement. This way, you won’t mistake minor issues that can be easily repaired for major problems that call for a complete system replacement.

What Factors Can Influence Your Decision?

The decision to replace or repair your AC system can also be influenced by developments within the HVAC industry. Take the latest advances in HVAC technology, for example. Technologies like variable speed fans, smart thermostats, and system self-diagnostics make air conditioners more energy-efficient than before. While some of these technologies can be retrofitted into your existing AC system, a complete system replacement lets you enjoy the full benefit of these innovative HVAC technologies.

Another recent development is the planned phase-out of R-22 refrigerant in favor of its environmentally friendlier replacement, R-410a. As stocks of R-22 refrigerant decrease in the coming years, it’ll become more expensive to charge older AC systems with the now-outdated refrigerant. Meanwhile, the vast majority of newer AC systems are designed to use R-410a exclusively.

It’s these issues that can sway your decision to hold onto your current AC system or make plans to replace it with a newer unit. The experts at Controlled Comfort can help you make the right decision when it comes to your HVAC needs. Contact us if you have any questions or need to set up an appointment.  

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