There are 7 sure signs it’s time to replace your HVAC system. Here’s how to know.
Your HVAC system—the combination of appliances you use to heat and cool your home—is one of the most important home purchases you could make.
HVAC equipment is responsible for keeping your indoor air healthy, free of excess moisture, and comfortable to live in—and if that equipment is under-performing or outdated, it can cause serious problems in your home.
But how do you know when to replace HVAC systems in your home? What are your replacement options? And how do you get the HVAC system you need without draining your bank account?
In this article, you’ll get answers to important questions, including:
- How long does HVAC last?
- When should you replace HVAC?
- What’s the best HVAC replacement option?
- How can I get new HVAC for no upfront cost?
How long does HVAC last?
First things first, a typical residential HVAC system lasts between 10–25 years, but let’s look at that in closer detail.
How long your heating and cooling appliances are expected to last depends on a few things, including:
- Your home’s current HVAC system setup, like whether your home has a boiler or a furnace
- If your home has the correct amount of insulation
- Whether or not you routinely do HVAC tune-ups
- If your house has been professionally air sealed
- Your household’s temperature preferences
- Your local climate
What most homeowners don’t know is that, even with a newer energy-efficient HVAC system, if your home isn’t properly insulated or professionally air sealed, it automatically shortens the lifespan of your HVAC system.
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For example, it’s likely that your heater and air conditioner are already being overworked if you have older insulation that needs an upgrade—or if you have gaps, cracks, and seams (called air leaks) that cause heat escape.
Upgraded attic insulation and professional air sealing work together to create a powerful thermal boundary that keeps your HVAC system from wearing out too soon—and it keeps you from paying your hard-earned money to heat and cool the outdoors.
How long do HVAC units last?
Having an appropriate thermal boundary that keeps outside air out and inside air in is crucial to lengthening the lifespan of your HVAC system, but the type of home heater or air conditioner you have also plays a big role in how long your system will last.
Some of the most popular home HVAC systems have the following life expectancy:
- Window Unit AC — 10 years
- Residential single whole-home unit — 15 years
- Heat pumps — 15 years (and up to 20–25 years if well-maintained and in a well-insulated home)
- Steam boilers — 15 to 35 years depending on the type of boiler
- Furnace — 18 years
- Radiant heaters — 15 to 20 years depending on the type of radiant heating system
- Thermostats — About 10 years
Now that you have a better idea of how long HVAC units last on average, let’s look into how to tell when it might be time for an upgrade.
When to replace HVAC: 7 signs and symptoms to look for
#1: Your energy bills are going up.
Whether it’s your heating bill in winter or cooling costs in summer, if your energy costs are going up each year (and if you’re asking yourself Why is my energy bill so high? each month)… well, it’s likely your HVAC system is being overworked.
Remember, while the average HVAC system lifespan is anywhere between 10–25 years—based on your climate and what type of heating and cooling system you have. But your HVAC system may last less time than that if it has been overworked by insufficient insulation and unwanted airflow (due to unsealed air leaks). Learn how to find air leaks in your house.
The only way you can know for sure if your HVAC is underperforming and overworked is with a professional energy audit. You may be able to get a free energy audit through Sealed.
#2: Your interior air quality isn’t great.
Do you have lots of extra dust floating around in your house, dancing in the air when the sun shines through your windows? This is an indicator that your HVAC system isn’t able to filter your air effectively.
And if your household members are experiencing heightened allergies or respiratory illnesses, your HVAC could be part of the reason. In fact, if your home heating system runs on heating oil, it’s 130 times more likely to give off health-related air pollutants like sulfur than natural gas heaters (1).
Even if you have a few years left in your heating and cooling system, if your home’s air quality is suffering or if your AC or furnace smells regularly when it’s on, it’s time to make the switch to a cleaner, healthier HVAC system, like an electric air-source heat pump.
#3: You’re spending quite a bit on HVAC repairs.
Regular maintenance and the occasional HVAC system repair is a normal part of home appliance upkeep.
But if you’re regularly spending cash on high-dollar repairs for your heater or air conditioner (or your AC isn’t working as well as it should), it’s in your best interest—and the best interest of your bank account—to invest those funds in a replacement instead.
#4: You’re not comfortable in your own home.
Are you too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter? Does your outside AC unit run constantly but your house feels stuffy? Are there uneven temperatures between rooms or drafty spaces in your house?
This is usually a symptom of a whole-house problem, one that involves your HVAC system.
When you pair upgraded insulation with professional air sealing and the best HVAC, you can resolve uneven and uncomfortable temperatures for good—all while reducing your home’s energy waste.
Remember, insulation and air sealing work together to form a crucial thermal boundary between your home’s interior and the outside climate. This keeps all the hard work your HVAC system is doing to keep your inside air healthy and comfortable and—well—inside.
#5: Your HVAC system relies on fossil fuels.
If your older home heating or cooling system relies on fossil fuels (like natural gas or heating oil) to operate, it’s probably time to make the call and replace it.
When using modern HVAC technology, electricity is the cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient energy source.
