Once again, your not-so-trusty old air conditioner has decided to let you down and leave you sweltering in your home. As you've done so many times in the past, you reach for your phone to call the AC repair tech — but then you stop to wonder whether it might more sense to just replace the unit entirely. Here are four helpful questions that you can ask yourself to help you make a wise choice one way or the other.
1. How Much of Your AC's Projected Life Span Is Over?
Are you still using the same central air conditioning system that came with the home when you first moved in? How old is the home in question? Your air conditioner could easily be 15 years old or older, which means that it's probably nearing the end of its useful life. Most air conditioners last 15 to 20 years, at most, before giving out for good. If yours falls within that age range, it makes good sense to go ahead and invest in full-scale air conditioning replacement since you'll probably have to do that soon enough anyway.
Your air conditioner can inform you that it's getting long in the tooth without actually breaking down on you. Watch for symptoms such as excessive noise, near-constant run times, increased humidity in the home, and rising energy bills that can't be attributed to other components or activities.
2. How Energy-Efficient Is Your AC?
Your older air conditioner may be costing you more money than you think — even when it's not broken down. Air conditioner and furnace designs have enjoyed dramatic improvements in energy efficiency in recent years. Even if your air conditioner is just 10 years old, replacing it with a new unit that meets ENERGY STAR efficiency requirements could help you save up to 20 percent on your operational costs. This means that, over time, your new air conditioner purchase may pay for itself (and then some).
Of course, you need to know for certain that the new air conditioner you buy can actually provide these benefits before you spend the money. One critical rating to look for is the SEER (seasonal energy efficiency rating) of the device. Aim for a SEER rating of 15 or higher if you intend to enjoy significant savings over your older model.
3. How Much Do You Spend on Repairs?
How much money do you regularly pump into that ailing air conditioner just to keep it going through another summer? This kind of "life support" strategy can represent an unsound financial strategy if it equals or surpasses the cost of a fresh residential air conditioning installation. You can calculate this threshold by multiplying the cost of your AC repairs by the age of your AC unit in years. If you come up with a number greater than $5,000, you've entered new-AC territory.
There's no more effective way to get this line in your home budget under control faster than to install a brand-new, perfectly-maintained air conditioner. As long as you pay the nominal cost of periodic inspections and maintenance, you're likely to experience minimal trouble from your new AC unit for years to come.
4. Where Are Your Heating/Cooling Problems Actually Originating?
You may be having terrible trouble controlling your home's temperatures and humidity levels whether your air conditioner is running or not. These struggles might have you convinced that you simply need to swap out that old unit for a new one. But what if the underlying cause of your misery stems from some issue not directly related to your compressor, evaporator, or condenser?
A home that has developed gaps or cracks around windows and doorways, for instance, may prove impossible for any air conditioning unit to cool effectively. If some of your rooms receive direct sunlight without the benefit of window tints or other forms of insulation, you may find that you can control your problem by making these modifications. Your current air conditioner can then work less strenuously to control your home temperatures, making it less vulnerable to breakdowns.
Use these considerations as your guide for going forward with your air conditioning repair or replacement strategy. You can then invest in your existing AC or buy a new AC with confidence that you're doing the right thing — both for your home and for your bank account!