Category Archives: Heating AC Installed Cost and Add-Ons

Can A 13 SEER AC Unit Make Sense For Energy Efficiency?

I’m visiting this week with some former Austin neighbors who now live at 8,000 feet elevation in the mountains above the town of Ruidoso, NM. They just had a new house built and, being curious about their new HVAC system, I took at look at the outside AC unit. When I looked at the energy efficiency rating and saw only 13 SEER, my first thought was this: their builder ripped them off! Then, I remembered my hosts saying that, even thought it’s mid-August, they had only run their AC system for a few hours on two afternoons all summer. Luckily, I had not embarrassed myself by thinking out loud.

My next stops were under the house and in the attic. There I saw a gas furnace rated at 97% efficiency (the efficiency range of new furnaces is about 80-98%) and super thick insulation. Thinking it though, and knowing about the “whole house” approach to energy use and conservation, the reasons for their choices became clear. Due to the high elevation, colder winters, and minimal need for air conditioning, they spent proportionally more on passive solar design and windows, high-efficiency heating, and extra insulation to retain more heat.

Coming from Austin, with its long, oven-hot, subtropical summers, at first it seems a bit ironic that relatively low efficiency AC equipment of any kind can make sense.  However, when considering what my friends did with the extra money that higher efficiency equipment would have cost (or other energy use that was avoided in not generating the income to buy overkill efficiency) the interconnections do get interesting.  The focus of this post is on a new system. For a list of way you can lower utility bills and energy usage on your existing equipment, visit this page.

Compare Bids for a New Heating AC System AND Anticipate Contractor Add-On Costs

Comparing Equipment Features
Attempting to compare heating and AC brands, or shopping for features get the most attention from buyers. We wrote about this in last month’s blog and in other place.  We provide a free grid to compare new equipment cost at a glance. From your research or bids, you can fill in the blanks on this printable chart to cut through the “noise” and understand the equipment efficiency and other objective features. However, this equipment must be installed as a system in the structural environment of your home or building, which has variables. So, on to our main topic.

Preparing for What ELSE Might be Necessary to get a New HVAC System Installed
In situations where the new heating and cooling equipment is going into an existing structure (as contrasted with new construction) there are some major potential “gotchas” to prepare for.  I’ve experienced this personally, so hopefully you can benefit from my lessons, some of which were costly. Two good examples of this are electrical wiring and ductwork. They both have the potential to be significant “add ons” to the scope of the work in the project.

Electrical Wiring
If you are having central heating and AC installed into an existing structure for the first time, be sure to get info about wiring conditions.  This would be especially true for a older home or building with original wiring.  Essentially, you want to make sure that the wiring, connections, and circuit breakers, etc. can safely and efficiently handle the new load. If they cannot, you will experience circuit breakers tripping or perhaps much worse.  Because inadequate wiring will increase the cost of a job or might slow down the decision to buy a new system,  some equipment installers might be tempted to not bring it up at all. Or, they might focus the discussion on the new equipment first, get that signed, then bring up the wiring issue and cost.  This is also true for an older structure that already has central heat and air, but needs them replaced.

If your home or building already has ductwork, there are several parallels with electrical wiring to consider:

– The existing ductwork might be usable, OR it may need to replaced due to its structure, design or condition.

– Most potential issues can be seen ahead of time, but some could be discovered during installation of the new system.

– Project add-ons can be  awkward to negotiate or expensive to buy, because work has already begun.

The solution: Focus First on Getting High Quality Advice and Labor on the Installation
We rarely miss an opportunity to highlight the variable that matters most in heating and AC: the quality of the installation.  If you choose a dealer whose sales reps and technicians are trained, experienced and  ethical, dealing effectively with existing wiring or ductwork should be automatic. That way, you can be sure to get the right equipment for your situation and needs AND deal with potential variables in the original project scope.

If you and your contractor handle it well, getting a new system installed will be the start of a long-term relationship that includes preventative maintenance. There are also manufacturer and possibly installer warranties to consider, and those will be the topic of our next blog post.

If you find this useful, please share your thoughts and experiences with other reads. If not, let us know how we can improve.