Buying Guide For New Air Conditioning and Heating Systems

This section focuses on the main decisions that have to be made when you buy a new air conditioning and heating system.

To work as designed, new A/C and heating equipment must be matched with the circumstances in your home or building and the fuel sources available. Since the installation makes up a large part of the purchase price and overall quality, comparison of brands and shopping for a new HVAC system can get complicated.

Our main goals here are to extract the points that will matter to you the most and provide useful, flexible tools to help you sort through those points.

Regarding Brands of Heating and Air Conditioning Equipment

Over his or her lifetime, a homeowner will not likely buy many air conditioning and heating systems. As customers, unless we have a significant experience that leads us elsewhere, we tend to go for the familiar. For some homeowners, this would hold true with the equipment brand they choose for a new HVAC system.

In our research we purposely took a “brand neutral” approach to the choices in new HVAC systems. We explain why below, but still provide tools to help you include brand in your selection process. If you would like to have a printable grid to help you organize and compare the main efficiency and equipment features by brand including contractor price quotes for installation go here.

Five Factors That Will Influence Your Satisfaction the Most

The following five factors or choices will have the greatest impact on your comfort and overall satisfaction with new air conditioning and heating equipment:

(1) The quality of contractor and their personnel who calculate the load, design your system, and install the new HVAC equipment for your situation.

(2) Having regular maintenance, preferably by the same company. Regardless of who changes them, regular air filter replacements are critical to reliable operation.

(3) Having a reasonably energy efficient house or building (“envelope”) in which the HVAC system operates.

(4) The efficiency rating and (often) related features of the heating and cooling equipment you select.

(5) The manufacturer’s and (if applicable) the installing company’s parts and labor warranties of the following main components: the compressor, evaporator coil, condenser coil, and the heat exchanger/furnace.

Due to consolidations within the industry and global manufacturing, there are fewer manufacturers of major air conditioning and heating components than there are equipment brands. This means some brands have major components in common. A partial list of possible common components within different equipment brands includes: compressors, condenser and evaporator coils, blower motors, and furnaces/heat exchangers.

For those who want to do in depth research, some HVAC industry websites provide a searchable database of equipment. A good example is the CEE Directory of ARI Verified Equipment Remember that the pairing of the equipment, the envelope of your home, and the quality of installation will all affect your satisfaction.

Understanding the Cost of HVAC Equipment and Installation

The cost of the new equipment generally makes up about one-third of the total cost to buy a new air conditioning and heating system. The other two thirds of the cost covers the skilled labor to make the load calculations, installing the system, providing installation warranties, year around overhead costs for the contractor, and profit. Therefore, the total price for a new system is quoted by your local air conditioning and heating contractor, not the equipment manufacturer in the form of a suggested retail price.

For all these reasons, it pays to compare features, benefits and costs of the installed system over its lifetime in your selection process. After you have walked through the steps we suggest, you can still let equipment brand be a key part of your decision.

Due to the technical nature of heating and air conditioning systems and the requirement for electricity, refrigerants, etc., only properly licensed individuals or companies should install them. Installation is clearly not the place to attempt cost cutting on a new HVAC system!

Other factors that affect your decision on when to buy new HVAC equipment

  • Current promotions offered by the manufacturer or dealer/contractor.
  • If there are current rebates, tax credits, incentives, etc. offered by utility companies, or third parties on equipment with particular features, such as efficiency.
  • If there are any rebates or incentives offered by third parties on energy conservation improvements to your home or building
  • If an extended warranty is offered on the major components or system. (Note: if the manufacturer or a third party will sell additional warranty time, this is a good sign of their confidence in it, whether or not you purchase the warranty.)