How do I decide if it's smarter to repair or replace my air conditioner?
-- Nancy T., California
In checking with top-rated HVAC technicians, our team heard an interesting approach to this conundrum that one expert calls the $5,000 rule.
Here's how it works: Multiply the age of the equipment by the estimated repair cost. If the result is higher than $5,000, replacement is probably your best bet. If it's lower, you might do better to invest in a repair.
For example, if you've gotten an estimate of $350 to repair a 10-year-old air conditioner, the $5,000 rule of thumb indicates that repair is the best value. ($350 times 10 is $3,500.)
Many top-rated technicians say that if your unit is working, you can wait until it's 15 or more years old before replacing. But according to Energy Star, the Environmental Protection Agency program, it may be a good idea to consider replacing an A/C unit with something more energy-efficient when the older unit reaches 10 years.
A new, energy-efficient air conditioning unit will cost from about $3,600 to $7,200 and will save you an estimated 20 percent on energy costs, according to Energy Star.
Refrigerant is another factor to consider when determining whether to repair or replace.
If your unit has a leak or otherwise requires additional refrigerant, be aware that topping off a system with R-22 refrigerant can cost from $40 to more than $175 a pound.
The price of repairing a leak and adding several pounds of refrigerant can range from $550 to $1,000.
The price of R-22 has soared in recent years, as its production is phased out in favor of the more environmentally friendly R-410A.
HVAC manufacturers stopped making R-22-using units in 2010. R-22 production will cease in 2020.
Pros say if your unit requires R-22 refrigerant, a leak may be a good reason to replace the unit, since the cost of repairing a leak and adding R-22 can approach the cost of buying a new unit.
Also, they say, a leak is often a precursor to a failed compressor, which costs around $2,000 to replace.
Other factors to consider when determining if you need a new unit:
How well the unit actually cools your home.
How often you have to call a technician.
The size of your energy bills and how long you expect to live in your home.
If you're not sure what condition your A/C's in, consider scheduling an inspection by an HVAC company that has earned good reviews on a trusted online site.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. For answers, Angie's List researchers condense the best advice from highly rated service pros.
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