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What Is the Life Expectancy of a Commercial HVAC Unit?

Purchasing new heating and cooling equipment for your Central Indiana commercial building is a significant capital expenditure. In order to accurately plan and budget for this cost while maximizing the return on investment of your existing equipment, it’s helpful to know the life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit.

Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer, as several factors can impact the actual number of usable years a system will deliver. In our most recent blog, Star Heating & Cooling shares the points to evaluate when estimating how long your commercial HVAC system will last.

Life Expectancy of Commercial HVAC Units

First off, let’s set the record straight regarding HVAC equipment service life. A quick Internet search will turn up millions of results sharing how many years you can expect to operate your building’s heating and cooling equipment before replacement is necessary. The fact of the matter is, there is no way to precisely tell how long a system will stay operable. 

While the life expectancy of a commercial heating and air conditioner unit is never certain, there is an estimate or average for each equipment type. The average life expectancy of a particular type of commercial HVAC system is a good starting point to work from as you factor in other aspects that influence service life.

ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) is an industry organization that determines standards for HVAC equipment – the institution also maintains a database with information regarding the life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit, by system type. According to the Owning and Operating Cost Database, the following average life expectancies for various types of commercial heating and cooling equipment are:

  • Commercial air-source heat pumps: 15 years
  • Commercial water-to-air heat pumps: 15 years
  • Single- and multi-zone rooftop air conditioners: 15 years
  • Steel water-tube steam boilers: 24 years
  • Steel fire-tube steam boilers: 25 years
  • Cast iron steam boilers: 35 years
  • Electric steam boilers: 15 years
  • Gas or oil furnaces: 18 years
  • Electric radiant heaters: 10 years
  • Hot water or steam radiant heaters: 25 years
  • Ductwork: 30 years
  • Reciprocating packaged chillers: 20 years
  • Centrifugal and absorption packaged chillers: 23 years
  • Galvanized metal and wood cooling towers: 20 years
  • Ceramic cooling towers: 34 years

Factors Affecting HVAC System Service Life

Two systems of the same make and model may start out with the same specifications, but when installed in different commercial facilities, they lead entirely different lives. One building’s unit may fail at the early end of the estimated service life range while the other lasts well beyond it. This is because the system’s installation, preventative maintenance care, and usage over the years play a huge role in reducing or extending usable service life.

As you work to determine the life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit in your building, start with the average age mentioned above and consider how these key factors have likely impacted your system over the years.

Quality of Installation

For a commercial HVAC system to function properly, precise installation services are necessary. Errors in installation create system flaws that increase wear and tear to components and cause the unit to operate at lower-efficiency levels. Commercial HVAC equipment should always be installed by a licensed, qualified commercial heating and cooling professional.

Proper Maintenance Care

All commercial heating and cooling equipment requires regular maintenance services to keep equipment in good working order. Failure to perform routine maintenance services for a building’s comfort system can greatly shorten the life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit. Poor maintenance allows wear and tear to damage components, reduces system energy efficiency, and places the equipment under unnecessary stress, which ultimately causes parts or the unit as a whole to fail sooner than expected.

Usage & Operating Conditions

Usage habits have a great impact on system service life. A unit that runs constantly will experience more wear and tear than a unit that is used conservatively over the same time period. A building’s HVAC system usage is influenced by building size, occupancy, business operations, production activities, climate conditions, and more. 

The climate and location of the building impact which systems are in use more during a typical year. Direct sunlight to outdoor components can add stress during operation. Equipment accumulates more dust in dry, arid areas while HVAC systems in areas with high humidity are burdened with dehumidification needs. Whether or not indoor air quality equipment was utilized alongside the commercial HVAC system factors into the usage of the heating or cooling unit. Outside stressors causing wear and tear also affect the life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit.

When to Start Searching for Replacement Options

The average life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit adjusted by the factors specific to your facility can provide you with an informed estimation of when your system will need to be replaced. However, nothing is for certain, so it is wise to start planning for or go ahead and replace your HVAC equipment when these points apply to your system:

  • Current service life is nearing the average life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit of its type.
  • Malfunctions occur frequently, requiring commercial HVAC repairs.
  • Visible signs of wear and tear and/or damage such as rust or corrosion.
  • Utilizes outdated and inefficient technologies such as R-22 refrigerant and single-speed motors.
  • Unable to keep up with current heating and cooling demand or keep the building comfortable.
  • Energy expenses increase without explanation.

Commercial HVAC Installation in Indianapolis

If you suspect the life expectancy of a commercial HVAC unit in your Indianapolis area facility is coming to an end, replacement is also near. Star Heating & Cooling provides expert installation of commercial heating and cooling equipment for buildings throughout Central Indiana. Contact us today to request a quote for commercial HVAC installation.