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What is the typical HVAC system lifespan?

TLDR

The typical HVAC system lifespan is a broad range of five to fifteen plus years. Spending a little more money on proper HVAC system installation and design, results in a higher long-term savings due to decreased energy usage, fewer repair bills, and a longer HVAC system lifespan.

The Details

The most significant issue with the construction industry in the Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land area, is a lack of long-term quality. The local jurisdictions either have zero oversight authority on residential construction, or they just do not enforce the existing rules. Furthermore, the power that they do have has more to do with significant safety issues, than it does with both quality and energy efficiency. Now, you have to compound that problem with the fact that new homebuilders – even high-end custom home builders – only care about the final profit at the end of the day. You can rest assured that anything related to HVAC system lifespan, is not a high priority for them.

  • A builder does not care about an electric bill that is 30% higher than it should be… Their only concern is that the home lasts 2 – 5 years, to where they are long out of the equation when it comes to responsibility, that is it.
  • Builder – “Your AC system failed after three years? That failure sounds like a random manufacturing issue. Talk to the manufacturer about a warranty claim.”
  • Until we tie new homebuilders to publicly available, long-term quality statistics or, we implement building codes that cover quality and energy efficiency, we will not see change.

Customers, the general public, only care about the lowest possible price. I mean, sure, if you ask a home shopper if they care about long-term quality, they will tell you that they do care. However, when choosing between a big flashy upgrade like a swimming pool – a result that is immediately evident – versus paying more for a higher quality building process – a result that takes years to become apparent – they will choose the short term result.

These are the items that make the difference between an HVAC system lifespan that lasts five years and fifteen years. Furthermore, you also need to realize that when an HVAC system fails after 5 to 10 years due to poor design and installation, both the electricity and maintenance costs over that period were higher.

  • Service calls and new parts = $$$$$
  • Replace more often = $$$$$
  • More electricity to operate = $$$$$

The reasoning is simple. With everything else being equal, the lifespan of anything is more accurately tied to the total amount of energy consumed. While each item below by itself is not significant, it is when you add up the sum of multiple items that it becomes very significant. One bee sting by itself is not an issue. However, 100 bee stings from an angry swarm can be.

Places where other AC companies cut corners:

