Do I Need a New AC?
I’ve been an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning) Technician for over 36 years. I founded Magic Touch Mechanical, an AC & Heating company in Mesa, Arizona 27 years ago this January. One question I’ve heard thousands of times is, do I need a new AC unit? Believe it or not, it’s a question I dread answering because it’s not that simple to answer in most cases. Let me explain.
Nobody Wants to Buy a New Air Conditioner
I’ve never met a homeowner who wanted to buy a new air conditioning & heating system, it’s a ‘grudge purchase’. We don’t buy one because we want it, we buy a new AC only when we need a new AC.
Grudge purchases include new brakes on the car, a new pool filter, a new roof, dental work, etc. We all make grudge purchases all the time, not because we want to, but because we need to.
Case in point, Magic Touch also owns The Fire Place. The Fire Place sells and installs fireplaces & fire pits. Nobody needs a fireplace or fire pit, we want it. Our clients are excited to purchase their new fireplace … they can’t wait!
I’ve never had a client excited to purchase a new air conditioner. Sure, they’re happy with the results, because it solved a problem or pain point. However, they’re not exactly calling their friends and inviting them to see their new air conditioner!
But, how do you know when you need a new AC?
Do I Need a New AC Unit, or Can I Get Another Year Out of This One?
Magic Touch has clients who wear the age of their air conditioner like a badge of honor! One that comes to mind right away has a unit that was manufactured in 1983. Let me save you from doing the math, his AC unit is 40 years old!
We’ve been maintaining his unit since our first year in business when it was only 14 years old. I use the word “only” sarcastically as it was considered ‘older’ back then. I was an army of one back then and the first Magic Touch technician to work on his AC. Granted, AC units built back then tended to last longer than today’s equipment, but that’s for another article.
I don’t remember the conversation, but he told me he asked if he needed a new AC unit the first time we met. Apparently, I told him if it were mine, I wouldn’t replace it until it needed a major repair. Keep in mind, back then most AC units were pretty much the same and today’s high-tech units didn’t exist.
Today, it’s like a game to him. Every time I speak with him, he jokingly says, “it hasn’t needed a major repair yet.” Full disclosure, his home has 3 AC units and we’ve replaced the other two over the years. This one happens to get very little use which partially explains its longevity and why it’s not costing him an arm and leg to run. Although he’s aware how much more efficient new units are after replacing the other two in his home.
He also told me my answer back then is, “the reason he’s never called anyone else in 27 years.” He said, “I was the only technician who didn’t put on my sales cap,” when asked if he needed a new AC unit.
Today We’re Replacing a 9-Year-Old AC Unit
Today, our installers are replacing a 9-year-old AC unit for a guy I’ve been friends with for 30 years. I met him before I even started Magic Touch when we were both much younger men.
He purchased this house 6 years ago with a Lennox air conditioner and furnace installed only 3 years prior. I’ve come to learn, the previous homeowner installed the unit himself having, “once worked for an AC company.” Even the home inspector my friend hired prior to purchasing the home questioned the quality of the installation.
Since purchasing the home, he’s had to make repairs every year. Last week he called us because it wasn’t cooling well. The technician discovered the unit was low on refrigerant and suspected an intermittent issue with another refrigerant system component. The suspicion of the other component being faulty proved right later that evening. We were prepared to make those repairs when my friend called and asked, do I need a new AC?
I explained it was “borderline”. On the one hand, Lennox themselves estimates the “useful life” of that model at 10-15 years. The average lifespan of that unit in my experience is about 12-13 years. Do you spend a couple thousand dollars repairing a 9-year-old unit, or do you need a new AC unit? Frankly, I wanted him to answer that question for himself, so we talked it out for a while.
Do I Need a New AC – I Have to Fix This One Every Year
My buddy knows my elderly mother who lives in the next town over, Chandler, AZ. Her home has two split heat pump systems. I replaced her downstairs AC unit years ago when it was about 14 years old. I replaced her upstairs unit a year ago this month when it was 28 years old. Two identical units, one lasted twice as long as the other!
Both heat pumps received the same maintenance, were equally utilized, and installed at the same time by the homebuilder. Despite their similarities, for whatever reason, one lasted twice as long as the other. This time when mom asked, do I need a new AC unit, I said yes, good thing you know a guy!
