What is the average lifespan of a furnace or central air conditioner?
On average, a forced-air furnace or a central air conditioning system will last between 10 and 20 years, with 15 years being a typical lifespan. The biggest thing to consider is that, similar to an old used car, at some point the cost and hassle of constant repairs and servicing will start to outweigh the cost of simply replacing the unit with a new one.
There are many factors that can affect your heating & cooling system’s lifespan, including:
- Whether the system was correctly-sized to match your home. Over-sized or undersized units will suffer additional strain either from being overworked or constantly cycling on and off.
- Quality workmanship on the installation. Installing a furnace or A/C is not like plugging in a new microwave. There is a significant amount of skilled labour involved, which highlights the importance of choosing an experienced and reliable HVAC contractor not just the cheapest price you can find. The lower the price you pay, the more likely you are to get a less-experienced or hastily done job, which can significantly impact the long-term reliability of your system.
- Good maintenance. Like any mechanical system, it helps to have your furnace and air conditioner regularly inspected and cleaned, ideally at the start of the season (fall and spring). In fact, many extended warranties require regular maintenance to qualify for the full coverage.
- Climate. Naturally, if you live in more extreme climates, your furnace and A/C are going to be worked harder, leading to more wear and a somewhat shorter lifespan. This is normal and unavoidable. If you drive to work every day, a 5 KM commute vs a 50 KM commute is obviously going to impact how long your vehicle will likely last. Harsher winters may also subject the outdoor unit of your A/C to slightly more wear.
- Usage. This is somewhat related to the last point, but your own personal preferences and needs will also impact how much wear your system is subjected to. This likely isn’t hugely significant factor in the grand scheme of things, but it’s worth mentioning.
Which Brand of Furnace or A/C is the Most Reliable?
Apart from price, the other top concern consumers typically have when buying a new furnace or air conditioner, is which brand and model is the most reliable?
Naturally, when spending thousands of dollars on an appliance you will depend on to heat your home and keep you and your family warm, you want a system you can count on.
Unfortunately, determining the most reliable furnace or A/C is not quite so simple, as many factors can affect reliability.
As mentioned, proper sizing, installation, and quality workmanship are bigger factors than most people realize (more on this below). Proper maintenance can be a factor. Usage can matter as well.
It is true that sometimes batches of units or just a product line in general can be more cheaply made or suffer from defects; this is true of any large-scale manufactured product (cars, cell phones, etc).
But people don’t trade-in and resell furnaces and air conditioners the way they do with automobiles, and insurance companies don’t directly track reliability like with vehicles, so there just isn’t the same level of scrutiny and objective data to analyse.
This lack of objective data on furnace and A/C reliability, especially given the large variance in total sales volume between brands, is further confounded by the fact that these units are being installed by different contractors and technicians.
One thing to note here is that larger manufacturers may have more customers that encounter issues overall due to the sheer volume of units they produce. The actual ratio may not be any higher, but it may give the impression there are more unhappy customers just because they ship hundreds of thousands or millions of units.
You may be tempted to turn to consumer reviews, but these have their own flaws which you can read about here.