In a world where nothing lasts forever, our air conditioners are one of the things we don’t think about too often. We turn the thermostat on and expect the air conditioner to start cooling our home. But what happens when the day comes and your AC stops cooling your home?
This article will examine the life expectancy of the various air conditioner types. We will also look at the different factors of what can cause failure in your AC, as well as how long each air conditioner part is expected to last.
Factors That Affect an Air Conditioner’s Lifespan
Many factors go into the wear and tear of the various air conditioner types. Below, you will find those factors and how they affect the AC lifespan.
Type of Air Conditioner Unit
The type of air conditioner will come with a varied life expectancy. You can gain a lot by noting the warranty periods for specific brands. However, in general terms, the smaller the unit, the less life it will have.
Portable ACs, for example, may only last 5 to 8 years. Window and through-the-wall models are expected to last 10 to 15 years, leaving central and mini-split systems to last the longest, each offering up to 20+ years of reliable service.
Size Vs. Home Needs
When choosing your air conditioner, the most significant factor is the room or home size compared to the unit’s output ability. It is crucial to get an air conditioner that matches the size. If you get a model that is too small, it will work overtime to maintain temperature. This overworking can cause a drastic decrease in life expectancy.
Likewise, a unit that is too large for the space will work less, but when it is on, it will work too hard. The evaporator unit will pull a lot more heat from the air resulting in more humidity and moisture removal. This can cause a dry air cycle that causes the air conditioner to overheat, again, shortening the life span.
How your AC is installed can also affect the life span. Some models other than central HVAC models can be installed as a DIY project. However, if you aren’t familiar with voltage requirements, or the unit isn’t mounted securely (among other possible issues), it can have an effect.
A wobbling or off-center unit, for example, will vibrate too much, which can cause internal parts to come loose, ducting and vents to fall apart, and electrical components to short out. Obviously, with any of these factors, a shorter lifespan is expected.
Lack of Maintenance
Cleaning and maintenance are some of those aspects that shouldn’t need to be talked about. However, when it comes to regular chores, cleaning your air conditioner doesn’t always make the list.
Without proper maintenance, you will drastically cut down on the lifespan of the unit. Even the simple things like changing an air filter on schedule and washing out the condenser unit can cut the life expectancy in half.
If you need to know how to clean your air conditioner, we can help you with that. A full break down by type and component in our air conditioner cleaning article is easy to follow and highly informative.
One thing a lot of air conditioner owners don’t understand is the cooling limits of the machine. Even large industrial air conditioners have their limits. The 1, 2, or even 4-ton models on your home do, too.
On average, a new air conditioner or one that has been regularly and well maintained will reduce indoor temperatures by only 20 degrees (Fahrenheit). This means if the outside temp is 95 degrees, the lowest indoor temp you can regularly maintain will be 75 degrees.
If you set your thermostat lower than this 20-degree variance, the system will work overtime, run harder and longer and shorten its lifespan.
AC Usage & Runtime
Obviously, how often you run your system will also play a role in its life span. Using the system continuously, daily, and at lower temps, the lifespan will drop drastically.
However, not using your system will also shorten the life. An AC that sets for long periods builds up dust, debris and is susceptible to rodent and pest infestations. All of these factors from a stagnant system make the AC less efficient and harder working when it does get turned on.
Climate & Location
Your region, climate, and average ambient temperature where you live all play a role as well. Colder climates will use the systems less often, resulting in dirt and debris build-up, as mentioned above.
Hotter climates will see increased use and under extreme conditions, making the systems work harder and longer, shortening the life by years.
Average Lifespan of Various AC Units
We have done the research for you and discovered the average life span of air conditioners based on type, brand, and parts. Everything is outlined below so you can figure out what to look for when buying or knowing what to expect for your existing unit.
By Air Conditioner Type
There are four main types of air conditioners: window and through-the-wall units, portable, central, and mini-split systems. How do each of them stack up in the lifespan range? Let’s take a closer look.
How Long Do Window Air Conditioners Last?
