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Should I Replace My Home Cooling System?

Residential central A/C

A central air conditioning unit is a big investment for any homeowner – but like any piece of home comfort equipment, it won’t last forever.

In fact, while the average central A/C lasts about 10 to 15 years (assuming it is professionally maintained by an A/C expert), the last few of those years can be a “gray area” where the choice between an air conditioning repair and a cooling system upgrade can go either way.

So how do you know when it’s time to replace your central air conditioning system? Start by considering these three factors:

  1. The age of your air conditioner – An A/C with more than a decade behind it has two disadvantages: first, today’s air conditioners are more efficient than ever – and second, and older system will lose efficiency each year it operates (especially if it isn’t getting professional A/C tune-up every year). If you’re having problems with a system that’s more than 10 years old, more often than not an upgrade is the smarter choice; at less than that age, you will have a tougher decision. Here’s a rule of thumb: if it a repair costs 50 percent or more of the cost to upgrade your equipment, it’s generally worth it to replace your A/C.

    Another factor to consider is the refrigerant of your current system: Many older air conditioner models use Freon (a.k.a. R22), which will be illegal in the U.S. after January 1, 2020. Supplies of R22 are becoming rare and expensive, which means that a repair or recharge of your old system will be costly. A new central air conditioning unit, on the other hand, will use R410A refrigerant – a safer, EPA-compliant option that is in plentiful supply.

  2. The performance of your current cooling system – Are your utility bills rising even though you aren’t using your A/C more than usual? Does your home have warm and cool spots rather than even cooling coverage? Is your home cooling more slowly than it used to, or not to the temperature you’d like it to be? These are all signs that your central air conditioner could be on the way out.

    Two other things to keep an eye (and ear) out for are strange noises and dust buildup in your home. Dust can be a sign of a duct leak – a problem that can compromise performance of your air conditioning system to the tune of a 10-15 percent loss in efficiency. A new A/C installation will address this problem.

    If your air conditioner is unusually noisy, it’s possible that your ducts aren’t large enough to handle the pressure needed to push cool air through your home, or that you have a problem with the unit’s indoor coil – both reasons to lean toward a cooling system upgrade.

  3. Your current – and future – cooling needs – If you’ve added space to your house – or plan to – without changing your home cooling system, the next breakdown you have could be caused by pushing your air conditioner beyond its limits to meet the cooling load demands of your home – a problem that is likely to keep happening if you stick with your undersized system (check out this blog post for a more detailed discussion on system sizing and other things to consider when investing in an A/C upgrade).

The bottom line

As you can see, there are often big advantages to replacing an older A/C system. So is repair ever a viable option?

Yes, if:

  • Your system is less than five years old
  • You’re planning a move
  • You’re waiting for an announced rebate or efficiency incentive to take effect
  • You simply can’t afford a new system

A central air conditioner is an investment – and like any investment, you need to do your research to find the best way to spend your money. When it comes time to make your choice, be sure to call the pros at Needham.

On the fence about an A/C upgrade? We can help! Contact us today and we will help you find a solution that meets your needs and budget.