  • Proper routing of the copper line set, to reduce friction and allow for adequate oil return.
  • Properly separating the copper suction and liquid lines. If the two lines touch, a “short circuit” in the refrigeration system is created, where heat directly transmits to the other side and reduces the overall capacity of your HVAC system.
  • Correctly sizing the copper refrigeration lines. If they are too small – to save money – you have too much restriction. If they are too large, you can then have issues with oil return to the compressor.
  • By using a single length of copper tubing by using the proper bending tools. This gives you gradual bends, and it eliminates joints. Fewer joints result in less friction and fewer points for failures. More gradual bends vs hard 90 degree bends on fittings, equals less restriction.
  • By adequately preparing joints of the copper lines before welding. By doing this, you reduce the chance of contaminating the system, the quality of the welds is higher, you will have fewer leaks in the future, and less friction within the refrigeration circuit.
  • Filter and suction dryers when necessary and not installing two filter dryers by accident (checking to see if outdoor unit has one installed inside before mindlessly installing one outside).
  • Replacing the filter dryer whenever the system is opened up.
  • Proper condensate drain setup, with a primary, secondary, and tertiary and two float kill switches to avoid water damage.
  • Leveling the unit correctly so that the condensate drains properly.
  • Proper sized and proper sealing of the insulation on the copper refrigeration lines. If the insulation on the copper tubing is too large, condensation can form in the airspace around the copper tubing, and this can then leak into your home and cause water damage. Improperly installed insulation also robs your AC system of cooling capacity, it consumes more electricity, and it creates unnecessary “wear and tear”. If the insulation is too small but just smothered with duct tape to make it look okay, you end up with an inadequate amount of insulation and the potential for water damage as well.
  • Proper sizing of the home’s ductwork, to ensure even airflow and no unnecessary strain on the blower motor.
  • A heat load calculation and a duct design were performed on the home so that everything is sized correctly. AC system too small – it runs all the time, and the house never cools down. AC system too big – it short cycles, off and on, off and on. Increased wear and tear and electrical consumption AND no humidity removal.
  • The outdoor units being spaced adequately from each other, the house, other objects like bushes and dryer exhaust vents.
  • A proper vacuum is “pulled” on the system before commissioning. By using a correctly rated vacuum pump with fresh oil, vacuum rated hoses, and a laboratory grade micron gauge, this ensures that all oxygen, nitrogen, and moisture is removed from the system. You should only have refrigerant and oil in the refrigeration circuit. On 99% of all new home AC systems, the installers just purge the system with a little new refrigerant and then open the valves. Yes, this works but it will not for long.
  • Proper 15% silver brazing rod is used. Using a copper brazing rod that is 15% silver, results in better welds and less potential for leaks.
  • Every component of the HVAC system was designed to work together. You do not want a contractor that uses a cheap plenum coil from a closeout sale with your high-end outdoor unit. The shiny nameplate sitting outside of your house is just half of the equation, and it is all that we see.
  • By adding a TXV and hard start kit to the system. These two parts are an extra $150, but they make all the difference on how the system performs.
  • A contractor that registers the warranty on your new HCAC system, so that you are guaranteed the quoted warranty. On all residential HVAC equipment, a 10-year parts warranty is standard IF it is registered within 60 days of installation. Any professional contractor will do this for you, and it eliminates high repair bills more than five years down the road.
  • Proper filter sizing and including a media air filter upgrade for FREE or at COST.
  • Proper charge with calibrated digital gauges. I cannot stress this enough. So many contractors just open up the refrigerant and fill it up until it feels good inside. And, even the ones that use their gauges, they either have older inaccurate analog gauges or digital gauges that are not calibrated, and they do not even know how to use. A properly charged system will cool across the entire range of possible scenarios. Many contractors charge it until its beer is cold and that is not the right answer. Too much refrigerant, results in your compressor trying to compress a liquid and higher pressures. Too little refrigerant equals your AC system not cooling as well as it should. Both result in equipment damage and increased electrical consumption.
  • Keeping things cool while brazing. When your contractor is brazing the copper lines to the new equipment, you are looking at temperatures of 1200 to 2000 degrees F. While brazing, there are components close by that cannot be heated over 250 degrees F. Items containing Teflon, rubber, seals, plastic, etc. If they do not keep the area around it cooled, you end up with damage that you’ll be charged to fix down the road.
  • Purging the copper lines with dry nitrogen while brazing. I am certain that you have all seen a candle that leaves a black, sooty stain on everything around it while it burns, along with how different a new vs. an old, oxidized copper penny looks. When brazing the copper lines at 1200F to 2000F, the oxygen in the atmosphere reacts with the copper atoms at an accelerated rate. Due to the extreme heat present during this process, the rate at which the copper oxidizes increases dramatically, along with carbon atoms being pulled off CO2 molecules and deposited. What this means for your AC system is that if the installers do not connect a dry nitrogen cylinder to the copper lines before the brazing process, you end up with copper oxide and carbon in your refrigeration circuit. Would you sprinkle a cup of burned charcoal into your car’s engine oil?

Conclusion

It sounds like a lot and it is. However, I have developed a system that makes following the above items very cost effective. Will it cost a little more initially, yes. However, over time, you will see a higher ROI and we will still be in business to take care of any issues, should anything ever come up. I also like to examine everything that I do from an economic perspective as well, which means that I try to pay close attention to finding a happy medium that results in the highest Return On Investment over time for my customers. So, please, rest assured that I understand how we are not engineering something for space travel or a nuclear submarine. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me – Anthony – at 33 Solutions LLC!