I explained to my friend I decided to replace her unit for reasons other than just the cost of repairs. Over the years, I’d certainly spent time and money repairing mom’s aging unit. However, past repairs were always minor and not enough to condemn the unit. This time was different. Not only did the unit need a major repair, but she was also unhappy with how loud it had gotten. From my perspective, I worried about the old unit’s reliability going forward. Frankly, it had a great run, but replacement time had come – she did need a new AC.
I shared how I’d replaced mom’s old Trane unit with a Gree Flexx, and the reasons I chose it for her. I also talked about replacing two of my own units with inverter-driven variable speed air conditioners 4 years ago. And, how I just installed a Gree in my own home a few months ago which is also variable speed.
My Friend Chose a Gree Flexx Heat Pump Too
After fully considering the pros and cons, my buddy decided to replace his unit. His outdoor unit sits by his pool and was “very loud,” and “makes a loud clunking noise now.” He was concerned about having to keep spending money on repairs and liked the thought of a 10-year parts warranty.
He was also intrigued by my testimonial of the comfort that comes with owning an inverter-driven variable speed. I’ll shout it from the mountain tops – after owning all 3 types of AC technology, I’ll never go back,
He chose the Gree Flexx for the same reason I recommend it and so many of our clients choose it. Bang for the buck.
Frankly, I would’ve replaced it also, but wanted him to come to that decision himself. I told him, “Everyone thinks all AC companies just want to replace air conditioners. As a company owner I have an entire service department to keep busy, I’m just as happy to keep repairing a unit as long as the parts for it are still made.”
Poor Installation Led to His AC Unit’s Early Demise
My friend has a successful career in IT. I know he thinks like a technician and had come to the same conclusion I had. The poor installation he’d been warned about by his home inspector was causing his problems. Part of the reason he was repairing things each year could be traced back to the unit’s poor installation. In fact, the component we discovered to be the problem this time is usually caused by shortcutting proper install procedures.
If procedures to remove contaminants and moisture from the system are skipped during installation, this component eventually fails. Unfortunately, only a professional knows how important these procedures are, most homeowners do not. Most homeowners will never even know that shortcut just took years off the life of that unit.
Have you ever wondered why one AC company can charge a thousand dollars less than the next one for the same brand and model? It’s usually because one is shortcutting important procedures and the other isn’t.
How do I know poor installation was the reason we were replacing his unit at only nine years old?
Well, I’m very familiar with that exact model – we’ve installed hundreds of them throughout the Phoenix area. What we’re not doing is replacing the ones we installed 9-years ago as they’re still running per manufacturer specifications.
Does that model require repairs, of course, it’s getting long in the tooth. However, it’s usually expected component replacements at this stage of its life, I.E., faulty electronic components, motors, capacitors, etc. Yes, the occasional major repair is needed sometimes too. Refrigerant leaks in the coil, even the occasional bad compressor, however these are wear & tear failures not failures caused by poor installation.
Bottom line beware of the “lowest quote”. It will likely be the most expensive quote over the coming years.
Do I Need a New AC? Nope, But I Got Two Anyway
My wife and I bought a new home in November of 2019. It had two 12-year-old York air conditioners; both were still working and didn’t require immediate repair. However, they were both extremely noisy, inefficient, and had single-stage (one speed) compressors.
Practicing what I preach, I replaced them both 4 months after moving in for two reasons: Comfort and quiet. Efficiency, warranty, etc., were all icing on the cake, but that’s not why I bought new AC units. It was solely for comfort and quiet – things that were important to us.
Comfort – As I told my friend, I’ve owned every type of AC technology available today (single-stage, two-stage, & variable speed). When I went from single-stage to 2-stage, it was noticeably better. When I went from 2-stage to variable-speed it was drastically, I’d go as far as to say, overwhelmingly better.
Quiet – Both York air conditioners were located a few feet from the master bedroom window. They were so loud I knew there was no way we were going to “live with it”. Variable speed units are by design the quietest units on the market today.
Comfort and quiet were my reasons for needing a new AC. Reliability, quiet, and warranty were my friend’s reasons for deciding on a new AC unit. For some, none of those reasons would justify buying a new AC unit – and that’s okay! To those people, I say, let’s fix it until parts are no longer available.
