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How Long Do HVAC Systems Last? Prevent Your HVAC System From Early Breakdown

How Long Do HVAC Systems Last? If you want to prolong the life of your HVAC system, this article will provide you with effective strategies.

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HVAC replacement can be one of the biggest expenses for your home. But despite that, only 42% of homeowners call a professional to perform proper maintenance on their HVAC systems.

So how long do HVAC systems last? Most people only start paying attention to the condition of their HVAC system once it starts failing. And unfortunately, by that time, there’s often not much that can be done to return the system to its former condition.

Therefore, it’s crucial to understand not just how to take care of your air conditioning unit, heat pump, and other parts of your HVAC system regularly, but also what impacts the life expectancy and energy efficiency of the system you have. It’s also essential to understand the types of preventative maintenance steps you can take to prolong its lifespan for as long as possible.

To help you gain a better idea of how to maximize the life of your central air unit and prevent it from suffering from negative effects, let’s explore why HVAC systems break down, and what you can do to protect them.

What Makes Up an HVAC System?

Before we dig into the specific details of air conditioners and other system longevity, it’s a good idea to first establish what makes up a typical HVAC system that you might be using in your home.

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and encompasses some of the most critical systems for keeping everyone in your home safe and comfortable. Even though the specific systems can use different technologies and principles, the underlying functions of the HVAC system will remain the same throughout most households.

The system takes fresh air from outside, filters it, and raises or lowers the temperature based on the indoor temperature requirements. Usually, the air is moved through ducts, but the size of the ducts and the extensiveness of the network is determined by how powerful and modern the system is, with high-velocity HVAC units being able to function with fewer ducts, making the setup process much easier.

Because the HVAC system is made up of so many components such as ducts, furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, air conditioners, filters, and many others, they are quite complex and can be difficult to maintain without any issues.

And because HVAC takes care of such important aspects of life indoors such as maintaining a comfortable temperature, it makes sense that any issues are especially unpleasant. A failure in any of the major components can make life very uncomfortable quickly, and that usually forces owners to seek out expensive repairs from an HVAC technician on short notice.

But the good news is that good maintenance schedules can dramatically improve the average lifespan of HVAC solutions, reducing the risks that you’ll need air conditioner replacements. But just as any system, HVAC does have a typical lifespan that you can expect, even if you work with qualified technicians to get ahead of most potential problems.

How Long Do HVAC Systems Last?

The exact time that an HVAC system remains functional and energy-efficient is hard to quantify. There are simply too many factors beyond the routine maintenance schedules that can impact how your system performs and whether it has a shorter life cycle of 10-17 years or can last for as long as 20-35 years or even more.

For instance, if you live in a climate where you need to keep your HVAC system fully engaged year-round, that will have an impact on its longevity. It makes sense that the more you use your system, the more wear and tear it’s exposed to, which means that various components will tend to deteriorate and start failing eventually, even with maintenance. 

At the same time, if you live somewhere that requires you to use the system only part of the year, that can help keep it in much better shape and prolong its useful lifespan.

With that being said, most people that install expensive HVAC solutions in their homes have expectations for how long they will be using them. And if you do have a good-quality system, you can usually expect it to last anywhere from 15 to 25 years. And in many instances, the way you take care of your HVAC will determine on which side of the spectrum your system ends up falling.

Top Reasons HVAC Systems Break Down

How Long Do HVAC Systems Last

Even though proper installation, annual maintenance, and frequent repairs can contribute to a longer lifespan, there are also specific issues that are more common than others and may be useful to look out for as you evaluate your system’s overall health.

Let’s go over a few of the most common reasons for HVAC failure so that you can gain a better understanding of what you might expect.

Thermostat Issues

The thermostat is one of the most critical parts of any HVAC, since it controls not just the temperature inside but also how the system utilizes its resources. Therefore, thermostat issues can point to the fact that the system is not working as it should and be a warning sign that more serious problems could arise unless you give it the necessary attention now.

Sometimes, thermostat issues can be solved by something as simple as a battery change. But other times, you may be dealing with more serious problems that will require immediate attention from a professional. 

Refrigerant Leaks 

Refrigerants are a key part of the air conditioning system, allowing it to cool the air and maintain the temperature inside during the hot summer months. However, if the system is used extensively, the refrigerant can start leaking, which can cause a range of problems that are potentially very serious.

For starters, when there’s a refrigerant leak, the HVAC system’s capacity to cool the home will decrease, worsening its performance and energy efficiency. In more extreme cases, the system can stop functioning altogether or even release toxic gasses that could be dangerous to you or your family.

If you notice that the cooling performance has started to decrease, it’s always a good idea to allow a technician to take a look and evaluate the situation.

Undersized Unit

Choosing the right size HVAC unit is an integral part of prolonging the system’s life. Unfortunately, some homeowners make the mistake of underestimating their needs to reduce the cost of the system, which can end up costing a lot more in the long run.

