We all love air conditioners. But like any type of mechanical equipment, they eventually break down or otherwise stop working. Over a long enough time horizon, newer, more efficient models come along, many of which deliver better performance and comfort.

If you’re wondering when to replace your air conditioner, there are a few considerations you will need to make. Some relate to the AC’s age, but others have to do with the particular unit in your home and your preferences for comfort and energy efficiency.

And no, AC replacement isn’t just a last resort after your system breaks down on a hot summer day!

Wondering when to replace your AC unit? Here’s when it makes sense

Let’s look at some scenarios when it almost always makes sense to replace your air conditioning system.

1. You have an old air conditioning system, and you’re worried about it

Let’s say you have a 12-year-old Toyota Camry. It was a great car when you bought it, and it still is! It revs up when you start the engine, and it gets you where you need to go. You’ve taken great care of it over the years and really have no complaints.

But here’s the thing. You’ve driven the Camry for over 275,000 miles.

You know that some people drive their Toyotas for over 300,000 miles, but they rarely do so without having some kind of problem with the car. A really expensive problem that keeps the car in the shop for a few days.

So far, you haven’t had any major issues with the Camry. But as you watch the numbers on the odometer climb higher, you’re starting to worry. You figure it’s only a matter of time before something breaks, and you don’t want to be speeding down the highway when it happens.

An old, faithful air conditioner really isn’t any different.

Just as you don’t wait for an old car to break down on the highway, you don’t want your old air conditioner to break down on the 4th of July. Whether you choose to repair the AC or replace it, you will be without any AC for at least a day or two. Wouldn’t it be better to replace the old air conditioner before something like that goes wrong?

For this reason, we think it’s a good idea to be proactive about replacing your air conditioner. When the system gets to be 12 years old, it’s a good time to research the available replacement options and create a budget for a new system. Then, when you’re ready, you can replace the system before it breaks down or needs a costly repair.

Keep in mind that your system is no longer under warranty after 10 years, so you’re on the hook for any parts and labor that fail!

For most homeowners, the most cost-effective solution is to replace the old AC while it’s still working. That way, you can avoid troublesome repairs and plan ahead for any downtime you may experience when you’re in between air conditioners.

If your home has hot and cold spots – an issue that often requires ductwork redesign – you can also save on the cost of replacing and re-installing the ducts when you replace your old air conditioner. Your contractor can handle the ductwork modifications at the same time, reducing your overall price for the adjustments. Basically, replacing an old air conditioner is a great opportunity to address other, non-equipment-related HVAC issues and save money doing it.

2. You have a refrigerant leak and your system is out of warranty

Most refrigerant leaks are found in the AC’s evaporator coil, which lives inside the air handler (indoor part of the system). When this happens, you almost always have to replace the evaporator coil itself.

If the system is still under warranty, replacing the coil usually makes sense. The manufacturer will pay for the new coil, so you only have to pay for a contractor to install it. No big deal.

But if the system is over 10 years old or otherwise out of warranty, the cost to replace the evaporator coil might be extremely high.

This is especially true for pre-2010 air conditioners that used the now discontinued R-22 refrigerant. If your system uses R-22 and you have a leak in the evaporator coil, there’s almost no scenario where it makes sense to replace the coil. Even if you did, the AC would only work if you continue to source an obsolete, scarce, and increasingly costly type of refrigerant.

Any time you need to replace the evaporator coil that’s no longer under warranty, it’s probably more cost-effective to just buy a new air conditioner.

3. The cost to keep the AC is too high

There comes a point when the cost to keep an aging AC is higher than just replacing it when something goes wrong. Out in the field, we actually have a formula we use to help clients determine whether to repair or replace their air conditioner. Every AC problem is different, but there are still some broad conclusions we can draw:

  • It usually makes sense to replace an 8 to 10-year-old system facing repairs of over $1,500.
  • Any system that’s 10+ years old and needs $1,000 or more of repairs probably isn’t worth keeping.
  • Any type of repair to an R-22 system likely isn’t worth it.
  • You should replace the system when you have a refrigerant leak on an out-of-warranty component (we discussed this earlier).
  • Any out-of-warranty system which needs a major component replaced probably isn’t worth saving.

Any time one of the above scenarios plays out, the overall cost to keep the AC (including the current repair, future repairs, and the lower efficiency of the existing system) is usually higher than it would be to get a new air conditioner.

4. Your existing air conditioner is the wrong size for your home

All across Atlanta, we encounter air conditioners that are much too large for the homes they’re tasked with cooling. Oversized ACs cause all sorts of problems, namely high indoor humidity, high energy bills, and uneven cooling throughout the home. They also tend to fail sooner than properly sized units.

Many contractors install oversized systems because they’re allergic to the hard work required to determine the right size for an air conditioner. Also, they’re afraid they might install a system that doesn’t have the capacity to adequately cool your home.

If your contractor installed an oversized AC and you’re tired of the problems it’s causing, you might want to replace it with a new one. At PV Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, we always perform a Manual J load calculation to determine the proper size for your new AC, so you know you’re getting the right equipment for your home.

Of course, not everyone wants to replace a relatively new AC just because it’s oversized. We get that. If this is your situation, consider a whole-house dehumidifier to help manage humidity in your home. Oversized ACs do an extremely poor job of keeping humidity low during the summer. A whole-house dehumidifier will turn on when the AC isn’t running to remove the humidity that the AC couldn’t.

5. You want a more energy efficient air conditioner

Sometimes, you just want something better! If you’ve got an older system (think SEER 13 or even SEER 10), today’s air conditioners are much more efficient than what you’re used to. The most efficient systems have a SEER2 of 24, but you don’t have to get an AC rated nearly that high to enjoy much lower energy bills.

If better efficiency is your jam, you should also consider variable speed air conditioning systems. SEER2 is an important spec, but variable speed systems are much more efficient than standard AC units, regardless of SEER2.

Compared to a SEER 13 standard system like many people have, a variable speed SEER2 19 system could save you hundreds of dollars each year on cooling costs. With all of the new government incentives for purchasing an energy efficient air conditioner, it’s a good time to consider switching out your old system!

When is the best time to replace an AC unit?

The worst time to replace an AC unit is when it unexpectedly breaks down in the middle of summer and you have to endure a few days of no air conditioning. The best time is when you plan ahead and know the date you’re going to replace it.

If you’re wondering when to replace your air conditioner in terms of the time of year when you should do it, your best bets are spring and fall. There are two reasons for this:

  1. If you have to go a day or two without AC, it’s probably ok. When outdoor temperatures are mild, you probably won’t miss having it.
  2. Many HVAC contractors offer promos in spring and fall, so you can save money on the purchase.

You’re welcome to replace an AC any time you want, but we think the shoulder season months make the most sense.

Now you know when to replace your air conditioner. Just don’t forget about how you should replace it!

To get the best performance from your new air conditioner, you should hire an experienced, reputable HVAC contractor. At PV Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, we go to great lengths to ensure your new air conditioning system delivers perfect comfort and a worry-free experience for years to come. It’s why we offer a 10-year warranty on our labor when you sign up for regular system maintenance – we want you to experience as few problems as possible throughout the life of your air conditioning system!

If you live in Metro Atlanta and are wondering when to replace your air conditioner, get in touch with us today! We’ll listen while you tell us what’s going on with your current system and visit your home to see if it makes sense to replace it with something new.

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