I am often asked how long a furnace or water heater should last. This usually follows a conversation about a major repair and whether the homeowner should repair or replace. So what are the factors behind the decision so you’re not throwing money away on unnecessary repairs.
Let’s start with how long things should last. I have some rules of thumb I like to use but all of these durations depend on things like maintenance and quality of the equipment installed.
Water heaters tend to have the shortest lifespan. The average water heater usually lasts 8-12 years. This is very dependent on the hardness of the water and how often it is drained and maintained. In Central Pennsylvania, the natural limestone can cause large amounts of calcium deposits in the water heater and on plumbing fixtures. We have seen water heaters “die” in as little as 5 years due to excessivley hard water and lack of maintenance.
Furnaces, heat pumps, air handling units and air conditioners average 12-18 years. Maintenance is usually the determining factor in the life of the equipment. Geothermal heat pumps tend to last a bit longer, generally 20 years or more and we’ve seem some boilers (oil or gas) lasting up to 30 or 40 years in some older homes.
So, when does it make sense to replace versus repair? If your equipment is approaching the ages listed above, you need to seriously consider options. The refrigerant used in all new air conditioners and heat pumps is R-410A. This was invented in 1991 by Honeywell to address environmental concerns to the ozone associated with R-22 which had been used for decades. Many systems still contain R-22 refrigerant which costs substantially more than R-410A due to availability and the ongoing phase-out that becomes final in 2020. Repairs to R-22 systems have become increasingly more expensive over the past few years because of the refrigerant cost so we usually recommend complete replacement when nuisance repairs start occurring.
We encourage our technicians to provide options and advice when a customer is entering this scenario. Most technicians feel a sense of pride in helping a customer fix a system by replacing parts. However, their good intentions can sometimes cause the customer to spend money on a system that has outlived its useful life instead of getting a more efficient and more comfortable solution. Make sure you ask for options when repairs are necessary so you invest your money wisely.