A central HVAC system plays an important role in maintaining comfort and minimizing utility costs. Over time, a furnace or air conditioner endures a substantial degree of stress and wear, especially in areas with extreme seasonal weather. No matter how well heating and cooling equipment is maintained, at some point every unit will need to be replaced.

How Long Will My Furnace and Air Conditioner Last?

There are a variety of factors that affect the service life of HVAC equipment. In general, furnaces and air conditioners last anywhere from 10-15 years, but longevity and performance are affected by maintenance schedules, local climate conditions, unit build quality, ductwork compatibility and system design.

Clogged filters, dirty coils and ductwork restrictions increase total resistance, which forces the equipment to run longer cycles to meet the indoor load. Excessive accumulated runtime hours are the cause of most component failures. Systems that are improperly designed either cycle too often or run continuously. In either case, the additional wear usually shortens the life of the unit.

In fact, regular maintenance is the single best investment homeowners can make to help improve performance and extend the equipment’s life-cycle. That is why major manufacturers always include a provision for maintenance as a condition of their warranty coverage.

How Can I tell if My Equipment is Under Warranty?

Equipment that is still under warranty should always be repaired instead of replaced. This is especially true for major repairs like an AC compressor failure. To determine if your equipment is still under warranty, find the unit’s model number and serial number. For split systems, the condensing unit and furnace will have separate numbers. In most instances, the information is included on a tag attached to the outside of the unit or directly inside a service panel.

The installing contractor typically keeps a detailed record for all of the systems they sell. If the contractor doesn’t have the records or is no longer in business, the manufacturer should have all the documentation and warranty coverage information.

Most major HVAC equipment manufacturers provide a 5-year warranty for parts including the AC compressor. In most instances, furnace heat exchangers carry a 20-year or longer warranty. If your equipment is less than 10 years old, always check to see if there is any active warranty coverage available before paying for repairs.

Using Efficiency Ratings to Compare Costs

Part of the benefit of replacing older equipment is that your monthly utility expenses will decline. Use SEER, AFUE and HSPF ratings to determine your annual savings and establish a payback period for the equipment. In every instance, a higher unit rating identifies more efficient performance.

* SEER Rating: The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) was adopted by the Department of Energy to help consumers establish the relative efficiency of different brands and models of air conditioners. SEER rating tests are conducted at specific temperature and humidity levels, so consumers in Sun Belt climates are advised to ask for extended ratings data.

* AFUE Rating: The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating is expressed as a ratio between fuel consumed relative to heat output. A furnace with a 90 AFUE rating converts 90 percent of the fuel it burns into heat energy.

* HSPF: The Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) is a rating that applies to heat pumps while in the heating mode. The HSPF factor is calculated by measuring the appliance’s heat output relative to consumed watt hours.

To create a baseline cost comparison between existing equipment and a new unit, divide the difference in efficiency ratings by the higher rated appliance. For example, a 16 SEER AC system is 38 percent more efficient than a 10 SEER system (6/16=38). Add in any repair costs accumulated throughout the year. A new HVAC system will save the repair costs plus the difference in operating expenses. In many cases, new heating and air conditioning equipment will pay for itself over the life of the system.

The Evaluation Process

Qualified HVAC contractors offer free evaluation services to analyze your current HVAC equipment and offer a comparative analysis with new high efficiency units. Advanced diagnostic tools will evaluate system design, air distribution system deficits and building envelop penetrations. After completing a full set of load calculations, you will receive a list of recommendations that can include duct sealing, insulation upgrades and furnace or air conditioning replacement options.

HVAC Equipment is a Solid Investment

An unexpected equipment breakdown can be costly and inconvenient, especially if it occurs during extreme weather. High utility costs negatively impact your budget. If your central heating and cooling equipment is more than 10 years old, consider replacing it with a new high efficiency system.