Only two types of people ask “How long do AC units last?”. These are:
- People who’re looking to buy a new air conditioner.
- People who have an existing AC unit for about 10-20 years and are wondering if they have to replace it.
Air conditioners don’t last forever. In due time, they have to be replaced. That’s why the new buyers can differentiate between different timespans of ACs they’re looking to buy. On the other hand, if you see that your AC unit is producing noises or doesn’t cool as effectively as in previous seasons, it makes sense to ask if you need to replace it.
The lifespan of AC units spans from less than 10 years to 25+ years. That’s quite a long interval; there are several factors that determine how long will an AC unit last (and we’ll cover them all below).
For example, even the best portable air conditioner can run out of juice in 10 years. High-grade mini-split AC units, however, can last for 25 years if properly and regularly maintained through the decades.
In fact, the type of air conditioner is the No. 1 factor that determines how long does air conditioner lasts. You’ll find 3 key factors as well as easy steps to prolong the lifespan of your AC unit below. In the end, we’ll also point out the main indicators if you need to replace your existing air conditioner.
1. Air Conditioner Type (Mini-Split, Central, Portable, Window)
When wondering how long do air conditioners last, the first thing you need to specify is the type of air conditioner. Bigger central and mini-split air conditioners are expensive and hard to install, for example. However, they can last much longer than cheaper and easier to install window or portable units.
The difference can be quite big. In the table below you’ll find average timespan of the most common AC types:
|Portable AC||Window AC||Mini Split AC||Central Air|
|5 – 10 years||10 – 20 years||15 – 20 years||20 – 25+ years|
If you compare the how long does portable AC last vs. central air conditioner, you can see there is a clear 15-year difference. Of course, portable AC is several times cheaper and weaker.
The mini-split units usually have the best price-performance. The 20-year lifespan coupled with a high SEER rating and affordable price for high capacity (up to 50,000 BTU) makes them an ideal replacement for a central AC unit. You can check out 1- to 5-zone mini-split units here.
Needles to say, the ducted central air conditioner is the most durable AC unit type. However, everybody dreads replacing the central air conditioner because it’s both complex, time-consuming, and, above all, expensive. The average price for installing a central AC is about $5,000.
2. How Much Have You Used The Air Conditioner? (Heavily Depends On Location)
Every HVAC technician will agree that an air conditioner in Texas will last less than the one installed in Alaska. It’s a simple temperature difference. If you live in hot climates like Texas or California, your air conditioner will have to work extra hard to keep the indoor air cool.
It’s like with cars and mileage. The more you use the car, the more miles you get, and the car will die on you quicker. Here are two examples:
- AC unit in Houston, Texas, will run at near 100% capacity at least 4 months every year. In 10 years, such a unit will have run for 40 months at near 100%.
- On the other hand, if you live in a northern state – let’s say New York – your air conditioner will pick up less mileage in the same time frame. An air conditioner in New York will run at about 70% power for 3 months every year. In 10 years, it will have run for 30 months at 70% power.
Chances are that an air conditioner in New York will last 5 years longer than the same one in Texas.
Another aspect is the correct sizing of the air conditioner. There is a good reason why it makes more sense to buy an air conditioner that is a bit more powerful than what you need. If the AC unit is too weak, you’ll have two problems:
- Your indoor air will probably not be cool enough.
- You will have to push the AC unit too hard (at near 100%) for long periods of time. This will effectively reduce the number of years the air conditioner will be capable of delivering the specified BTU cooling capacity.
If you buy an AC unit that’s a bit too powerful, it will be costlier but it will last longer. It won’t have to deliver 100% all the time. If you overshot capacity in BTU by, let’s say 20%, the AC will run at 80% most of the time. That will prolong the timespan of the device.
It goes without saying that for the most optimum cooling you should correctly size your air conditioner.
3. Regular Maintenance (Which Sadly Isn’t Cheap)
As with all HVAC devices, scheduling regular maintenance of an air conditioner will prolong the lifespan for a few years. However, HVAC maintenance doesn’t come cheap. That’s why maintenance is only relevant for central and ductless mini-split AC units.
You should schedule it at least every few years. An HVAC technician usually checks the proper airflow, conditioner of the compressor, and cleans the filters (this you should also do yourself regularly). The main advantage of maintenance is to identify and fix AC problems before they become too big.
Again, it’s quite similar to car repairs. You can ignore ‘Check Engine’ light for a long time but you know that down along the line it will cost you. However, that’s a long term cost vs. short term cost of car repair or hiring an HVAC technician in our case.
If you have an old AC system, it should be checked more frequently. This will, however, also drive up your overall costs. That’s why eventually replacing an existing system becomes financially more viable than keep repairing the old device.
How To Tell If You Need Air Conditioner Replacement?
Air conditioners usually don’t just die. Figuring out if you need to replace your AC is not an easy task. Let’s try to simplify it.
The most obvious reason for replacing the air conditioner is a financial one. If your AC keeps breaking down and you have to keep calling your HVAC guy (and paying him or her), you will quickly realize it makes much more sense to get a replacement. It’s like an old car; if repairs cost more than a new car, you should ditch the old car.
Other than that, there are 2 good indicators that an AC has served its time:
- Higher electrical bill. Old and beyond-prime AC units are less energy-efficiency. That means they will drain more energy for the same cooling effect. If you start seeing a 20% bump in your electricity bill for cooling, the No. 1 cause of that is a ‘dead’ AC unit.
- Higher indoor humidity. One of the first give-aways of a faulty air conditioner is the breakdown of its dehumidification function. Every AC unit lowers indoor humidity. When the unit gets older, this is usually the first function to go. You will detect that the indoor air is heavier, it might be more difficult to breathe, and you will break a sweat faster.
In the end, it pays to just plainly ask your HVAC technician if the air conditioner is past its time and if a replacement would be a viable option. They will check the existing device, look at the condition of the compressor, cooling liquid state, and will give you an honest educated opinion right on the spot.