You may notice that your air conditioning isn’t working as well lately. Or, it seems to be kicking on more frequently than it used to. Perhaps it’s not turning on at all. There are many signs that it is time to replace your air conditioner, some more obvious than others.
When your air conditioning is acting up, you need help from a professional technician to get it working properly again. Regular maintenance can help you avoid premature breakdowns and expensive repairs. With yearly professional maintenance, your air conditioner can last 10-15 years. When it is nearing the end of its life and starts to have issues, it may be cheaper, in the long run, to replace rather than complete expensive repair after expensive repair only to squeeze a few more seasons out of it.
There are certain air conditioning parts that typically aren’t worth replacing or fixing if they have gone out at or after the 10-year mark. However, younger units may still be under the manufacturer’s warranty period and can be inexpensive to fix regardless of the issue. Below are a few of the more common signs that your air conditioner is beyond repair and it is time to prepare for a total AC replacement.
8 Signs Your Air Conditioner Needs to be Replaced
While some of the below issues may not always require a replacement (depending on what is really going on in your air conditioner), they are concerning nonetheless. A homeowner may be able to get by repairing their air conditioner, or the issue could be a simpler fix than they think. Regardless of whether an easy repair will do the trick or you need a complete replacement, you will want to contact a professional technician right away if you experience any of the following air conditioning problems. Disclaimer, these issues largely relate to HVAC systems, but many can be applied to ductless AC as well.
1-No Cold Air
The whole point of an air conditioner is to cool your home. When there is no cool air coming from your vents, your air conditioner is virtually rendered useless. There could be several reasons why no cool air is being produced by your air conditioner. Low refrigerant levels, an extremely dirty coil, duct issues, or a broken compressor could all be the culprits. Any of these issues will need to be inspected and repaired by a qualified technician.
Before calling a repairman to come to check your unit, you may want to take a look at the thermostat and make sure it is an appropriate setting. Sometimes the thermostat is just set to the fan or heat setting, making it easy to remedy the issue. If this isn’t the reason for hot air coming from your vents, then you will probably need a professional to determine the root cause.
A dirty coil can be cleaned, and duct repairs may solve the problem without ever having to touch the air conditioner. However, low refrigerant levels could signal a broken line, which can be expensive to repair. Compressors are also notoriously expensive to fix. Depending on the age of your air conditioner, it may be more worth it to upgrade to a newer model and save in the long run.
2-Little to No Air Flow from Vents
If you can feel cool air coming from the vents but they are barely blowing enough to effectively cool your home, then you may need help from a professional. It may be that something is blocking your vents or your ducts are damaged and need repairing. Another reason for little to no airflow from vents is that your compressor is going out. Again, a repair or replacement of a compressor may not be worth completing if your unit is old and will need to be totally replaced soon anyway.
3-Liquid is Leaking Around Unit
There should never be anything leaking from your air conditioner. If you notice pools of liquid or wet spots around your unit, take immediate action. There may be a clog or hole in the condensate pan or drain line, which is usually simple to fix. Ignoring a drip can lead to water damage around the unit, mold growth, and rusting parts, all furthering the issue at hand.
Besides water, refrigerant can also be leaking from your unit. It may be difficult to tell which is which, so always take caution around a leaking unit and call a professional right away. The refrigerant used in many older models is toxic to humans, pets, and the environment, so it’s important to keep away from the leak until a technician can come to inspect the leak.
Replacing a torn or broken refrigerant line and the refrigerant itself can be expensive. Depending on the age of your unit, it may be worth it to upgrade to a newer model that doesn’t use expensive Freon as a refrigerant rather than repair the line if this is the issue.
4-You Hear Strange Noises Coming from Unit
Loud noises coming from an air conditioning unit are not only irritating, but they can be cause for concern as well. Air conditioners should operate at a relatively quiet level. An older unit may make some noise as it is switched on or off, but routinely loud banging, screeching, or grinding sounds can indicate a more serious issue.
Often times, if caught early enough, the issue causing the loud noise isn’t too problematic of a fix. It may just be that the belt slipped out of place or parts of the machinery need lubrication. If not addressed right away, these issues can cause extensive damage that will necessitate a total system replacement if the cost of repair is too high at that point. Calling a professional right away if something sounds off with your air conditioner can save you from having to replace your unit sooner than you were planning.
5-Unit Needs Frequent Repairs
Sometimes the frequency of repairs needed on a unit makes it more worth it to replace rather than repair at a certain point. When the cost of repairs becomes too great, you may consider a total system replacement. If your unit is 10 years old or older, it may only need more and more repairs as time goes on. Upgrading to a newer unit, however, not only saves you on repairs, but it can run more efficiently and save you on cooling costs as well.
While each homeowner may have their own threshold for acceptable repair versus replacement costs, a simple calculation can help you decide what to do when you are on the fence. Take the age of the unit and multiply it by the cost of the repair estimate. If this number exceeds $5,000, then it is more worth it to replace rather than repair. This is what many in the industry call the “5,000 rule”.
An older air conditioner may become less efficient over time. Regular maintenance and cleaning can help air conditioners last an average of 10 to 15 years, but eventually, any air conditioner will need to be replaced no matter how well a homeowner cared for it. When you notice your air conditioner kicking on more often than it used to, running for longer periods of time, or not cooling your home effectively anymore even after a tune-up, then it may be time to replace it with a newer model.
