Tag Archives: replace

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.

 

Buyer’s Guide To Heating and Air Conditioning Says “HVAC Equipment Brands Are Less Important Than Quality of Installation”

We frequently get asked this question:

“Why would a buyer’s guide not list equipment by brands, models and features so we can compare them?”

A blog is a great forum in which to explain this. For easier reading and response, we will answer in a top 5 list:

1. The brand that is on the new equipment matters much less than correct installation.  It is often stated among insiders that a good HVAC technician can make lousy equipment heat or cool OK, while a poorly trained or inexperienced technician might not make the best equipment in the world heat or cool reliably or efficiently.  We’re not saying cut corners on the equipment¬—we are saying focus first on the training and experience of the company and employees who will install your equipment. Then let them explain which types of equipment you should consider. Remember, these are also the folks who will provide maintenance or warranty work on your system.

2. Heating and A/C systems are made up of components that can be mixed and matched, yet contain some common elements, such as air handlers. Rating new equipment either by brand or piece by piece like TV sets is not very useful. Just because two pieces of equipment will physically fit or function together does not make doing so a good idea for optimum results, however.  It is true that a manufacturer’s suggestion of equipment models to be matched is preferred over a “field match”. 

3. Some of the mixing and matching of components can involve existing equipment, such as your ductwork. Unless there is new construction or a total system replacement involved, some existing equipment may be used. Here we get back to quality of installation and the integrity of the installer. If your existing ductwork is used and it has an interior problem (such as mold or contamination) or unsealed leaks, then comparisons of equipment features such as efficiency are much less relevant.  Look out for low bids that cut corners on ductwork, old inadequate wiring or other use of existing equipment.

4. Once must consider features and specifications listed by manufacturers or even independent testing organizations, as they relate to conditions and the envelope of the structure where it will be installed. 

5. There are more brands of equipment than manufacturers of components.  Therefore, some brands share common internal parts.  As an example, look at the common ownership among the brands listed on the lower part of this page . Out of ten major brands, depending on how they are counted, there are about six companies who control them.

As a quick recap, points 2,3, and 4 above reinforce point #1: the integrity of the installation will affect your overall satisfaction and comfort more than the brand of equipment.  A quality HVAC service company will guide you on your equipment options and then install them correctly.  However you go about making your comparisons, start with the quality of the installer first. Then compare features and benefits of the equipment.  You can use our free comparison grid to help.

Helpful Steps for Choosing a New Furnace or to Replace Your Central Heating System

What types of fuels or sources of heat are available to your home or building
Before spending too much time researching heating systems, you must determine which fuels or external heat sources are available to your home or building. This will provide the initial list of choices you have.  For example, if gas is not readily available, gas/electric dual fuel heat pumps are off the list.  Further, if surrounded by solid rock close to the earth’s surface, then you are much less likely to consider geothermal heating.

Your climate: number of days with high temperatures below freezing
If your location has many days of sub-freezing high temperatures, this will likely cause an all electric heat pump to be in auxiliary heat mode more than you would want. If the source of that auxiliary heat is strip heating (electricity) there may be better alternatives.

Type of construction of your home or building: basement, attic space and existing heating infrastructure
If your home or building has existing piping or ductwork already in a floor, basement or attic and it is in good condition, you will need to factor this in your decision.

We recently were told an account of a homeowner in Montana who had piping for radiant heating in their concrete slab.  The piping sprung a leak and, assuming it was all bad, the owner got bids to bypass the old piping and a new system.  A quick excavation revealed a nick in the old piping system that dated back to its installation, not degradation.  So, uncovering the cause saved an unnecessary expense.

If you are considering the re-use of existing ductwork, be sure that your price quotes or bids address the condition of the existing ducts.  Include interior condition as well as sealing against air leaks.

Forced air systems vs. radiant heat: personal comfort and preferences
Do you prefer warm or hot air blowing into your rooms from  a forced air system or gradual warming through radiant heat?  Within the blowing warm air category, if there is an all electric heat pump involved, the air that comes out of the vents into your rooms will not likely be as warm as the air from a gas furnace. If you are cold natured or have respiratory issues or allergies, these factors could also affect your decision.

Length of time you plan to own your home or building, if known
If you know you will be there many years, this could affect the type of system you select. Reason: a future owner might not place the same value on your type of new system as you do.  With fuel costs mostly going up,  a higher efficiency system is still recommended, though.

Training, experience and integrity of installation companies you are considering
As written elsewhere on our website, the quality of the installation of your furnace or heating system will likely prove to be a bigger variable to your indoor comfort and satisfaction than the brand of equipment  you select.  Go here to read a quick list of tips on how to select a heating and furnace contractor.

Four parts to the cost of ownership of the life of a system
Over the life of your new furnace or central heating system, there are four types of costs to consider. You can read our blog post in May 2008 to learn more details about these.

  • Initial cost of installed equipment
  • Energy efficiency: cost of fuel or energy to operate the system over the life of the system
  • Maintenance cost over the life of the system
  • Life span and replacement cost at end of life of system

We hope these tips will help you stay warm and enjoy lower energy usage and bills!  Please post your experiences.