Often, when looking at buying a new central A/C and heating system, prospective owners tend to focus primarily on the initial cost. With the rising costs of everything from food to fuel putting a big squeeze on all our pocketbooks, most of us have to pay attention to make sure we have more funds coming in every month than going out.
The fact that our website has a cost comparison grid might reinforce the natural tendency of our readers to focus too much on the initial cost. I recently read a really good article that reminded me of the following:
A lot more goes into the ongoing cost of AC system ownership than initial cost – there are really four parts to the total cost picture.
Approached in a different sequence than normal, those four parts are:
- Monthly energy costs in utility bills
- Maintenance and repair
- Eventual replacement cost (10 or more years, historically)
- Initial cost of the system and installation
Before going further, let’s take out the biggest variable of all, which is the quality of the installation of your new equipment. In HVAC circles, it is often said that a skilled technician can make even a lousy AC system cool your place, while an inexperienced technician might not be able to make the best AC system cool at all. So for this article, we’ll assume that whatever system you choose will be professionally installed and equally well. Of course, this includes the having the correct size and type equipment for your home or building. This leaves the four costs above to consider:
Monthly energy costs in utility bills
Other factors kept equal, energy efficiency of the new equipment is the primary driver of monthly energy cost. Of course, more efficient equipment costs more. It usually has more features, such as variable speed blowers, more copper, and more sophisticated controls. If the electricity and gas portion of your utility bill for heating and cooling only total $60 /month, this could be the largest part of your eventual and total cost of owning your new A/C and heating system. So, higher efficiency costs more up front, but will pay back a part of the extra cost each month in lower bills.
Maintenance and repair
As covered in our blog last month, regular maintenance will pay for itself in lower repair costs and more efficient operation. Don’t skimp on it. You should select a local company you trust and ask for their candid input on which equipment will have the lowest maintenance cost and factor that in. In the HVAC trade journals, I see a trend of manufacturers offering up to 10-year warranties on major components to the original purchaser. Ask about this and include it on your cost comparison grid.
Eventual replacement cost
Of the four parts of total cost, this one is the most subjective. Before you spend too much time on it, think about how long are you likely to stay in your current home or building. Ask your HVAC company for their opinion and what they base it on. Also, remember that if energy prices keep going up, lower efficiency equipment will reach economic obsolescence faster (and probably before the equipment wears out mechanically).
Our HVAC equipment cost comparison grid helps to cut through the noise to understand the initial cost at a glance.
Taking a bit of time to go through these will help you avoid buyer’s remorse, experience more comfort indoors and save money on your monthly bill.