You Don’t Need a New AC Unit!
Much like the client’s story I started this article with you don’t need a new AC – if it can be repaired. Technically, if parts are still made for it, we can repair an AC unit no matter its age. It may not always be advisable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable … if that’s what you want.
Private Equity Firms Buy Phoenix AC Companies
An unfortunate trend in the HVAC industry. Instead of “service” technicians, some companies are training “sales” technicians. Even the smallest repair leads to the recommendation to replace the air conditioner.
This has become more prevalent in recent years with many once family-owned companies being purchased by large private-equity firms. This is especially true here in the Phoenix, AZ market where dozens upon dozens of companies are now owned by private equity companies. They have an obligation to show returns for their investors and a $10,000 – $20,000 sale makes investors much happier than a $500 repair.
I’m not saying all private-equity owned businesses are bad, greedy, or all the same for that matter. I personally know many of these company owners and know them to have a lot of integrity. However, the goal of private equity firms is to grow margins and flip the company in 3-5 years for profit. And, these once-owners are no longer calling the shots, they’re employees of the new owners – the PE firm.
As a family-owned business for 27-years we value the lifetime relationship. Do we want people to buy units from us, absolutely! And, another one 15 years from now, and another 15 years after that. PE firms don’t look at things from a lifetime perspective, they look at 3-5 years’ worth of growth and profit. It’s that growth and profit that makes the business ‘sellable’ again and gets their investors a bigger return on investment.
Throwing Good Money After Bad
In my 36 years in HVAC when asked do I need a new AC, I’ve answered “yes, in my opinion” hundreds of times. While I thought that was in the best interest of my client, it always made me uneasy as that was my ‘opinion’. Granted, my opinion is/was based on decades of experience and the technical side of things. However, it couldn’t account for the things my client prioritized.
After all, what’s important to me and how I choose to spend my money, may not be what’s important to them or how they choose to spend their money. I’ve said yes when I thought repairing the unit would be throwing good money after bad. In other words, repairing a unit that has other problems that will require repair soon.
All that changed when I met an HVAC Contractor from Louisiana who had the answer!
The Repair vs Replace Worksheet
Speaking with an HVAC Contractor at an industry event we were talking about this very subject. He said he’d created a worksheet that produced an unbiased answer to the question, do I need a new AC?
He provided me a copy and challenged me to try to “game the system”. I did try to game it but found most of it was simply based on facts not opinion. IE. How old is the AC? How much do currently needed repairs cost? Ultimately, what it does is take ‘opinion’ out of the equation.
Each question is given a point value. If the points are in the low range, repair is recommended. Mid-range equals “borderline” (could go either way), and high range, replacement is recommended.
On the left side are “Other considerations”. These are items that are either ‘important’, or ‘unimportant’ to the homeowner, IE. noise levels, energy bills, comfort concerns, etc.
In the case of my friend and myself, we both had considerations that were important to us. However, they may not have been important to someone else. They also had nothing to do with the facts of how the equipment was operating.
For example, low noise was important to both of us, so made the argument for replacement over repair. The fact that both our units were noisy isn’t factored into the point system – it’s an opinion.
What’s Important to You?
Before asking a contractor, do I need a new AC, consider all the things that are important to you. If your current AC is noisy and that bothers you, that should factor in to your decision. When your home isn’t as comfortable as it could be, that should factor in to your decision. If your power bills could be offset by a financing a new more efficient unit with lower operating costs – factor that in.
Make a list of the pros and cons of your current AC unit. Then determine if newer technology would solve the problems on the cons list. You may just answer the question yourself!
Are You Ready to Make Your Next Grudge Purchase?
While we can’t make you excited to buy your next air conditioner, we can make sure your delighted by the results. We can guarantee better comfort, lower noise, reduced energy bills, and cleaner air, to name a few benefits.
Our project managers are also well-versed in all available utility rebates (currently as high as $1,125 cash rebate), and tax credits available in the Inflation Reduction Act (up to $2,000 for heat pumps and air conditioners).
Magic Touch Mechanical
AC & Heating | Fireplaces & Fire Pits. Since 1997.