How long do mini split ductless air conditioners last?

Last week I posted an article titled “How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last” which can be found here.

I thought I’d follow it up with an article for those considering installing a ductless air conditioning system in their home, garage, or office. So, this go around we answer the question:

How long does a ductless air conditioner last?

It’s estimated that the average Phoenix area household runs their AC unit for approximately 2,141 hours. Obviously, most cities in the country do not get as hot as we do here in the desert, so your city’s average is likely much lower than ours and heating hours much higher.

Think about cooling hours the same way you would mileage on a car. Age isn’t nearly as important a factor as mileage when it comes to the life expectancy of a car…the same holds true for air conditioners. For this reason, we can typically expect to get a 25-40% shorter lifespan out of a standard AC unit than other cities. *

*One exception are the coastal cities, who also have to contend with the sea salt in the air, which is known to rust out metal components very quickly – sometimes making it less expensive to replace a unit than to attempt to repair it. Homeowners in these cities may expect an even shorter life of an outdoor AC condenser than we can here in central AZ. 

When comparing the average lifespan of ducted vs. ductless units, a mini-split system has one major advantage over a traditional central air unit…no ducts.

What do ducts have to do with the lifespan of an AC unit Rich?, you ask. Well, I’ll tell you, but first, let’s look at the 1-Ton ductless air conditioner installed at the Magic Touch Mechanical office in Mesa, AZ as it makes a great case study.

While this unit is 16-years old, it has only been installed and running for 12 of those years. Reason being, we used it as a display unit for the first four years of its life. We mainly used it to display at the Maricopa County Home Show for the first few years, and when not on display there, we had it set up at our offices for people who wanted to see one in person.

After being packed and unpacked so many times, within a few years it got scratched up, bumped into, etc. so we decided to use it to cool our computer server room. The reason it’s important to mention the application is; we modified it by adding a component known as a “low ambient kit” so it could run 365 days a year, without freezing up while running in air conditioning mode all winter. We keep it set to cool the room to 70 degrees year round per our IT Company’s recommendation.

Since it runs in cooling all year. and is set to maintain a constant 70-degrees, I would estimate the compressor runs about 1/2 of  the 8,760 hours that are in a year, maybe 4,400 hours give or take) which is double the Phoenix average. That said, this unit has run the equivalent of approximately 24 years in the 12-years since it was installed…impressive right?

I should point out that since it is owned by an HVAC Company, it has been meticulously maintained and is serviced and cleaned 2x per year like clockwork. But it’s longevity can also be attributed to the “ductless” factor.

I should also mention that in those 12-years, we have had to repair it one time. We had to replace the blower motor in the air handler in year 10. Mechanical components fail – it’s just a fact of life, and I can’t complain about having to replace a motor that almost never shut off in a decade – especially in Mesa, AZ heat!

Why does a ductless ac unit last longer than a central ducted air conditioner?

The heart of any air conditioning unit is the compressor. When a compressor fails, especially in the latter years of an AC unit’s life, it’s time to start weighing the difference between repair and replacement. There are a number of things that can be attributed to compressor failure including:

  • High static pressure – air ducts that are improperly sized or installed can cause this problem and cause the compressor to over-amp and overheat.
  • Hard Starts – when a compressor has to work extra hard to start up over and over, it can drastically reduce its longevity. As most ductless mini split AC’s use compressor with “inverter” technology (variable speed), this problem is all but eliminated as variable speed compressors ramp up and down in speed, not all at once like a traditional compressor.
  • Dirty evaporator coils – duct leaks are prevalent in most central air conditioning systems. These leaks suck in attic, crawlspace, and outside dust and dirt and plug up the evaporator. This problem will shorten the life span of many pricey components of a central air system including the compressor.

This list could go on, but the point is; eliminating the need for ducts, and the improvements of the compressor technology itself, gives mini-split air conditioners an edge over conventional equipment, and also helps explain why they seem to last much longer in Arizona.

Yeah, but how long will a mini-split air conditioner last!?!

Over the years, Magic Touch Mechanical has installed A LOT of mini-splits. We’ve been in business for twenty years and are just now replacing ductless air conditioners we installed in our first few years in business. We also have units we installed 20-years ago that are still performing like the day they were installed!

Based on experience we think it’s fair to say many mini-split ductless air conditioners and heat pumps will last about 20-years (as opposed to the 12-15 many conventional systems last here).

Of course, all ductless ac’s are not created equally, you get what you pay for as the old adage goes. I’ve seen some real crap out there in my 30-years in HVAC, and it’s becoming more common with all the cheap equipment coming out of China, Mexico, and Korea being sold online. We’ve replaced many of these units after only a few summers in service.

Some might question my cautioning people from buying this type of equipment online, since I make a living selling it myself. Thats true, but consider this…many people reading this article do not live in my state, let alone the 35-mile radius around Mesa, AZ that Magic Touch provides service to. Aside from sizing and warranty issues, most people don’t consider all the ancillary items needed to complete the installation of a mini-split AC, then labor. I’ve rarely seen anyone save money buying equipment online, and the ones I have seen save upfront, wind up paying more over the life of the unit due to the shortened warranty…7 to 11 years shorter in many cases.

Over the years, Magic Touch has installed Mitsubishi, Samsung, Trane, Fujitsu and a few others. Today we almost always recommend Mitsubishi Ductless because we think they are best on the market. Yes, they may cost a little more upfront than some of the others, but we’re usually talking hundreds, not thousands. Frankly they cost less over the life of the unit because they are reliable and last longer than the rest from what we’ve seen.

Ductless Mini-Split AC Maintenance & Repair

Like anything else in life, your ductless AC will last longer when it’s been maintained per manufacturer recommendations and taken care of properly. If you let strange noises or decreased performance go unattended too long, you can most likely expect larger component failure and shortened life expectancy. Don’t wait for things to get better themselves…they won’t. Call your trusted air conditioning company right away at the first sign of trouble – and make sure you find a contractor who specializes in mini-splits like Magic Touch Mechanical if you are not in the Phoenix area. This equipment is high-tech and takes more than your average “Chuck-in-a-truck” to properly repair and maintain!


 Thinking of a new ductless heat pump or air conditioner for your home or office? Call the most trusted name in Phoenix for HVAC…Magic Touch Mechanical. We are proud to be designated a Mitsubishi Diamond Dealer and offer the exclusive 12-YEAR WARRANTY! Contact us today to set up a free no-obligation quote.