How Long Should a Heat Pump Last


Heat pumps are essential to heating and cooling your home, especially during summer and winter months. But buying a heat pump is a significant investment, so it makes sense to know how long a heat pump system will last.

So, how long should a heat pump last? A heat pump system will last about 15 years. The lifespan of a heat pump largely depends on how well the heat pump system is maintained, climate, and location. A well-maintained heat pump can last 20-25 years. In coastal climates, a heat pump may only last about 10 years.

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In this article, we’ll tackle various topics as we address this pertinent question, beginning with how a heat pump works, signs that your unit needs a replacement, and finally, a breakdown of how different factors affect the functioning hence the life expectancy of heat pumps. Let’s jump right in.

The level of maintenance can increase the lifespan of your heat pump up to 10 years. The table below outlines a reasonable expectation for how long the heat pump will last based on how well the system is maintained.

Important Routine Maintenance Items:

Level of Routine Maintenance Split Heat Pump Package Heat Pump Ductless Heat Pump
No Maintenance  10-15 years 12-15 Years 8-12 Years
Low Maintenance (1-2 Items) 15-18 years 15-18 Years 12-15 Years
Some Maintenance (2-3 Items) 18-20 years 18-22 Years 15-18 Years
All Maintenance (4 items) 21-25 years 22-25 Years 18-20 Years

How Does a Heat Pump Work?

A heat pump is a type of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) device. It’s an all-in-one system that performs both heating and cooling functions. Simply put, a heat pump transfers heat energy from one location that is at a lower temperature to another warmer area.

This heat exchange happens through a refrigerant gas that moves between two heat exchangers. 

In cooling mode, a heat pump transfers heat from inside your home to the outside. In heating mode, a heat pump extracts heat from the outside and moves it inside. See our article Does a Heat Pump Bring Outside Air Indoors?

How Can You Tell When Your Heat Pump Needs Replacement?

After using your heat pump for several years, even with routine cleaning and maintenance, your heat pump will still eventually need to be replaced. Here are some telltale signs to look out for:

Unusually Loud, Strange Noises and a Strange Smell

Heat pumps generally produce some noises when starting up or shutting down, when switching to defrost mode, or even a constant humming during operation. These are all normal.

But if you suddenly notice a change in the sounds coming from your system, it’s best to get a technician to check it out. If the problem persists, then it’s your cue to buy a new unit.

Heat pumps vibrate naturally. However, this vibration usually will worsen over time. As this occurs, it can damage parts, cause a gas leak, or your heat pump can become unlevel.

Foul smells are also signs to look out for. If it can’t be fixed by filter maintenance or replacement, then it’s likely a more significant problem like mold or mildew build up in the unit on the evaporator coil or inside the ductwork. 

Failure to Heat or Cool as per the Temperature Setting

Heat pumps are meant to produce warm or cold air according to the temperature setting. When this becomes faulty, your heat pump starts producing cold air when you’ve set it to warm (or vice versa).

This can be due to a failed reversing valve or a check valve inside your heat pump. This is a common occurrence with older systems. Confirm that the problem is not a simple obstruction, then start shopping for a new unit.

Reduced Airflow

If your system is not operating at its best, a significant decrease in airflow can be noted. If a technician can’t correct this, then a new heat pump is your best option. 

Leaking of the Refrigerant or Excess Condensation

A little condensation is a normal occurrence with heat pumps. But if you notice your appliance dripping any fluid inside or outside, you had better call the technicians. This is not only a nuisance but also a safety concern. When combined with advancement in the age of your unit, it’s a clear indicator that you need to replace your heat pump. 

High Energy Bills

Heat pumps are one of the most energy-efficient HVAC systems. If that efficiency is lost, you are bound to get increased energy bills. Of course, an energy audit is necessary to ascertain if your heat pump is the reason for the spike in energy costs. 

If your heat pump is the culprit, first work on thoroughly servicing the unit, after covering all your bases, but the high bills keep coming, then your heat pump may just be too old to work efficiently any more.

Frequent Need for Repairs Long After the Warranty Expires

As we’ve seen so far, it’s not shocking for your heat pump to malfunction and require some fixing once in a while (even if you service it regularly). But when you begin doing frequent significant repairs or replacements, you may need to think about the cost implications and just opt for a new unit.

Factors That Affect the Lifespan of Your Heat Pump

Typically, heat pumps can function for 15-20 years. Several factors determine whether this lifespan will be shorter or longer. Some of these things are within your control, while some are just inevitable.

Here’s a list of the factors that determine your heat pump’s longevity:

Manufacturer Comparison

There are several manufacturers of heat pumps. Different brands offer different quality of heat pumps. Looking at factors like pricing, the quality of the machine’s components, and the warranties, you’ll find that not all heat pumps are bound to last you as long as they should.

Here is a list of the top 10 heat pump manufacturers. PickHVAC has taken the time to rank them according to their performance to help you make your choice.

Brand Components Warranty Price Total Efficiency (SEER)
Tempstar Excellent Excellent Excellent 9 Up to 19
Goodman Very Good Excellent Excellent 8 Up to 19
Daikin Very Good Excellent Very Good 7 Up to 23
Maytag Very Good Very Good Very Good 6 Up to 20
York Very Good Very Good Very Good 6 Up to 20
American Standard Excellent Good Good  5 Up to 22
Trane Excellent  Good Good 5 Up to 22
Carrier Excellent  Good Good 5 Up to 21
Bryant Excellent  Good Good 5 Up to 21
Armstrong Very Good Good Very Good 5 Up to 21
Source: PickHvac: Best Heat Pump Brands & Models Reviews 2020

Key:

  • Excellent = 3 points
  • Very good = 2 points
  • Good = 1 point

Installation

One factor that’s probably more important than the brand of heat pump you pick is the installer you choose. Installation of heat pumps should be handled with great caution and by professionals who’ll ensure it’s properly done by following the correct procedures. If done wrongly, it may affect the lifespan of the unit.  

Level of Maintenance

You can extend your heat pump’s lifespan by ensuring proper and regular heat pump service maintenance. This includes regularly cleaning the device, changing the air filters, and ensuring the defrost feature is functioning optimally. According to experts, regularly serviced heat pumps can last an additional two to three years.

Climate

This is one of the factors that are out of your control. If you live in a place with longer and colder winters, it means your heat pump will be running longer and harder. This may significantly reduce its lifespan.

Location

Heat pumps in coastal regions notably have a shorter lifespan. The salty atmosphere is the reason for this because it is corrosive and slowly degrades the equipment in the long run.

Usage 

Overuse or wrong usage also reduces the life expectancy of heat pumps. For example, running the system with doors and windows open.

Conclusion

Your heat pump makes life easier by keeping you comfortable during hot summers and through the cold winters. It’s efficiency, however, cannot last forever. To enjoy your smooth-running, energy-efficient heat pump for many years, here are some things under your control that you can do to enjoy its longevity:

  • Buy a high-quality unit  
  • Get a professional installer
  • Perform regular check-ups and cleaning of the system 
  • Do regular maintenance and timely repairs
  • Use your unit correctly

What is more, you should watch out for signs that may mean you need a replacement (especially after using your unit for several years). These signs include:

  • Strange noises and smell
  • Inconsistencies between the air produced and the settings
  • Reduced airflow
  • Leakages
  • Spike in energy costs
  • Frequent repairs after warranty expire

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Sources

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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