Heating oil fuel is costly, and the price often depends on geopolitical factors. Not only is it pricey, but it’s less efficient and can increase your risk of exposure to carbon monoxide and other harmful substances. It’s also a limited resource. Discover why converting from heating oil to an electric heat pump is the smartest choice.
And while natural gas is often marketed as a cheaper energy source to heat your home, it comes with the same issues as heating oil: Natural gas increases home air quality and safety issues, depends on geopolitical constraints, and it’s a limited resource.
And while a natural gas furnace may be cheaper to run in winter than an electric furnace, that’s because electric furnaces aren’t an energy efficient way to heat your home. But heat pumps are—here’s how heat pumps work. (And if you’re not sure yet if you need a heating system upgrade, tap here if you’re wondering if it’s time to repair or replace your furnace.)
#6: Your HVAC system has an air conditioner that uses R-22 freon refrigerants.
If your air conditioner uses R-22 “Freon” refrigerants—and many air conditioners that are 10 years or older do—it’s time to consider an upgrade.
While you can still keep using your air conditioner, R-22 is being phased out in the U.S. because it’s harmful to the environment. So if additional R-22 coolant is the fix your air conditioning unit needs, you may need to go ahead and make the call to replace your existing unit. (If your AC is not blowing cold air, that can often be a sign of a refrigerant issue.)
Why? R-22 no longer being produced anymore. So while you might be able to occasionally find access to R-22 if that’s the fix your AC needs, it’s going to increasingly get really expensive and hard to find. The rising costs for the refrigerant will justify getting a new system in no time.
To know if your air conditioner uses R-22, check the detailed information on the condenser unit, your appliance manual, or call an HVAC professional (2).
#7: Your HVAC system is aging.
An old HVAC system is the most obvious reason to seek out a replacement. If your home heating and cooling system is reaching the teen years (or even well into its 20s), it’s time to plan for an upgrade.
HVAC technology has come a long way, and your home’s energy efficiency is suffering just by hanging on to older HVAC tech, then it’s time to think about a replacement—yes, even if it’s “still running just fine.”
We’re all for making things last as long as possible, but it’s likely your house is consuming way more energy than it should because of your outdated furnace or air conditioner. Don’t pay more than you need to to heat and cool your home.
Upgrading HVAC systems: What’s the best HVAC system replacement?
Here’s the truth: An electric air source heat pump is the best option if you’re looking into upgrading HVAC systems in your home. Heat pumps (sometimes called ductless mini splits or mini split AC) heat and cool your home with one appliance, and use as little as 1/3 the energy of traditional HVAC systems (3).
While there are many HVAC replacement options available—and you can get Energy-Star Certified appliances that run on natural gas, heating oil, or electricity—at Sealed, we’re biased: We strongly recommend that you get a heat pump.
We absolutely believe in the HVAC system technology behind the electric air-source heat pump. Heat pumps are the the Tesla of HVAC for a reason. We believe in air-source heat pumps so much, it’s the only type of HVAC replacement option that we install.
Heat pumps are cheaper to operate, better for the environment, and make your home feel amazing. And they’re two appliances in one—they heat your home in winter and cool your home summer. So instead of having to maintain two systems that use different energy sources, you just have one super-efficient appliance to care for.
Heat pumps also circulate comfortable air continuously throughout your home (so there’s no kicking off and on… and on again). And they filter your home’s air and moisture, too. What’s not to love?
For a deeper look at how heat pumps compare to traditional individual HVAC systems, check out our Heat pump vs furnace, Heat pump vs boiler, or Heat pump vs AC guides.
Rebates for upgrading HVAC systems
Many utility companies will offer HVAC rebates when you’re ready to upgrade your HVAC system to an energy-efficient model. So when it’s time to replace your HVAC system, there are incentives to make the transition to a heat pump easier to pay for.
The good news is, heat pumps are so well-loved by the energy-efficiency community that most utility companies offer excellent rebates for upgrading to a heat pump. And new federal legislation has expanded and increased U.S. heat pump tax credits and rebates.
Plus, if your home qualifies, Sealed can help you get an air-source heat pump professionally installed at no upfront cost—and you can use any rebates or tax credits you may be eligible for. (We can help you figure that out!)
How long do heat pumps last?
Heat pumps last approximately 15 years, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) (4).
And with proper heat pump maintenance—paired with sufficient insulation and professional air sealing—you can enjoy all the benefits of your energy-efficient HVAC upgrade for a long time, up to 20–25 years in some cases (TK).
Upgrade your HVAC system for zero upfront cost
Ready to make your move into more energy-efficient HVAC technology that helps your home feel incredible?
Depending on where you live, you could get a brand-new HVAC system installed with Sealed for no upfront cost. You’ll pay us for the work later, based on the energy you save each month. (If you don’t save energy, you won’t pay at all. We stand by our work!)
We’ll do all the strategy, planning, and installation—all you need to do is enjoy a much more comfortable home. Take our short quiz to see if you qualify.
Your house (and the people who live in it) will thank you.
*The HVAC system life-expectancy estimates above are based on data from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and reported median life expectancy. As a refresher, the median is the middle number in a data set—not the average, which can be skewed by data points from HVAC units that last a shorter or longer period of time than usually expected. The original ASHRAE report can be found here or at this page under the “Commissioning” tab.