Figuring out whether you should repair or replace your air conditioner can be a difficult decision to make. But, you’d be surprised at how often we get called out for a second opinion, only to find that the old AC has plenty of life still in it and doesn’t need to be replaced, as other contractors have told them. As such, we’ve written this guide on when to replace an air conditioner, and when to invest money into repairing it. Those of you who have read our articles before know that we are a small, U.S. Veteran-Owned heating and air conditioning company based in Southern California, and have built our reputation on giving honest, straight answers to peoples’ AC questions; this will be no different. So, let’s take a look at when to repair or replace your air conditioner, starting with discussion on when to replace it.
Should You Repair or Replace Your Air Conditioner?
Figuring out when to repair or replace your air conditioner can be tough. To begin with, replacing an air conditioner can be a pricy endeavor, so make sure that your old AC unit is on its last leg before doing so. To be clear, in most circumstances, an air conditioner can be repaired.
Remember that anything can be repaired, but just like pouring money into an old car, at some point is becomes more financially prudent for you to just replace it with a new one (in fact, my wife is rolling her eyes at me as I write this because of my old Porsche in the garage…if you’re a Porsche guy/girl, then you get it…if you’re not, then you’re just wrong. And if you’re a Corvette guy, then you can just stop reading now…you’re not allowed to read my articles).
Gratuitous side-rant aside, unlike a car, which has sentimental value, however (dear…), it’s kind of a long-shot that you’d be sentimentally attached to your old AC unit (unless your late father installed the old one, which happened to one of our clients last year; I digress).
1. Replace an Air Conditioner if it is Over 15-Years-Old
When figuring out whether to repair or replace your air conditioner, take a look at its age. An air conditioner has a typical lifespan of around 10-15 years (According to the National Association of Home Builders – “Life Expectancy of Home Components”), so if your air conditioner is acting up, and it is over 15-years-old, then it might be better to replace it. Just like the car example, we can repair any air conditioner, but is it worth it?
At around fifteen years of age, an air conditioner will start to break-down more often. Did you just have it serviced last year, and it’s broken again? Did a solenoid get replaced in the fall, and this spring it needs a new compressor? These are the instances where it becomes more viable to replace an air conditioner, vice repair it, so start thinking along those lines. I realize it’s a pricey investment, but remember…it’s just that – an investment – in the comfort of your home. Here’s a guide on what it should cost to replace your air conditioner:
2. Replace an Air Conditioner if the Repair Cost is Too High
I know what you’re thinking…”well, thanks Tim, but what the hell does that mean?” Well, I’ll tell you what it means…a new air conditioner will cost around $5,000 to $7,000 to replace, based on your location, and the brand or unit chosen. This doesn’t include ductwork, etc., not to mention whether the contractor is trying to rip you off. So, [honest] contractors have a formula we use to determine whether you should repair or replace your air conditioner (if you want to know the exact price, try our: HVAC Installation Price Calculator)
Repair Your Air Conditioner If:
(Cost of Repair) X (Age of Old AC Unit in Years) < (Cost of Your New AC)
What this means is, multiply the cost of your repair by the age of your old unit (in years). If the result is LESS than the cost of the new air conditioner that you want, then it is worth investing in a repair. If you have no idea what a replacement air conditioner will cost, then just use “$5,000.”
Replace Air Conditioner If:
(Cost of Repair) X (Age of Old AC Unit in Years) > (Cost of Your New AC)
Conversely, if multiplying the cost of your AC repair by the age of your old unit is MORE than the cost of the new air conditioner that you want, then it’s okay to replace your AC.
Example of a Repair vs Replace Calculation:
- Cost of AC Repair: $477.00
- Age of Old AC Unit: 15-years
- New Unit Cost: $5,617.00 (installed)
($477.00) X (15) = $7,155.00
Answer: $7,155 > $5,617 = Replace Your Air Conditioner
$7,155.00 is greater than $5,617.00 (the cost of your new unit), so it is a good idea, in this example, to replace your air conditioner.
A Note About R-22 Refrigerant
Some of you may know that many older air conditioners still have R-22 refrigerant, whereas newer models have R-410a refrigerant. R-410a is supposedly (although debatable) a more environmentally friendly refrigerant, and as such, they have phased-out the older R-22. As with most things that are phased-out, however, it becomes subject to supply and demand.
So, R-22 refrigerant prices have gone through the roof, and what used to cost $90 to top-off your refrigerant, can now cost ten-times that price. If you find yourself in such a situation, believe it or not, the contractor is not trying to rip you off (hopefully). Our regular readers know how much I despise dishonest contractors, but to be fair, R-22 really is that expensive these days. So, as a note, this is something that you should be aware of and is worth factoring into your decision of whether to repair or replace your air conditioner. However, the formulas above still apply – just enter in the price of the repairs including the cost of R-22 refrigerant (if needed), which should be on the repair estimate anyway.
You may also be interested in:
- Buying a New Air Conditioner | 4 Tips From the Pros
- Should You Replace Your Air Conditioner and Furnace at the Same Time?
3. Replace Your Air Conditioner if Energy Bills Keep Rising
When deciding whether to repair or replace your air conditioner, consider this: if you’ve noticed that your energy bills keep rising, but your Electrical Utility Company hasn’t raised the rates…then it might be time to replace your air conditioner. This is meant more for those of you who are still nursing your 22-year-old Carrier air conditioning unit to it’s last leg (ahem, kind of like my father did for 33-years…your son owns an AC company…hint, hint).
