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What is the Life Expectancy of Your Air Conditioning System?

It won't last forever, so what is the life expectancy of your air conditioning System?

Defining End-of-Life in Air Conditioning Systems

There are rare exceptions where old technology has undertaken remarkable feats in performance seemingly defying end-of-life. Recently Joe Cools Air Conditioning came across an old AC estimated to be more than 30 years old. It was a beauty, teak wood panelling across the front, ancient technology and massive dimensions for such a small 3.5kw capacity machine. This was a real dinosaur but other than the fact that it was horrendously noisy and functioned far behind the curve efficiency-wise, it was still running!

Our definition of ‘end-of-life’ for any AC appliance is when the unit has operated for more than two-thirds of its expected life and needs repairs that exceed 30 per cent of the full replacement cost. Additionally, if repair parts are no longer available or some component, such as type of refrigerant has or will become obsolete, the system will most likely need to be replaced.

Life expectancies can vary considerably between air conditioners, even if the units are identical (ie same brand, model and year of manufacture) there many variables that affect the life expectancy of your AC system. The following pointers will assist you to estimate the potential end-of-life of your air conditioning system and understand how to prolong the life span of your AC unit.

  1. Manufacturer’s Quality (design, assembly & warranty)

    The Australian Government has regulations associated with Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) and requires that ACs imported into Australia must meet a minimum level of energy efficiency, performance and reliability. Almost all ACs have foreign manufacturers primarily because materials and costs of production are much cheaper than in Australia. Quality does vary and so does price but not always how you expect.

    Understandably the most low-priced ACs often referred to as ‘entry level units’ still meet Australian standards and do the job, but they may be made with lower quality materials, components and assembly, which is directly reflected in the final construction and longevity of the unit. These ‘entry level’ products do meet a specific demand in the market.

    As for the upper end of the market, consumers should be careful in selecting expensive and/or aggressively marketed AC units, they do not necessarily equate to trouble-free operation and long life spans. All units have their individual strengths and weaknesses no matter what comparative brand studies suggest.

    Every manufacturer makes their system slightly different than another and one part could last longer than another. For example, if a manufacturer produces systems that have a weakness in the quality of their compressors, then the overall life expectancy could drop significantly because compressors are sometimes more expensive to replace than the system itself.

    You can be sure manufacturers have clear expectations on how long an AC system should work to its full capabilities, as they do extensive field and simulated environmental testing on all equipment and have rigorous run-cycle requirements. They ensure AC equipment meets or exceeds its warranty in the target market under normal operating conditions.

  2. Mechanical Services Installation & AC Maintenance

    The longevity of an AC system can vary enormously according to the quality of the installation and who undertook the installation. Saving a few dollars after spending possibly thousands on your system by contracting a random installer ‘who can do it for less’ is just asking for trouble. Check your installer out: How to Detect a Dodgy Installer (hyperlink How to Detect a Dodgy Installer to BLOG 3)

    Maintaining your AC unit well is critical to prolonging the life of your system. (Hyperlink ‘Maintain your AC’ to FAQ/Maintenance/Cools Fact Sheets/ Maintaining Your Air Conditioner & Service Support pdf)

    • Maintain your AC regularly. You can do most of this yourself and save dollars or contact your authorised manufacturer’s service agent. A clean air conditioner will run much better than one that has been allowed to gather dust and dander and is struggling due to blocked airflow. You can manage this by regularly cleaning reusable filters, and replacing filters according to manufacturer instructions. Households with pets may need to maintain their filters more often than those without due to build-up of dander. The outdoor AC unit component should be checked and to ensure condensers are kept clear of dirt, dust and leaves.
    • Find the best temperature for your family household: Set the thermostat at 18°C to 21°C in winter and 23°C to 26°C in summer, as this helps to ensure that the unit is not being overworked during hot and cold weather and is still providing you with indoor comfort. (Hyperlink ‘Find the best temperature’ to BLOG 2 - What’s the best temperature to set your air conditioner to during summer?)
    • Maintain your system’s coils by lightly wiping or brushing away any dirt and dust. Bent, dented or pushed over coils can obstruct airflow and can be straightened with a fin comb. Fin combs are commonly and cheaply for purchase from ebay or spare parts suppliers.
  3. Operating Environment

    Determining a baseline life expectancy for AC systems is hard enough in its own right and the issue is compounded even further when geographic location is taken into consideration.

    The unit’s proximity to corrosive contaminants such as salt air near coastlines can significantly reduce the life expectancy of your unit.

    As can the amount of volatile organic compounds introduced to the indoor air via stored paints, cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, hobby products and even fuels. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and to some degree, when they are stored.

    A special anti-corrosive feature is available from some manufacturers. The treatment is on the surface on the heat exchanger of the outdoor unit of the AC system. This feature is designed to protect ACs from pollution and corrosive conditions thereby assisting in the durability and longevity of the system.

  4. Patterns of Use

    How often and how long do occupants run the unit or what is the duty cycle? The duty cycle refers to the proportion of time during which the AC system is operated. The more the unit is used, the sooner it will wear out. Therefore, the higher the duty cycle, the shorter its useful life.

    Some ACs service ‘mission critical spaces’ and can not afford a break (e.g. people who have chronic illnesses and require temperature specific conditions). The duty cycle on such units would be high and therefore a shorter life span naturally anticipated.

  5. Retro-fit, Re-use or Refurbishment

    If the AC has had a number of retro fits, repairs and components installed at different time periods its hard to estimate the likely life span of the unit. The method of replacing the whole system may cost extra upfront, but the general return is generous. If all the AC components are of the same age the system is more reliable and efficient, and one has to worry less on unexpected repair costs or equipment replacements.

    Customers can continue to install and re-install spare parts to keep the system running, but there comes a time to retire the unit as putting money into repairing such an old piece of equipment is not economically feasible.

  6. Desire to upgrade prior to the existing AC unit failing (e.g. new technology)

    You may decide to hasten end-of-life if there is some new special feature on the AC that is appealing to you and your family, then you may consider replacing the old unit earlier.

    Some of the special features available may include:

    • Wi Fi allows for power and temperature control from your smart phone
    • Demand Response Enabled Device (DRED) allows certain energy providers to limit your power consumption during peak demand times to help reduce power strain on the electricity network.
    • An anticorrosive treatment on the surface on the heat exchanger of the outdoor unit of the AC system which is designed to protect ACs from pollution and corrosive conditions.
    • External Static Pressure (ESP) technology utilised in system designs can optimise air volume and reduce noise.
    • Customised Air Flow specific to some AC units allow allowing individual angles to be set for optimum air-flow in the home.
  7. An AC system can last as long as you want

    The truth of the matter is your AC system lasts as long as you want it to. As long as you maintain it well you’ll find your system lasts a very long time. Many homeowners decide to replace it after about 10 years for a new, more efficient model because ongoing breakdowns, electricity cost and repairs can be very expensive.

    In the long-run updating by replacement when the unit is old and struggling to do its job, is more economical in terms of maintenance fees and electricity running costs.

    Only you can decide whether or not replacing your AC is a wise decision BUT ONLY once you have sought a professional quote from the manufacturer’s authorised service agent on the cost of the repairing it.

    Overall these 7 factors should help you get the most out of your investment by prolonging the life span of your air conditioning system and enabling you to estimate when or whether to replace or repair it.

  • Contact us for insight into the remaining lifespan of your AC system and end-of-life options, especially if you suspect it’s long in the tooth or costing you a packet in repairs and to run.
  • If you have a ‘dinosaur’ AC that remarkably still works, email us and let us know about it. It makes for a good yarn to share with some dominant brand manufacturers.


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