How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last?

Generally speaking, a standard air conditioner may last for 10-15 years. The main factors determining when an air conditioner needs to be replaced are how often it’s used and how well it’s maintained. An AC system that’s never maintained, and is heavily used, isn’t likely to last as long as one that has a yearly tune-up and isn’t run constantly.

Why is AC maintenance important?

During a tune-up appointment, a cooling professional is able to inspect and clean your air conditioner, inside and out. Potential problems may be caught and taken care of before they turn into a total breakdown of your system. Additionally, having the unit cleaned can help the system run more efficiently, which may result in reduced energy bills.

Also, routinely replace your filter. We know – a lot of homeowners incorrectly assume that they don’t need to swap out their filter in the spring and summer since they aren’t using their furnace. This isn’t true! All the air passing through your air conditioning system goes through this same filter. Failure to keep it clean could result in compromised indoor air quality, and a lot of problems for your cooling system.

Warning signs that it’s time for AC replacement


If your air conditioner is already 10-15 years old, it’s not a matter of “if” the unit breaks down, but “when.” Once a cooling system reaches this age, repairs may become more frequent and costly than standard repair work.

Once you start putting more and more money into fixing your constantly-broken air conditioner, it may be time to consider investing in a replacement.

Increased energy bills

Older air conditioners weren’t designed with the same energy efficiency standards as models available today. Over time, an AC’s SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) can drastically decrease. The SEER of your unit determines how efficient it is. If you’ve noticed that you’re running your cooling system the same amount, but your energy bills are higher each month, this is another indication that it’s time to replace your old air conditioner.

Uncomfortable home

When your AC isn’t running as efficiently as it once did, your home isn’t going to feel very comfortable. You may have noticed that a certain area or floor of your home feels much warmer and more humid than it has before. This could mean that your old cooling system isn’t able to cool the air like it once did.

Odd noises

If you’re noticing strange bangs, clanks, and other sounds coming from your air conditioner, this could indicate that something is astray with your system.

What should I look for in a replacement air conditioner?

The first thing to consider is the size of the unit. If you get an air conditioner that’s too big for your home’s needs, you’re going to be spending a lot on energy bills. The same goes for a unit that’s too small. It’s going to be running constantly to try keeping up with your cooling demands. An air conditioning professional will be able to help you determine what size is best for your home.

You should also look at the SEER of any possible replacement unit. All new units should have a SEER of 13 or higher. The higher the SEER, the more energy efficient the unit will be.

Additionally, you’ll need to consider where the unit is going to be installed. Research has shown that units that can be installed outside of direct sunlight tend to last longer than systems that see a lot of UV rays.

To help you with making this important purchase for your home, we’ve put together a list of questions to ask the AC retailer or installer.

10 questions to ask a cooling professional when buying a new AC

  1. What size AC do I need based on my family’s cooling needs?
  2. How efficient is the new system you’ve recommended? (Ask about the SEER!)
  3. Will there be any compatibility issues with the new system and my current ductwork?
  4. How long does installation take, and when will you be available?
  5. Does the Department of Energy offer any rebates on the new system?
  6. Does anyone need to check with my HOA (homeowners association) before having the new unit installed?
  7. What are the manufacturer’s guarantees on the system?
  8. What size filter will I need to use?
  9. Are there any financing options available?
  10. How will I dispose of my old air conditioner, or will you take care of it? 

Types of air conditioners

You will likely purchase a replacement unit that is similar to what you had installed before. However, it’s good to be aware of the different types of systems available so you can have a well-informed discussion with your AC retailer or installer.

Central air conditioners

This is the most popular cooling system style installed in U.S. homes. They’re efficient and designed to cool large spaces, such as homes with multiple floors. These units work by circulating cool air through ductwork.

Evaporative coolers

Often, this style of air conditioner is known as a “swamp cooler,” and is installed in arid climates, such as the Southwest. They work by drawing dry air in from the room, moving it over water-moistened cooling pads, and pushing it back into the space. Warm air is sent out of the home using a simple exhaust system. This type of unit is ideal for cooling smaller areas.

Mini-split air conditioners

This type of system consists of one or more indoor handling units that connect to an outdoor unit, much like a central AC system with an outdoor condenser unit.

Often, these indoor handling units are controlled by a thermostat in each room they’re installed. These are commonly seen in older homes that were built before central air conditioning systems became popular.

Window air conditioners

As the name states, these units get installed in a home’s window openings. They work by pushing cool air into the space and pulling warm air out. They are relatively inexpensive but are not recommended for larger living areas.

Regardless of which type of unit you have installed, remember to keep it properly maintained!