Homeowners have a great deal of expenses to worry about, but only a few are considered “major” expenses. Roofing, foundations, plumbing (i.e. septic / pipes / wells / pumps), and heating and cooling are some of the more expensive aspects of both a smaller or larger home.
Among those, roofing and heating & cooling have something in common. The chances of a salesperson saying you need “full replacement” when all you need is maintenance and/or repair is pretty high in both of these fields. After all, what salesperson doesn’t want commission from an entirely new roof or furnace system?
It’s difficult for a homeowner to know if replacement is the right thing to do, especially if they don’t have much past experience.
As experts in heating & cooling for over 30 years who pride ourselves on ethical business practices, we’re here to help sort out whether you need a repair, or if it’s really time to replace. In this article, we’ll focus on repairing vs. replacing your Air Conditioning Unit.
Air Conditioners: What You Can Repair
- Failed compressors (for air conditioners less than 10 years old). If your unit is less than 10 years old, replacing a failed compressor on an existing air conditioner is cheaper than investing in a new AC unit. It’s not a cheap repair, but it’s the better investment. This is especially true for units still under warranty (which most that are 10 years old or less still are) – a failed compressor is covered by warranty.
- Electrical problems. If you ask a heating & cooling professional to solve an air conditioning problem, the tech should find out if the problem is electrical vs. with the unit itself. Electrical problems are VERY common and usually easy to fix. It would be terrible to replace your AC unit when the problem wasn’t with the unit in the first place!
- Individual components. On occasion, a component may fail due to a flaw with the component or due to being installed incorrectly. Many times we can fix it quickly. In some situations, however, if it’s been a long time since the bad install, it may need a complete overhaul. It’s important to have your heating & cooling professional explain this to you, and for you to know how long it has been since that component was installed. If the costs to repair are too high, you’ll want to replace. One example is a blower. It’s not uncommon for a heating & cooling technician to install a blower and set it up at the wrong speed. It may seem like your unit is working hard but your house feels clammy! Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with your unit, and with a quick fix, you’ll see big results.
Air Conditioners: When It’s Time to Replace
- Failed compressors (for air conditioners more than 10 years old, and especially those 20 years or older): For older units, the cost to replace a compressor AND identify and fix the reason why it failed in the first place would cost about as much as getting an entirely new unit. In addition, there may be myriad other problems with the unit at this point – even if you paid for compressor replacement, chances are something else is wrong and the unit is nearing the end of its’ life.
- Rotting, corroding, or leaking coil (if AC is no longer under warranty): Like a compressor, this can be a costly replacement and it may not solve the underlying problem even when it’s fixed. In this case, it’s wiser to replace. It’s also wise to understand why the coil was going bad, because it might be an environmental issue that could happen to your next unit, as well.
- Refrigerant leak (on systems 20 – 30 years and older): If your system isn’t working right, it might be a leak. It may be a slow leak or a fast leak; you may not know it’s leaking at all, and it may be hard to discover the leak. It’s even hard for heating & cooling professionals to find. Sure, refrigerant can be refilled, but there’s a bigger problem happening here.
Leaks are very hard to find and fix. Sometimes the leaks are so small they’re impossible to find.
If the unit has been leaking refrigerant for some time, the leak may have corroded parts within the unit. Moreover, even if your heating & cooling technician believes they found the leak, they may not have, or there may be more than one leak. It can be extremely expensive to pay labor hours for a technician to find and repair a leak! Even if they find it right away, the chances of it leaking again very soon are pretty high. When you start having problems from a refrigerant leak, you’ll notice your system going downhill pretty quickly, even if the leak gets fixed. It’s only a matter of time, so it’s wise to proceed quickly with a replacement.
A Note of Caution: You may have a leak and be getting taken advantage of by a contractor! Some contractors will find out that you need refrigerant, but not try to find the leak. They may just say they need to come back over and over and refill the refrigerant. If they tried to find a leak and couldn’t, that’s fine, but if they never try to find it – watch out! They could be letting your system die while charging you for a fake “fix”.