Window ACs are great for room climate control and a budget-friendly air conditioning method when central air is not available. A window unit also needs a little more maintenance than other types as it pulls in room air and exhausts outside. There are more areas for dirt and debris accumulation.
For modern window units, though, the cleaning and maintenance are made more manageable, allowing you to reach the full potential as far as lifespan is concerned. On average, window units come with a 5 to 10 year warranty, which is about what the life expectancy is.
With a well-cleaned and properly maintained window AC, you can expect 8 to 15 years of reliable use.
How Long Do Portable Air Conditioners Last?
Portable air conditioners work well for individual rooms and smaller spaces. They can produce a lot of cold air, but the problem comes in their size. Smaller components have to work harder to produce the same output as larger components.
Add on top of that the fact that portable ACs don’t have the same level of filtration, are completely in the house, recycling and filtering the same air, and you can see how their lifespan is going to be much shorter.
The warranty periods for portable ACs will range from 1 year to 5 years on average, and the life expectancy doesn’t go much beyond that.
However, if you purchase a high-quality model with removable filters, name brand internal parts and keep the unit clean, you can easily get 8 to 10 years of use from them.
How Long Do Central/Whole House Air Conditioners Last?
Central air conditioning units are the most durable and longest lasting of all the types. Their components are large, built to last, and can handle years of constant use. However, they are also the most expensive models to install and operate and require a great deal of care.
Annual deep cleaning is required, where you must take apart the condensing unit and access the evaporator coils. At the start and end of the season, a cleaning session can last 3 or 4 hours (or more) and is often something hired out to a professional.
Warranties will vary by brand, but overall, you can expect to see 10 to 20-year warranties on central AC systems. If you maintain the system and change the filter on schedule, you can expect the system to last a long time.
Most professionally installed central ACs, cleaned, maintained, and with annual inspections, will last at least 20 years, with many making it to 25 or even 30 before replacement is required.
How Long Do Mini Split Air Conditioners Last?
Mini split systems, both ducted and ductless, are among the most energy-efficient and low maintenance types available. While you still need to clean the intake and filters, as well as the heat pump outside, it doesn’t take near as long as with a central system.
While they make an excellent primary install choice or a replacement for an old central unit, they still have their downsides. Because the heat pump unit runs in both directions, cleaning is more vital than ever. Their warranties can reach 20 years, but the industry average is about 10.
That being said, if you install a new mini split system and take care of it with regular cleanings and checkups, you can expect a mini split system to last 15 to 20 years. Some models have gone beyond that, reaching 25 years.
By Air Conditioner Parts
Individual parts have differing life expectancies and ones that can be cleaned or repaired last longer than those that cannot. This also means that the parts that move or deal with high pressure or temperatures wear out faster.
How Long Do AC Fan Motors Last?
Fan motors are one of the most replaced moving parts in an ac system. The motors run almost constantly when the unit is on. They create internal heat that isn’t dissipated, and the copper coils inside the motor can get dirty, overheated, and short out over time.
On average, a fan motor will last 5 to 10 years. This will depend, of course, on average ambient temperatures, the number of consecutive hours run, and how often the motor cycles on and off.
How Long Do AC Filters Last?
Most air conditioner filters range from 30-day replaceable filters to life-long mesh filters. Window and portable air conditioners are generally a fiber mesh or screen that can be washed and reused. These filter types are not the highest filtration levels, so don’t expect much in the way of HEPA level filtration. However, they can last 20 or more years if taken care of.
Paper filters found in central and mini-split systems, though, usually only last 30 to 90 days. While their filtration capabilities are much higher, being able to contain smoke, odors, pet dander, etc., you can’t wash and reuse them.
How Long Do AC Capacitors Last?
A capacitor is arguably the most replaced item on a central AC unit. The capacitor has the duty of storing high voltage currents used to jump-start the compressor and get the system running. Most times during the summer, your AC can start and stop 10 to 20 times per day.
That is 10 to 20 times a small metal canister is storing and releasing over 600 volts. Eventually, the capacitance is going to dwindle and then fail. When that happens, the only option is to replace it. While it may be a $10 to $20 part, you can expect a modern capacitor to burn out about every 5 to 8 years.