When the system is not equipped to handle the size of your house or your needs, it will struggle to keep up, which will dramatically shorten its lifespan. On top of that, the HVAC unit will not be able to adequately provide cooling, heating, and air filtering for your home, which can worsen the air quality and comfort.

Tripped Breaker

A breaker is there to protect your systems from overheating or catching fire. So if your system starts suddenly shutting off, chances are that it’s being tripped, which can signal serious issues that could cause a full breakdown if you don’t deal with the situation quickly.

Sometimes, these types of issues can be caused by excessive electrical usage, which means your system is struggling to keep up. But it can also be a signal for a more serious issue. If you want to avoid the system suffering irreversible damage, seek out an expert who can diagnose the problem.

Ways to Prevent HVAC System Breakdowns

Even though many things can go wrong with an HVAC unit, the good is that most of the breakdowns can be prevented or at least significantly delayed by implementing a few key practices that you should follow.

When done regularly, most of these strategies aren’t expensive or time-consuming, providing you peace of mind and minimizing the risk of having to deal with expensive repairs in the near future.

Let’s explore the most important tips to consider when trying to prolong the lifespan of your HVAC unit.

Perform Regular Maintenance

How Long Do HVAC Systems Last maintenance

As mentioned many times throughout this article, regular maintenance remains the single most powerful differentiating factor when it comes to the longevity and performance of your system. Even though getting a technician to look at your unit costs some money and requires planning, it’s a relatively low way to get a complete outlook on how your system is doing and whether any components are starting to deteriorate.

A technician can evaluate each component of your system and tell you if something needs repairs, a tune-up, or replacement. That way, instead of having to deal with a sudden (and sometimes much more serious) problem down the line, you can usually get it fixed for an affordable price or even as part of the maintenance package.

But how often should you perform maintenance? 

Well, there isn’t a clear-cut answer because it depends on how new your system is and how heavily it’s used. If it’s an older system, you might want to consider a checkup two times per year, but many responsible homeowners opt for a single annual checkup which will usually be enough to get ahead of most potential problems.

Keep a Clear Area

Your HVAC unit needs certain conditions to perform at its best. Since most of its functions revolve around taking air from the outside and bringing it inside, that means that you need to ensure that the air can circulate freely both on the external and internal sides of your system.

For one thing, you should make sure that the outdoor part of the unit is clear from any obstructions. Common issues that could decrease performance and put extra strain on your HVAC unit are tall grass, weeds, shrubs, or various debris that can accumulate around the vents.

On the inside, consider keeping the area around the vent holes as unobstructed as possible, clearing away any things, and cleaning dust from the vents so that they can offer efficient circulation.

Don’t Overwork Your System

How Long Do HVAC Systems Last smart thermostat

The longevity of your system depends on how long different components last. Part of prolonging their lifespan comes down to maintenance, but the amount of strain you put on the system can make a big difference as well.

Therefore, if you want to maximize the longevity of your unit, consider how to maximize its performance and not overuse it more than is necessary. Even little changes can amount to big savings not just in energy consumption but also in the wear of your system.

In many cases, that can mean adjusting your thermostat to a more mellow temperature rather than going for extreme heating or cooling. At the same time, when trying to cool or warm the house, don’t crank it to the limits and allow the system to gradually work to the temperature you are trying to achieve.

Immediately Address Issues

Finding the time to take care of your HVAC unit isn’t easy. Even if you notice something is not quite right, if it’s still doing its job, you may be tempted to postpone the repairs until “next week”, which usually means never.

But unfortunately, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. In fact, that problem is likely to get worse until eventually, the entire system breaks down, sometimes beyond repair.

The only way to avoid that is to take even minor changes in how the system works very seriously. If there’s a weird sound, decrease in performance, or anything else out of the ordinary, it’s a good idea to call a professional immediately so that they can evaluate and diagnose the problem. Even if it turns out to be nothing serious, considering the potential cost of a system breakdown it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Consider a Newer System

No matter how well you take care of your current system, it won’t last forever. And if you’ve been using your HVAC unit for a couple of decades, it’s likely that the technology currently available far surpasses the setup you have in your house.

If you start noticing that the system is failing more often, doesn’t provide you with the air quality or temperature you want, or is getting more expensive because of energy inefficiency, you should start preparing for an upgrade.

However, when considering a newer system, it’s a good idea to consult with professionals who can advise how to change the system at an affordable cost and without requiring too many renovations in your house.

Bottom Line

An HVAC system is an indispensable part of living comfortably in both hot and cold climates. It not only helps maintain a nice ambient temperature but also helps clean the air, protecting you and your family from the changes in weather outside.

However, even the best HVAC units will break down if they’re not taken care of. Therefore, it’s crucial to follow the steps listed above to minimize the risks of breakdowns and always stay on top of the changes that your system is going through as it ages.