How long should my air conditioner last?


An air conditioner is a sizeable investment for the average homeowner, but – as anyone will tell you – it is absolutely necessary in hotter climates. According to This Old House, air conditioner units usually last from 10 to 15 years, but there are a number of steps you can take to improve your air conditioner's efficiency and make it last as long as possible. If you are worried about the sudden cost of replacing an air conditioning unit, a home warranty may relieve your worries by reducing your expenditure to a low, monthly cost.

Keep your condenser coils clean
The condenser coils are the coils on the outside of your air conditioning unit that are used to expel heat to the outside. If your coils get dirty, your air conditioner is forced to do more work to achieve the same result. This means lower efficiency and a shorter lifespan for your unit. You can clean the condenser coils yourself, or hire an HVAC professional to clean them for you during routine maintenance. In addition, make sure that you are keeping animals away for your outdoor air conditioner, as their urine will corrode the coils, according to Complete Air Mechanical.

Shade the unit
By keeping your air conditioner in the shade, you will allow the unit to do less work, lowering your monthly electricity bill. However, you must be careful to keep shrubs and branches from getting too close to the air conditioner. Comfort Mechanical recommends that you keep shrubs and trees at least 18 inches to 24 inches away from the sides of the unit, and ensure that nothing above the air conditioner is closer than 60 inches.

Change the air filter
As with all appliances that work by circulating air, your air conditioner has a filter to keep dirt and other particles from entering the appliance. A dirty air filter will restrict air flow through your air conditioner, which can cause the system to freeze up. According to Complete Air Mechanical, neglected air filters are the number one cause of premature condenser failure. At least once a month, you should either wash or change your air filter, depending on the air conditioning unit you own.

Invest in a smart thermostat
The less work your air conditioner does, the longer it will last and the less you will pay every month in electricity costs to cool your home. A smart thermostat can be pre-set to change the temperature in your home at set times so that you aren't cooling an empty house. Comfort Mechanical suggests that you set your thermostat to run at 78 degrees when you are home and 85 degrees when you are not – an adjustment that they say can save you hundreds of dollars a year in energy savings alone. Smart thermostats cost between $50 to $200, and can yield similar savings in winter heating costs, meaning that one will probably pay for itself in one to two years. As an added bonus, digital thermostats tend to be accurate +/- 1 degree, compared to +/- 3 to 4 degrees with a mercury thermostat.

Moderation in general is an important strategy in extending your air conditioner's life and saving you energy. Complete Air Mechanical reports that for every degree that you set your thermostat to below 78 degrees, you increase your energy consumption by an average of eight percent.

Check your ducts
Just like with heating, it is important to make sure that your ducts are sealed in order to avoid losing cold air. First, check the connections between your exposed ducts to ensure that they haven't pulled apart. Next, look for any holes caused by stress or corrosion. Either problem means that your conditioned air is escaping, costing you money and making your air conditioner work harder to cool your house. Duct tape has been proven to be ineffective in patching ducts, meaning that the best course of action is to hire an HVAC worker. If you prefer to do the repairs yourself, choose a non-cloth-backed tape, like foil tape.

Keep your return air grill clear
Your return air grill is probably installed somewhere inconspicuous in your home and may look very much like a normal air output grill. The difference is that instead of pushing cold air into your home, the return air grill is sucking air back into the cooling system for recycling. It is important that you keep this clear – if your return air grill is covered by furniture, airflow will be restricted to the air conditioner. This can cause the coil to freeze, which in turn can lead to the premature breakage of the compressor.

Limit ventilation fan use
Ventilation fans are useful for clearing your home of smoke from the kitchen or humidity from your hot showers, but they also suck your conditioned air out more quickly than you might imagine. Complete Air Mechanical reports that a ventilation fan can clear a home of hot or cold air in about an hour, so turn that fan off as soon as you're done with it.

Close off unused rooms
If you have a large home, there's a good chance that you have a room or two that doesn't get used very much. To reduce the load on your air conditioner and lower your electricity bill, be honest with yourself about which rooms really need to be cooled. By closing the vents in and doors to the rooms you don't use as often you can significantly reduce the amount of work your air conditioner (or heater) has to do.

In order to further protect yourself as a homeowner, consider purchasing a home warranty. A TotalProtect® Home Warranty may be what you need to increase your confidence and protect yourself from unanticipated expenses.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.