How Long Do AC Compressors Last?
A compressor is a sealed system and isn’t subjected to as much contamination, dirt, or corrosion as other parts. However, they still deal with high pressures, high heat, and cycle on and off with internal moving parts.
Well built, high-quality compressors can last 20 or more years without showing any signs of going bad. The problem comes in a lack of maintenance. If debris and water are not cleaned out of the condensing unit regularly, they can cause rust, damage and compromise the compressor housing. When that happens, the compressor will fail shortly after.
By Popular Brands
Brands and models within those brands all have their own timelines and runtimes. While the variance may be minimal, it is still there. Let’s take a look at how the different brands stack up.
How Long Do Lennox Air Conditioners Last?
Lennox is best known for its residential and commercial central air systems. They use high quality internal parts and name-brand systems. Each Lennox central AC has a 5 or 10 year warranty (either elite or merit models) for the compressor and sealed systems.
With proper maintenance, cleaning, and care, a typical Lennox air conditioner can last 15 years or more.
How Long Do American Standard Air Conditioners Last?
American Standard makes affordable mid-range air conditioners. They save a little bit of money by reusing parts for several models and building everything in-house. They have an attention to detail and a solid work ethic.
With a 5-year warranty on all parts and a 10-year warranty on the sealed system (compressor, coils), their central air conditioners and window units are easily ready to last 10 years in any climate. In regions that don’t have extremely high temperatures, you can expect 15 or more years of reliable operation.
How Long Do Carrier Air Conditioners Last?
Carrier is the oldest manufacturer of air conditioners, credited with making the first ACs ever produced. They wouldn’t be in business long if their products didn’t last. While they produce primarily central AC units, their mini-split systems are also well built and designed.
With a 10-year warranty, their systems are designed to be around a while. They are easy to upkeep, offer low maintenance solutions, and with proper care, can easily last 20 years.
How Long Do Fujitsu Air Conditioners Last?
Fujitsu is best known for its mini-split systems, and the systems are among the most efficient on the market. With SEER (learn more about SEER ratings here) ratings over 20, you will save a lot of money running a Fujitsu system.
The problem with Fujitsu is that you must have the system professionally installed to get the 10 year warranty. With or without the warranty, a Fujitsu mini-split AC will easily last 20 years under proper care and maintenance.
How Long Do Goodman Air Conditioners Last?
Goodman is the most popular residential central AC system going. With clients that range from single-family homes to multi-family complexes and even commercial and industrial buildings. They are mid-range systems with moderately priced mid-range parts.
The combination makes for budget-friendly systems that have a long life expectancy. The 5-year warranty is due to the lower ranged parts; the systems are easily replaced instead of repaired (though repairs are still optional). When installed properly and well maintained, though, 10- to 12 years of reliable service is not uncommon.
How Long Do Trane AC Units Last?
Trane is a central air conditioner manufacturer that specializes in commercial and industrial grade systems. Their residential systems are high quality and high priced, making them less prevalent in the single-family home market.
However, for those that do install a Trane, you can expect up to 20 years on the warranty. If you keep up with maintenance, run annual system inspections, and minor repairs your Trane system can easily reach 25 years or more.
How Long Do LG Portable Air Conditioners Last?
LG makes a lot of air conditioner types, models, and styles. The LG portable ACs are reliable and durable. However, the parts may not be as individually durable as other brands. While it makes LG portable air conditioners more affordable, replacements or repairs are more frequent.
For the LG line, you will find a 5-year warranty on most models, with some extending up to 10. The portable units aren’t designed to be used every day for extended hours and, when properly cared for, can last 8 to 12 years.
How Does Climate & Location Impact the Length of AC Units?
Ambient temperatures, your regional climate, and even the humidity level in your location will all play a role in your air conditioner’s longevity. If you ever talk to an HVAC technician, they will tell you one thing: Hot climates kill ACs faster.