Perhaps your air conditioner has never been all that efficient at keeping your home cool. Some homeowners find out that their air conditioner was improperly installed or the wrong model was used for the amount of space in the home. A professional can inspect your unit and let you know if this is the case. You may simply have an inefficient unit for your home in general, in which no amount of maintenance can help overcome the power deficit. For a more comfortable home and cheaper energy bills, you may need to replace your unit with one that works better for your home and preferences.
7-Recently Added More Square Footage to Home
If you recently completed an addition to your home or extended your ducts to a bonus room or garage, then your current unit may not be powerful enough to supply cool air to the extra space. Not all air conditioners can overcome the difference in square feet and maybe less efficient as a result. A qualified professional will need to take measurements of your home and determine the correct type of unit for your space.
Sometimes homeowners choose alternative cooling methods for the extra space, such as a ductless air conditioner, so they won’t have to completely replace their air conditioner and add more ducts. This can be a less expensive way to cool your new addition, plus you can switch it off while the room is not in use without it affecting the air conditioning in the rest of the house.
Many of the above-mentioned issues revolve around the age of the unit. Some repairs are worth it if a unit will last you another 5 to 10 years. However, many technicians will recommend a replacement for any unit 15 years old or older due to the risk of frequent repair needs and loss of efficiency at this point.
If you are contemplating a repair over a replacement, you may also consider the length of time you plan on staying in your home. If you will be moving soon, you may not want to spend the money on an upgrade just yet and may be satisfied with a lower repair cost. However, homeowners who plan on staying in their current homes for the long haul will have to decide if the long term benefits outweigh the costs when it comes to needing a repair or replacement.
What happens if I need a replacement?
While no one wants to face the possibility of an air conditioner replacement, sometimes it is necessary. If you stay in your home long enough, you may find yourself in this boat at least once during your residency. When other problems have been ruled out, such as a leaky duct or broken thermostat, and the only option left is an air conditioner replacement, you can view it as an opportunity rather than a nuisance.
Many newer models are much more efficient than older ones, so you may notice quicker cooling and lower energy bills as a benefit to your upgrade. Not only this, but you also won’t have to worry about repairs any time soon (or if you do have one, it will be covered under warranty) and you can depend on a well-functioning unit through the hottest days of summer.
Importance of Regular Maintenance
Of course, the best way to avoid a total replacement is to regularly have your unit inspected by a qualified technician, who will clean and perform minor repairs to keep it running for as long as possible. As a homeowner, you can also ensure the longevity of your unit by replacing the air filter at least once every three months and making sure your unit is clear of debris when in use.
The best time to have your annual tune-up is in the spring when you turn it on for the first time that season. This way the professional can alert you to any maintenance needs before you experience a nasty surprise breakdown in the middle of summer when you need it the most.
After your AC installation, remember to set a reminder for yourself to schedule an annual tune-up for the following year. Even though you expect it to still be running well at that point, some manufacturers require yearly professional maintenance to uphold the warranty. Keeping your unit clean and well-maintained will also help it last as long as possible, much like an oil change for your vehicle.
Choosing a System That is Right for You
For air conditioning replacements, homeowners can decide to keep their current system or switch to something that suits them better. Completely changing your system will increase the cost of installation, but it may be worth it for some homeowners. For instance, a home that currently relies on fans for cooling may want to upgrade to a ducted HVAC system for better cooling.
Those who live in milder climates may be able to get away with weaker cooling systems, but hot summers can be dangerous for the medically vulnerable if they don’t have the proper system installed. Some older homes may not have the wall space to fit large ducts, so a homeowner may have to use a ductless system. However, ductless systems still have many benefits and may be worth it if there are certain areas of the home that don’t see a lot of use. With ductless, you can cool the parts of the home that you are using for the day without having to cool the entire house like you would have to with an HVAC.
If your home is already equipped with ducts, however, the cheapest option is to just replace the air conditioner with a similar unit. If your current unit has never satisfied your comfort needs, then a professional can walk you through a few different options that will better serve you.
Some HVAC systems can have dual zones, so you can better control the temperature throughout the home. For example, one zone can be upstairs, while a second zone can serve the downstairs level. Since heat rises, you may notice that you’re upstairs is always a few degrees hotter than the downstairs. Instead of forcing the downstairs level to freeze so, the upstairs level can maintain adequate comfort levels, you can opt for a dual system instead.
Importance of Using a Professional
An air conditioner replacement almost always requires the skill of a trained professional to ensure proper installation. It doesn’t matter if you are installing an air conditioner for an HVAC or a ductless system, a licensed professional will make sure it is done right.
When looking for a professional to replace your unit, you will want to make sure they are licensed and insured from a reputable company. Some companies may promise a lower price, but won’t fill up the refrigerant all the way (causing an inefficient system) or won’t haul away and dispose of the old unit. Make sure these important pieces are guaranteed before going with the cheapest replacement option you can find.
What to Expect During Replacement
On replacement day, you can expect the professional technician to remove the old unit and inspect ductwork, studs, and electrical for any damage or needed repairs. If there is extensive damage that needs to be repaired beforehand, this may add to the total cost of replacement, but it must be done.
They will then install the new unit, ensure the ducts are properly connected and there are no gaps or leaks, check the electrical, and test the system. Usually, replacement takes several hours, but shouldn’t last more than one day unless unexpected repairs pop up during replacement. Before the technician leaves, make sure you ask about the warranty, know how to operate the system, and ask any other questions you may have. After the replacement is complete, you can enjoy the benefits of your new, more efficient cooling system.