Some people like this tool by Energy Star, although I, myself, am not one of them. You know in your head if energy bills are starting to go up, but nevertheless, some of you (yes, I’m talking to you) need a little extra help. This program is called Home Energy Yardstick, and Energy Star provides it free-of-charge if you’d like to see if you are “spending too much on energy.” Be forewarned…you’ll need your last year worth of energy bills, and it’s kind of like doing your taxes (or long division), but it’s here if you need it (no one will think less of you for doing so…except for me):
These are your tax dollars hard at work, yet, as a young Ensign in the Navy, I had to wait 8-months for a cold-weather flight jacket to become available to me (freezing my aft-end off, in the meantime). But, I’ll vale my sarcasm and cynicism for just a few more moments, and get you through the end of this article. I’m not bitter…
A Note About High-SEER Units
SEER ratings are hotly debated, but most contractors recommend that you pay for a high-SEER unit (meaning, above 16 SEER). We, however, do not recommend this in most cases. We’ve found that once the price of repairs over the lifetime of a high-SEER unit are factored in, they cost more to the consumer than do standard-SEER models. A debate on this is outside the scope of this article, but you might be interested in this: What’s a Good SEER Rating for My House?
4. Replace Your Air Conditioner When It Has Trouble Keeping Up
Air conditioners, like all machines, lose efficiency over time and might need to be replaced. Part of this is due to normal wear and tear, but another factor is increasing temperatures world-wide. A 3-ton air conditioner might have cut it when your old AC unit was installed, but many older houses (pre-2000) did not have adequate insulation for today’s temperatures, and by the way, electricity was a lot cheaper back then too.
Now, however, it is a bigger deal if your old air conditioner is running all the time to keep up, and it gets expensive. Is your AC always running on hot days? Do some rooms feel hot no matter what you set your thermostat to? A 4-ton air conditioner might be a more appropriate size these days (in this example), and modern air conditioners are designed to save energy by not running so often, meaning that they are often times sized differently than they used to be.
Tip: be wary of any contractor that tries to replace your air conditioner with the exact same sized unit without doing the proper calculations!
To figure out what size you’ll need, this article is a great start:
Don’t Overpay for Your New Air Conditioner. Get the Facts; Watch This Short Video:
Save money, avoid the tricks and traps of predatory contractors, and get the information you need to accept or reject bids with confidence:
Repair or Replace Your Air Conditioner – Part II – Repairs
Figuring out when to repair or replace your air conditioner can be tricky, but hopefully we’ve started you out in the right direction. Obviously, you’ll want to consider repairing your air conditioner instead of replacing it if any of the above four situations is not met. However, to beat a dead horse (and because most of you probably weren’t listening to begin with), here are a few occasions in which to seriously consider repairing your air conditioner.
1. Repair Your Air Conditioner if it is Less Than 10-Years Old
This is a folder rule when it comes to figuring out when to repair or replace your air conditioner. This goes along with section one above, but to be clear, there are very few occasions in which you should replace an air conditioner that is less than 10-years-old. Instead, opt to repair it. Exceptions to this would only be if the old AC is out of warranty, and experiences a catastrophic failure.
But hold your horses and be very skeptical if this is the case…I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been out on a second-opinion where a client was told that then needed to replace their air conditioner, to find out that it needed a 37-cent electrical component, or had a blown fuse. Be wary…very wary in these occasions, and get several opinions! Here is an article that might help you find a trustworthy contractor in your area:
2. If You Are Retiring Soon, You May Want to Consider Replacing Your Air Conditioner Instead of Repairing It
The last thing you want to do in your retirement is to call for repairs on your old AC unit each year, and, as with most things in life, there are exceptions to every rule. Consider repairing your air conditioner, but if you are in between, can’t decide, and getting close to retiring (or have already done so), put some consideration into replacing your old air conditioner before living on a fixed income. You know your finances better than anyone, but you definitely don’t want to be without AC in the middle of a Santa Clarita, 100-degree scorcher!
Do-It-Yourself Air Conditioner Repair Tips
If you have determined that repairing your air conditioner is the route that you want to take, you may want to spend some time on our blog. We have dozens of articles to help you troubleshoot your air conditioner. Remember, there are some AC repairs that need to be done by a qualified HVAC technician, but for the most part, a majority of repairs are simple, and can be done by you, the consumer. Some key examples are:
- Air Conditioner Keeps Freezing Up – Troubleshooting Guide
- Air Conditioner Won’t Cool – Repair Guide
- Air Conditioner Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping – Troubleshooting Guide
In the end, you may have to replace your air conditioner, but don’t do it without being properly informed. If that day has come, here’s one last article to help you on your way:
We hope, by this point, that you were able to figure out whether or not you can repair your AC unit. However, if you can’t, and it’s time to replace it, I’d strongly encourage you to take a look at the online HVAC Design & Consultation Program. It is an online program (kind of like Kelly Blue Book for contracting) designed to empower you with the information that we – as contractors – know, and not get ripped-off! I’ve said my piece and won’t beat the dead horse, so do what you want…it’s here if you need it:
Final Thoughts on Repairing or Replacing Your Air Conditioner
Figuring out if you should repair or replace your air conditioner can be a stressful decision. My advice: go with your gut. I’ve given you some guidelines to go off of, and as long as you meet your contractor with a bit of healthy skepticism, you should be alright. Don’t replace an air conditioner just because a contractor said that you have to! There are many occasions in which repairing your air conditioner is a perfectly viable option. We hope you’ve found this article on when to repair or replace your air conditioner useful, and wish you the best of luck on your project. For more articles like this one, try our Air Conditioning Blog. If you live in Southern California, don’t call us…we have no desire to hear you complain about your aging air conditioner (kidding).