AIR CONDITIONER: REPAIR OR REPLACE?

It’s 110 degrees Fahrenheight outside in Bakersfield, CA. it’s 2pm and you’ve been baking chocolate chip cookies and playing your Xbox inside your home at a cool 65 degrees. Over the next couple hours it’s getting hot inside the house and you’re sweating. You put your hand up to a vent where the cold air usually comes out and it’s warm. After a few choice words, it’s time to call a HVAC specialist. Several hours later, the air conditioner technician has diagnosed the issue and gives you two options, repair or replace. What should you do?

There are many factors you can take into consideration when your AC is down and you’re faced with the choice of repairing or replacing. Let’s explore some of these factors.

  1. How old is your HVAC system? If you don’t know what HVAC stands for, be sure to click on this link: HVAC. The usual lifespan of an HVAC system is 15-20 years. If your air conditioner system is more than 10 years old and facing frequent repairs, it might be a good idea to replace it.
  2. Have your energy bills been high during the summer while your air conditioner is running? Depending on how old your air conditioner is, you may see 20-40% drop in your air conditioning energy costs since newer air conditioners are more energy efficient. At the time of this writing, the minimum SEER in California is 14. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and can give you an idea of how efficient the HVAC system is over an entire season. The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the system.
  3. Does your existing air conditioner have R-22 refrigerant? Manufacturing or importing R-22 refrigerant has become illegal in the United States per the US Environmental Protection Agency. Although R-22 refrigerant can still be bought, it will get more expensive over time as stockpiles are depleted. Eventually leaking refrigerant issues will be cost prohibitive or there will be no more R-22 refrigerant to buy and the HVAC system will have to be replaced anyway. Depending on the HVAC system, you may be able to retrofit your system to use a different refrigerant, however, it may be better to replace the whole HVAC system.
  4. Is your current HVAC system meeting your comfort standards? Is the system struggling to cool or heat your home? Is it still too humid inside your home? It could be that your system may be oversized or undersized. It feels more humid when the AC isn’t on and this is a problem with oversized systems. Newer technology such as multiple stage or variable speed may help better dehumidify your house since the system is on longer.
  5. How long do you plan to live in your home? If you aren’t moving anytime soon, you can enjoy the benefits of a new air conditioner system. However if you’re planning to move soon, it is more cost effective if you keep the current HVAC system operable. 
  6. What part of the HVAC system failed and how expensive is it? Common AC failure points include capacitors, fan motor, icy coils, compressor, and refrigerant. ​
    • Capacitors: Regardless of manufacturer, capacitors are a common failure point. Capacitors store energy and provide the necessary “oomph” when starting the motor. The compressor motor, blower motor, and outdoor fan motor all have their own capacitors. The start capacitor is used when starting up the motor and the run capacitor is used when keeping it running. When the start and run capacitors have both failed, the motor may still try to start, however, you may hear a humming and it won’t run for very long. For some reason if you’re near your HVAC system and hear clicking noises, this may be a sign the capacitor needs to be replaced.
    • Fan motor: Fan motors are essential to move air within your HVAC system. Without a fan motor, cool air can’t be blown inside your home. Common causes of fan motor failure include wiring/electrical issues, stressed fan, broken fan components.
    • Icy coils: The refrigerant is supposed to cool down the surrounding air around the coils and if the coils are iced over, it acts as insulation and the transfer of heat is going to be much harder. Common causes include leaking refrigerant, compromised motor fan, blocked ductwork, or dirty air filters or coils.
    • Compressor: Refrigerant turns into a low-pressure gas inside the evaporator as air moves over the evaporator coils. This vaporized refrigerant then goes back to a compressor where the it is compressed, which increases pressure and temperature. From there, it goes onto the condenser to release heat and goes back through the cycle again. What are some signs that a compressor might be failing? Grinding noises from the outdoor unit may indicate compressor damage, need of lubrication, or dirt build-up. If there is a refrigerant leak, the compressor may become damaged since it’s designed to handle a certain amount of refrigerant.
    • Refrigerant: The refrigerant is a liquid that flows through the HVAC system and is needed to to cool your home. This liquid is turned into a gas when it pulls enough heat away from the evaporator coil. This gaseous refrigerant carries the heat outside the home to the outdoor condenser unit so it can release the heat and return to a liquid, ready to be used again. What kind of issues can I expect with refrigerants? A refrigerant leak or the refrigerant isn’t cycling are the most common problems. Refrigerant leaks can be fixed by patching up the leak and then “recharging” or refilling the refrigerant. Then the expansion valve, compressor, or condenser in the HVAC system isn’t working, the refrigerant might not be able to flow through the system properly and may overheat. And as mentioned above, if your system has R-22 refrigerant, it might be a good idea to replace the whole HVAC system. 

Did you decide what to do? Let’s say you bought a newly constructed house 5 years ago and the HVAC technician said that the capacitor has failed. It’s probably the best course of action is to replace the capacitor to keep your current system running. As you can see above, there are multiple points of HVAC system failure and it’s a great idea to have your local friendly HVAC company to help diagnose and fix the problem for you.