central air conditioner units outside of home with blue siding and white garage door
central air conditioner units outside of home with blue siding and white garage door

How long do HVAC systems last? HVAC systems typically last 15 to 20 years, depending on the system type and other relevant factors. Preventative maintenance is one of the most significant factors in determining a system’s life expectancy. Usage, climate, region, size, installation, and insulation are also relevant.

HVAC system components include air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, and ductless mini-splits. Each system component also has an individual life expectancy, determined by the component’s function and makeup. Heat pumps typically have the shortest lifespans, whereas furnaces usually have the longest.

AC Unit Life Expectancy

Air conditioning units last between 12 and 17 years. Life expectancy differs with climate and region. For example, air conditioners in coastal areas with salt exposure typically have shorter lifespans of 7 to 12 years.

Corrosion shortens an air conditioner’s lifespan. The air conditioner’s copper elements can corrode as a result of off-gassing chemicals from the home’s building materials, cleaning supplies, and other substances.

Improper sizing or installation also shortens an air conditioner’s life expectancy. Undersized air conditioners are strained and wear out sooner than adequately sized air conditioners. Likewise, improper installation affects how air conditioners function and shortens their lifespans.

Goodman split central air conditioner unit

The region of the country where a home is located can shorten or lengthen an air conditioner’s life expectancy. Homes in the northern areas use their air conditioners for only half the year or less, as opposed to homes in southern regions that use their air conditioners yearround. Air conditioners in southern regions also run for more hours per day during the cooling season. More use leads to more wear and tear on the machine.  

Air conditioners often need to be replaced before furnaces. One key reason is the moisture that air conditioners draw through their systems negatively affects their components. Homeowners typically replace their air conditioner when the compressor fails, or the condenser becomes corroded and develops Freon leaks. Getting your air conditioner inspected and serviced once or twice a year can prolong its life.

Goodman heat pump system

Heat Pump Life Expectancy

Heat pumps can last 10 to 20 years, but 15 years is average. Heat pumps exposed to salt in coastal regions last only 7 to 12 years.

Heat pumps have the unique ability to both heat and cool a home. A heat pump transfers heat from outdoors to indoors during cold weather and from indoors to outdoors during hot weather. Since heat pumps are used year-round, they typically have shorter lifespans than air conditioners and furnaces.

Heat pumps require regular maintenance and inspections to keep them in working order. Heat pumps require the removal of snow and ice, monthly filter changes, flushing of the condensate line in springtime, and annual oiling of the fan motors (if not permanently sealed). Yearly inspections by professional technicians prolong the lifespans of heat pumps.

Furnace Life Expectancy

Gas furnaces can last 20 to 30 years, even longer. Poorly maintained furnaces might need replacing after only ten years.

Furnace lifespan is mostly determined by proper maintenance. The air filter should be changed regularly. The burner, igniter, and other parts should be cleaned and inspected annually. Proper sizing and installation of the furnace also play a role in its longevity.

Furnaces are often replaced when the heat exchanger develops cracks and leaks. The heat exchanger is the vital component that heats the air. Cracked heat exchangers pose the risks of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Heat exchangers are costly, so many choose to replace the entire furnace.

Goodman gas furnace unit
ductless mini split air conditioner

Ductless Mini-Splits Life Expectancy

Ductless mini-splits last 10 to 30 years. The life expectancy of mini-splits in coastal regions is shorter due to corrosive salt.  

Like heat pumps, ductless mini-splits provide heating and cooling. Unlike heat pumps, they don’t require an air duct system because they regulate the temperature of a single room. The absence of ductwork contributes to their longevity. High static pressure within ducts can cause traditional air conditioner compressors to overheat. Dust, dirt, and debris inside ducts can accumulate on the evaporator coils of central air conditioning systems and affect the system’s operation and strain its components. In addition, most ductless mini-splits use variable speed compressors, eliminating hard starts that stress single-stage compressors.

Factors That Affect HVAC Lifespan

Factors that affect the lifespan of your HVAC system include usage, climate, region, proper size and installation, the home’s insulation, regular maintenance, and professional inspections.

Usage and Climate

As with most mechanical things, the amount of use an HVAC system gets affects its lifespan. Usage is often linked to climate conditions. Air conditioners that run day and night for several months out of the year receive more wear and tear and break down sooner. The same can be said for furnaces that keep homes at balmy temperatures in the dead of winter. Improper usage, such as running the air conditioner with open windows, also reduces life expectancy.

Region

Your home’s region also affects lifespan. In particular, HVAC systems in coastal areas have shorter lifespans due to the corrosive properties of salt. Salt causes the system’s metal components to rust more quickly than landlocked regions.

Size

HVAC system components that are improperly sized or installed don’t last as long as they should. A part too small for the home’s square footage works harder and runs more often, leading to more wear and tear. Improperly installed components might not function correctly and break down sooner than expected. Employing a professional technician to size and install system components solves these issues.

Installation

Good insulation helps regulate a home’s temperature by eliminating drafts. The lack of airflow, however, can affect your HVAC system. Particulates from off-gassing chemicals and building materials linger in the air and affect the system’s operation.

Maintenance

Regular maintenance of HVAC systems by homeowners prolongs their lifespans. Change the air filters at least four times a year. Regularly clean thermostats and vacuum vents, exhausts, and air returns. Clear away leaves, branches, weeds, and debris from the outdoor condenser unit.

Yearly professional inspections, cleanings, and tune-ups of your HVAC system can prevent minor problems from turning into significant issues. Hiring a trained HVAC technician is costly, but replacing your HVAC system is more expensive. System components are cheaper to replace, and professionals are easier to schedule in the off-season. In other words, it’s better to have your air conditioner serviced or replaced before the summer heat begins. Professionals typically recommend servicing your air conditioner in the spring before you start using it and your furnace in the fall before you turn it on.

Conclusion

The lifespans of HVAC systems and their components vary. Typically, HVAC systems last 15 to 20 years.

HVAC systems average lifespan infographic

Various factors affect life expectancy, and some elements, like climate, are out of your control. As a homeowner, two key factors you can control are performing regular maintenance and scheduling professional inspections. Homeowners who regularly perform simple maintenance tasks and annually hire professionals to inspect and maintain their systems will keep their HVAC systems running smoothly for years to come.

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