There are 7 sure signs it’s time to replace your HVAC system. Here’s how to know.
Your HVAC system is one of the most important home appliance purchases you could make.
HVAC equipment is responsible for keeping your home’s indoor air quality healthy, free of excess moisture, and comfortable—but if that equipment is underperforming or outdated, it can cause serious problems in your home.
So how do you know when to replace HVAC systems in your home? And how do you get the right HVAC system for your house without draining your bank account?
(Spoiler alert: With Sealed, you can upgrade to an energy-efficient HVAC for $0 upfront. Qualifying projects come with an energy-savings guarantee. Learn more.)
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?
A typical residential HVAC system lasts between 10 and 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 and type of system you have (whether your home has a boiler or a furnace, ductwork, or radiant floor heating)
- If your home has the proper amount of insulation
- Whether or not you routinely do HVAC tune-ups and change air filters
- If your house has been professionally air sealed
- Your temperature preferences
- Your local climate, including high-humidity coastal areas that can cause corrosion and shorten the life of your HVAC system
What most homeowners don’t know is—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 heating system and air conditioner are already being overworked if:
- You have older insulation that needs an upgrade, or
- You have gaps, cracks, and seams (called air leaks) in your house that cause heat escape
And it keeps you from using your hard-earned money to heat and cool the outdoors.
If your home isn’t properly insulated or professionally air sealed, it automatically shortens the lifespan of your HVAC system.
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 and maintaining its functionality over the years.
But the type of system you have matters, too.
Life expectancy of popular HVAC systems:*
- Window Unit AC: 10 years
- Residential single whole-home unit: 15 years
- Heat pumps: 15 years (and up to 25 years if well maintained and in a well-insulated home)
- Steam boilers: 15–35 years depending on the type of boiler
- Furnace: 18 years
- Radiant heaters: 15–20 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, let’s cover how to tell when it might be time for an upgrade.
When to replace HVAC: 7 signs and symptoms to look for
Here are the 7 main things to keep an eye on to know when to replace your HVAC:
- Increased energy use (and higher bills!)
- Decreased indoor air quality
- Frequent HVAC repairs
- Home discomfort
- An outdated, fossil fuel-based HVAC system
- Use of R-22 refrigerants
- Age of the system
#1: Your energy bills are going up.
Whether it’s your heating bill in winter or cooling costs in summer, if your energy use is going up each year (and you’re asking yourself Why is my energy bill so high? each month)… well, it’s likely your HVAC system is being overworked.
Remember, the average HVAC system lifespan is 10 to 25 years—based on your climate and what type of heating and cooling system you have.
But your HVAC system may have a shorter lifespan if it has been overcompensating for insufficient insulation and unwanted airflow (due to unsealed air leaks) or it has not received proper maintenance. 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 or an inspection by an HVAC technician. You may be able to get a free energy audit through Sealed.
I contacted Sealed for an energy evaluation…. The process was quick and easy.… I am so glad we did the work and used Sealed.Karin M., Sealed customer
#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). Oil furnaces aren’t great for your air quality. But natural gas safety can be a concern, too.
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.
Switching from gas to electric heat would reduce CO2 emissions from US households by nearly 2,000 lbs each year.ccfpd.org
#3: You’re spending quite a bit on HVAC repairs.
Regular maintenance, the annual HVAC service call, and occasional repair costs are 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.
Frequent repairs are often a sign that your system has reached the end of its average life expectancy.
#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.
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 make you feel comfortable indoors—well—inside your house.
Sealed did a great job with insulating my home. The drafts are gone which makes the house more comfortable and warmer.John B., Sealed customer
#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 often the cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient energy source.
Heating oil fuel, propane, and natural gas are all costly, and the price often depends on geopolitical factors.
Not only are these fuels pricey, but they’re less efficient and can increase your risk of exposure to carbon monoxide and other harmful substances.
Fossil fuels are also a limited resource that deserve conservation. 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. Also, a natural gas furnace may be cheaper to run in winter than an electric or oil furnace, but these 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.)
In 80% of the homes studied, electric heat pumps saved money over the life of the system compared to homes with gas furnaces.ACEEE
#6: You have an air conditioner that uses R-22 freon refrigerants.
If your air conditioner uses R-22 “Freon” refrigerants—and many ACs 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 US 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 should you replace AC instead of recharging it with R-22?
R-22 is 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 get increasingly 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 a replacement.
If your home heating and cooling system is reaching the teen years (or even well into its 20s), has outlived its warranty, and is experiencing performance or efficiency issues, 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.
And that means 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.
Today’s heat pumps can reduce up to 50% of your heat-based energy use.Energy.gov
Upgrading HVAC systems: What’s the best HVAC system replacement?
An electric air source heat pump is the best option if you’re looking into upgrading HVAC systems in your home and you want the most energy-efficient option.
While many HVAC replacement options are available, at Sealed, we’re biased: We strongly recommend a heat pump.
We absolutely believe in the technology behind the electric air-source heat pump. And our experts believe in air-source heat pumps so much that it’s the only type of HVAC replacement option that we install. Discover why heat pumps are so efficient.
Upgrading to a new energy-efficient heat pump increases home value and attracts more buyers when you decide to sell.HVAC Boss
Heat pumps often cost less to run and maintain over their average lifespan, are better for the environment, and make your home feel amazing.
Plus, 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 maintain.
Heat pumps are also experts at dehumidifying. Read Do heat pumps dehumidify? to learn more.
Rebates for upgrading HVAC systems
Many utility companies offer HVAC rebates when you’re ready to upgrade your HVAC system to an energy-efficient model.
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 US 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 will figure all that out on your behalf!)
How long do heat pumps last?
According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), heat pumps generally have an average lifespan of 15 years (4).
But with proper heat pump annual maintenance—paired with sufficient insulation and professional air sealing—you can enjoy all the benefits of your energy-efficient heat pump HVAC upgrade for a long time, 20–25 years in some cases (5).
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 get to choose a flexible payment option that works best for you and your budget, and eligible projects come with an energy-savings guarantee. (If you don’t save energy, we take the hit. 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. Complete our short questionnaire to see if you qualify.
Your house (and the people who live in it) will thank you.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Sealed for HVAC and insulation upgrades. If you’re looking to take on a large efficiency project for your home without the large upfront cost, Sealed is worth a look.Matt R., Sealed customer
*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 at this page under the “Commissioning” tab.