The number of years an HVAC system lasts depend on the type and brand of components that make up your system. The lifespan of an air conditioner averages between 15 and 20 years. The life expectancy of a tankless water heater is approximately 20 years, while a storage water heater is closer to 10-15 years. Ducts may need replacing within 10-15 years. Your equipment will have a longer life if you have regular tuneups and maintenance to keep everything in good working order. If you’re having repair problems and your HVAC system is over 10 years old, it’s a good time to consider the costs and benefits of repairing vs. replacing. Energystar.gov provides the following tips to help you decide whether to repair or replace:
Indoor Coil -- The indoor coil is a heat transfer device. It absorbs the heat from the inside of the house and passes it on to the refrigerant and is pumped outside. Dust that builds up on the coil can hamper its ability to absorb heat. High heat transference coils use very thin metal. Airborne chemicals can cause corrosion which leads to leaks. The constant vibration of the compressor can also cause solder joints to weaken and leak. An indoor coil may operate for weeks with a tiny leak, and you may not notice the loss in performance right away. As soon as a leak is made known, it should be replaced or repaired immediately.
If there is stuff in the ducts, the fact that it’s laying there and not being blown into the rooms is proof positive that it is hurting no-one. The 5-6 exceptions you cite in this article I’ll buy, but only with the caveat that at least some of those could have been avoided by proper protection (during remodeling for example) – and if asbestos/lead/whatever winds up in your ducts- the remodeling contractor should be the one paying to remove it.

So, naturally I respond with, “you don’t tell your doctor which medication to prescribe you, do you?” The point is, on the residential level, who you get to install your HVAC unit is far more important than which unit you choose.  Keep your options open and let your HVAC contractor make a few recommendations – that’s why you spent time finding a reputable contractor!


He proceeded to clean each heat register by removing the grille and blasting it with an air pressure hose toward the duct opening thinking that the dust would magically be sucked inside. In one room this caused a ceiling smoke detector to go off because the excess dust fooled it into thinking there was smoke. I put my hand in front of a register he wasn’t working on and could hardly feel a suction. Although we discussed how I open and close damper doors, I realized later that he never checked, opened or adjusted them during the cleaning. He could have closed all but the one he was working on in order to increase suction results. His next step was to blast air into the duct and then attach a “squid-like” device that slapped around inside the duct as far as he could reach. This is important! In a newer house, ducts have long straight runs from the furnace. In older houses like mine they can turn and twist. In fact, the duct we have a problem with runs straight up from the basement inside a wall and turns 90 degrees into a soffit for three feet then into two 90 degree turns to get into the floor joist area for another two feet and finally a 90 degree turn up to the second floor register. When he cleaned this one he could only get three feet into the register with the hose or squid because of the turns. That was the case with most. Hardly what could be described as a decent cleaning.
Yes, ducts can look terribly dusty. However, that dust will not become aerosolized during the normal operation of your furnace. There is an easy way to test this. Rent a particle counter and test the air flowing out of your registers before and after cleaning. You will not see any improvement in the air quality or any reduction in the airborne dust level. Think of it this way. Duct cleaning companies tell you that you need to clean your ducts when you can see a layer of dust in your ducts. Yet that very layer of dust is proof that duct cleaning is unnecessary, because that dust proves that the air movement in your furnace is not fast enough to re-aerosolize the dust.
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