How long will that be? Well, the average air conditioner or furnace is designed with a 15-year design life in mind. This is 15 years with regular maintenance. They last only half as long – or less – if neglected or abused. You may be able to get an additional 5-10 years out of a system if it is well maintained. However, there comes a time when it just cheaper and easier to install a system that is up to date and more energy efficient than to keep repairing an older one.
What kind of upkeep do these systems need? In addition to cleaning and changing filters, there is not a lot, but what there is, is important.
For furnaces, particularly older ones, it is good to check the heat exchange annually to see if any leaks have developed. If it rusts through or cracks, it can fill your house with carbon monoxide and kill your whole family. So yes, regular maintenance is important. Even newer, stainless steel heat exchange can crack over time, so it is important to have the system checked at least annually, before the heating system.
With air conditioning systems, the problem is often leaks. Leaks in the refrigerant lines can result in the system going low on charge, which means it will lose cooling capacity. You won’t notice this until the hottest day of the year (usually when you have company) on a holiday weekend. And guess what? No one will be available then to come out and fix it. An annual service check, including a charge level check, can avoid this problem, particularly when you have an older system which may have slow leaks.
Be sure and call a technician for a service call if needed. Once the system runs low on charge, if you keep running it, it will burn up the compressor. So if your air conditioner isn’t making cold, shut it down and call for service. Letting it run on and on isn’t going fix the problem, but create a new, more expensive one for you.
Its good to have service contracts on all your homes, including rental properties. It’s good to have a technician service the furnace in the fall and the A/C in the spring, when they are not busy. The cost of the service contract is often less than the cost of even one service call, so it often works out for the best.
Ask about “priority” service for service contract customers, so if you do have a problem on the first hot day, you move to the head of the line (as opposed to the guy who is just speed-dialing every HVAC tech in the book). Others offer discounts on parts and labor for repairs, while others cover repairs as part of the contract.
If you are not handy with tools and don’t understand how these systems work, then it really behooves you to have a service contract on your HVAC systems.
Rather than take the “ignorance is bliss” approach, I would suggest getting a service contract and taking a proactive, maintenance approach. Not only will your equipment last longer, it will be more reliable and have fewer interruptions in service.