If you run an air conditioner of any brand or style in Florida, where the humidity is off the charts, it will last much longer than an air conditioner in South Dakota or Illinois. Likewise, the hot arid desert temperatures in Texas and Southern California will shorten the life of an AC much faster than northern, colder climates.
The most straightforward explanation is that hotter climates cause the systems to run more often and longer. You will also use the air conditioner more weeks out of the year than you do in the north. The summer months are hotter, last longer, and even the winters don’t get as cold.
This doesn’t mean that extreme temperatures on the cold side prolong the life. Cold temperatures can make the components work better, but the constant cold and heat changes shorten the life just as well.
In general, though, an AC in Georgia or Arizona will last 15 years, where the same brand and model in Canada may last 20 to 25 years.
Pros & Cons Between AC Repair & Replacement
When a part goes bad, you have two basic options. You can repair the broken part or replace the part. However, this also extends to the air conditioner itself. Sometimes it may be better to replace the entire unit than a specific part.
The most significant factor will be the cost. If you have a portable AC, it will almost always be cheaper to purchase a new unit compared to the cost of a repair tech to rebuild the system. For a central AC unit, the cost is almost always cheaper to repair what is damaged or broken. Even a critical part such as the condensing unit can be replaced cheaper than buying a new system.
The easy solution for smaller units like window, through-the-wall, and portable units is the replacement compared to repair costs. If the part and installation or labor are cheaper than a new model, then that is a viable option.
For mini-split and central AC units, though, it can be a more challenging choice. Older ACs aren’t as efficient as newer models, and they can use different refrigerants or even have new types of coils, motors, or fans.
A new central system can cost as much as $5000 to have installed. However, when you need a new condenser that will cost you $2500, it may be viable to upgrade and pay the higher fees now. With a more efficient unit, it may save you more money in the long run.
When to Repair
When do you know it is time to repair your AC? There are several tale-tell signs you should be aware of to note when it is time for a deeper inspection.
- Blows warm air.
If the air conditioner no longer blows cold, it can be a simple cleaning issue, or the compressor could be going bad.
- The AC cycles on and off frequently.
If the system is continuously cycling, it can be a sign that the filter is dirty, or it can mean the capacitor is bad.
- Low airflow.
If the fan motor is going bad, it won’t pull in air to cool and there will be minimal output. This can also be a dirt issue or a clogged filter.
- Odors or pooled water.
If you smell foul odors, musty air, or find pooled water, it can be a serious sign of part failure or a clogged drain pan.
- High humidity in the home.
An air conditioner should remove moisture and be able to maintain a lower level. If it doesn’t, it can be a sign of a major repair needed.
When to Replace
When you find a broken component or something isn’t working correctly, repair may be out of the question. In these cases, replacement is your only viable option. The trick is to determine if the replacement should be an entire system or a single component.
- Age of the system.
If your AC is older, out of warranty, and not as efficient as it should be, replacing a few parts isn’t going to help much. For central systems over 15 years or window units over 8 years, it is cheaper in the long run to replace.
- Multiple failing parts.
In many instances, a failing part will cause strain on the system, and other features will also fail. If it is cheaper to purchase a newer AC than to replace all of the parts, replacement should be in order.
- Refrigerant leaks.
If you need to refill your refrigerant at all, there is a leak somewhere as a sealed system refrigerant shouldn’t need to be replaced. Multiple refills in a season is a sign to replace the unit.
- Parts unavailable.
Many brands and models have replacement parts readily available for a time. However, as newer models and technologies take over, it can become more difficult (and expensive) to find reliable replacement parts or high labor costs to repair. In this case, replacement is recommended.
- Old technology.
When it comes to the refrigerant, older models are using refrigerants that are no longer produced or legal. R-22, for example is no longer allowed to be used. When your system begins to fail, you will need to upgrade to a newer model that uses R-410a.
Air conditioners work well and last a remarkably long time. Even small portable air conditioners can last over a decade. It is essential to know if your system is repairable or needs to be replaced.
This article covered various air conditioner lifespans, part replacement expectancy, and if your system needs to be repaired or replaced. Hopefully, you have a better idea of what to expect in terms of lifespans by type, brand, or part.