Category Archives: Repair vs. Replace AC Heating

Deciding To Repair Or Replace Your A-C System When Money Is Tight

To stay current on trends, we monitor several air-conditioning and heating industry blogs and HVAC email lists.  In them we are reading that a lot of homeowners are asking their local service company to do just the bare minimum to keep their AC or heating system running.  In recent blogs, we have written on related topics, such as:

a- Initial installation cost may not be highest cost item of owning a heating and air conditioning system over its life. It could be electricity/fuel costs or even a combination of maintenance and repair costs. 
b- Alternative sources of financing, such as a local community-chartered credit union. In those, a person does not have to work at a job related to the credit union. Rather it is based on residency or some easy-to-meet requirement.
c- $1,500 Tax credits, manufacturer or utility rebates or financing for purchasing a new a/c and heating system.

Given the current squeeze on household budgets, the request to avoid a major purchase or to minimize cash outlay is certainly understandable.   Of course, if someone is requesting the minimum repair, chances are they are not calling for service until their system fails to cool or heat properly.  However, If the system is old enough that replacement parts can no longer be sourced, or if a major component such as a heat exchanger or AC compressor has failed, even the minimum repair estimate may large enough to cause a cost/benefits dilemma with your current system.

When facing a major repair or even a modest service work on an older heating and AC system (generally, 10 years is considered old, especially in regards to efficiency), we are listing: 

Seven Useful Questions For Repair Or Replacing Your A-C Heating System

1- How long do you plan to own your home or building?
2- How much have your repair bills averaged costing over the past 1-2 years?
3- Do you believe electricity and fuel costs will tend to go down, stay the same, or go up?
4- What other repairs might you be facing in the near future, other than the issue at hand right now?
5- How much would you save on your monthly utility bills in electricity and gas costs with the new system?
6- How much are the total rebates and tax credits available on a new system?
7- How many months will it take to pay back the cost of the new AC and heating system? After that initial payback period, how much will I get in return each month as a return on my investment?

If there is literally nowhere to turn for the funds to give you a choice, then you may only have to keep your cash outlay as low as possible. However, if you do have choices, making the decision to go with more efficient equipment could pay a monetary return of and on  your investment.  Your local HVAC service company should be able to answer questions 4, 5, 6, and 7.  With these, you should then be able to make a well informed decision.  We welcome your comments and experiences.


Comparison of repair vs. replace A/C and heating calculators

In this post, we compare three calculators or decision tools for the cost of replacing vs. repairing your HVAC equipment. Since the approach of each of these resources is different, you might try two or three of them to get a broader perspective of costs.

In projections such as these, there is no way to avoid variables in the future, such as repair bills resulting from keeping an older HVAC system going, the price of fuels or utilities, and how hot or cold it’s going to be over time. Therefore, any calculator must make assumptions, standardize or have you project some of the variables.

A quick bit of advice on browsers and online tools in general: if a tool or form such as a cost calculator does not work using one browser, before giving up, try another one. Example: if you are using Mozilla Firefox and an online tool does not seem to work correctly, copy and paste the address into Internet Explorer and see if it works there.

Energy Star Checklist

Rather than making cost projections and entering numbers in a calculator, the approach this government website takes starts with a quick question and answer format. If you have taken the time to gather 12 months of utility bills, at the bottom of the page, there is a link to calculator called the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick.

Calculator From Service Experts

In the text, it says that if your system was installed before 2000, that you might want to consider replacing it based on age and energy bill savings based on across-the-board improvements in efficiency. This tool, built within the graphics of a thermostat, has a pull down to select the state in which you live. The national average is the default. It calculates savings over 5 years.

Calculator From Aire Serv

This calculator displays one field at a time. After you enter a number in the field and click on the word “tab”, it moves to the next field and saves the previous information. There are a total of 7 fields done in 3 entries. At the end, you can change one variable and recalculate cost or savings without having to enter all data again. Assuming you have already have data such as your utility costs handy, entering the numbers only takes a few minutes.

A couple of parting thoughts
Comparison tools like the three above are merely a starting point. If you select a thorough local HVAC company, they will have actual measuring devices and more sophisticated calculations that take into account your home and its “envelope” (interface with outside air). On-site price quotes for new systems are generally no cost. Also, some utility companies sponsor free energy audits. If you live in one of the cities in the right column of our website home page, on that page there will be a link to some of these programs.

Prices for A/C and heating repair labor, parts and utilities tend to go up rather than down. If using historical numbers, where this has not been factored in, keep it in mind.