By Julie Curnow

Should I Replace or Repair My Air Conditioner?

Air and Water installing an LG multihead split systemIt’s a tough question- one many people grapple with: is it time to replace my air conditioner or should I have it repaired? Sometimes it’s more beneficial to repair your air con, while other times it may be more cost-effective to replace it. This article outlines the important factors to consider so you can tackle the big ‘repair or replace’ question with confidence.

Important Factors

Each type of air conditioner has it’s own set of considerations, but let’s start with some general questions you can ask yourself to make the best decision for your budget, lifestyle and home.

  • What is the age of your air conditioner?
  • Has the unit been well maintained?
  • How much will repairs cost?
  • Is there a high risk of more repairs?
  • What is the availability of replacement parts?
  • What is the availability of refrigerant and is the existing refrigerant pipe work suitable for the refrigerant used nowadays?
  • How long will the air conditioner be down while awaiting repair?
  • What are the running costs of your current air conditioning versus a new air conditioner?
  • Has your life style changed since you installed or inherited the air conditioning?
  • How important is it that you have fully functioning AC?
  • What’s your budget?
  • Is a replacement system available quickly that meets your needs?

The age of your air conditioner

Air conditioning equipment has an economic life, after which time it’s usually easier and more cost-effective to replace your system. According to the AIRAH Handbook, the economic life for air con equipment ranges from 7 years for a split unit to 15 years for a large commercial package. Most air conditioner manufacturers don’t carry parts for units that are more than seven years old, so a generic replacement part needs to be found to fit the system. If your system is over 10 years old, the chances of finding appropriate parts is significantly reduced and it will probably be costing you money due to energy inefficiency.

Typically when an air conditioner stops working there are no advanced warning signs so it makes the decision to repair or replace harder. Newer and better quality air conditioning brands are more likely to have a diagnostic system with a fault code showing on the controller when the unit isn’t working properly. This can assist in:

  • repairing the unit quickly – this is important as most repair work is charged on time taken, or
  • making the decision as to whether replacement is more affordable than repair.

Maintenance and condition

Properly maintaining your air conditioner ensures it remains energy efficient, is cheaper to run and lasts as long as possible. Units that are not cleaned regularly won’t perform at their best – we recommend cleaning filters on reverse cycle air conditioners every three months (more frequently in high usage situations). Evaporative air conditioners should be serviced annually (read how to do it yourself).


An efficient air conditioner will save you money over time since it won’t require as much electricity to cool or heat your home or business. When replacing your reverse cycle air conditioning, look at it’s energy efficiency rating (EER). The higher the number the more efficient it is and the less it will cost you over time compared to other models (note: only current models are shown on the Energy Rating website).

Since 2009 there has been a 10%-30% increase in air conditioner efficiency. This means that in many cases it has become more attractive to buy a new air conditioner rather than repair an old one.

Risk and cost of more repairs

If you choose to repair your reverse cycle air conditioner, hire an Australian Refrigeration Council licensed mechanic to do it properly. The ‘Fridgie’ will also be able to tell you what condition your unit is in and the likelihood of it needing more repairs in the near future. It’s worth having a chat to a air conditioning dealer so you can determine whether it will cost you less to replace your unit.

Considerations for your type of air con

Each type of air conditioner has different parts and considerations that could save you money if you know what to look out for. The main factors for evaporative, ducted reverse cycle and split system are summarised below.

Evaporative Air Conditioner

When replacing an old evaporative air conditioner the dropper box, ducting and grilles may still be in good condition and may not need replacing, this will save a considerable percentage of the replacement cost.

If you’re thinking about repairing your evaporative air conditioner a couple of things to note are:

  • The most expensive part of an evaporative air conditioner is the motor.
  • Replacing pumps and controllers is relatively affordable.

Ducted Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner

Air & WAter installing 25kW Daikin ducted reverse cycle aircon outdoor unit R22 refrigerant which was popular 10 years ago is rarely used in new ducted systems and is getting increasingly difficult and expensive to source. R22 uses a different pipe size to the current R410A refrigerant. Consequently it is becoming more favourable to replace rather than repair units containing R22 refrigerant. You can find out which type of refrigerent is used by referring to the sticker on the outdoor unit. Where the sticker has badly faded refer back to the owners manual or ask the manufacturer (the manufacturer will need the model number).

When replacing an old ducted reverse cycle air conditioner the ducting and grilles may not need replacing and this will cut down on the replacement cost.

If you are changing over from an evaporative to ducted reverse cycle air conditioner or vice versa, the size of ducting and location of grilles is different. This will add to the cost of replacement as the ceiling will need repairing and there is little scope to re-use any components.

Split System Air Conditioner

A relatively common cause of unexplained failure in a split system is due to refrigerant gas leaking. It can be time consuming to find the source of the leak and only a licensed refrigeration mechanic is permitted to use refrigerant gas. Small (2.5 and 3.5kW) split systems are relatively inexpensive to buy and install, so it is usually more cost effective to replace a small unit rather than to repair the fault.

Since there are so many different circumstances and factors to consider, there is no simple answer to the repair or replace question. Thankfully, using the above considerations will help steer you in the right direction so you can save money while staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter!

We understand that it’s a hard decision to make, so we offer air conditioning repair and servicing in addition to supply and installation of new air conditioners. If you are in Perth Western Australia and need advice feel free to give us, Air and Water Residential, a call on 08 6363 5343. Our team is always happy to help.


This article was written by Don Curnow, owner of Air and Water Residential in Perth. Don has nearly 20 years experience in the air conditioning industry with 8 years as business owner.

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