Be Cool and Avoid Disaster: Six Pitfalls to Avoid When Buying a New AC or Furnace

If your air conditioner or furnace just died, you’re facing some quick and tough decisions. Now is the time to take a deep breath and not rush to an uninformed decision.  The top mistakes people make when purchasing a new heating or cooling system are:

  1. Ignoring SEER – The higher the SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) rating the more efficient the unit, which translates to less money spent each month heating or cooling your home. A 13 SEER rating is the minimum; 15 SEER is good; above 16 is high efficiency. A high efficiency system can cut your energy bills in half when compared to an old 8 SEER unit and also provides many comfort benefits.
  2. Missing rebate opportunities – Many states and manufacturers offer rebates to help offset the costs of some systems, particularly those that are higher efficiency.  In fact, some states offer as much as $1500 in rebates. Talk to your contractor or visit www.dsireusa.org to learn more.
  3. Only getting one estimate – Prices and options will vary, as will service contracts, installation costs, and permits.  Shop around and compare apples to apples.
  4. Going for the lowest price – A low price does not always equal the best value. A higher efficiency system might cost an extra $800 up front, but could save you $300 per year in energy costs. Over the life of the system, typically 12-15 years, you would be saving significant dollars by paying a little more for the higher efficiency system.
  5. Not considering maintenance contracts – Maintenance is necessary to keep your system functioning in optimal conditions over the life of the unit.  Over time dirt, debris, and other foreign substances can cause build up in your system, erode electrical connections and cause other damage that is expensive to replace.  In addition, the buildup can cause a 14 SEER unit to perform like a 10 SEER one, making your system work harder and your utility bills higher. Ensuring your system is clean and maintained annually can extend the life of your system and help you avoid expensive and preventable repairs in the future.
  6. Not paying attention to refrigerant – R-22, which might be referred to by a brand name like Freon®, has been restricted from use in all new units produced after 2009. As an ozone-depleting gas, new R-22 refrigerant should not be used in  new systems.  If you’re buying a new system make sure it uses R-410A or a similar approved refrigerant. In some cases repairs can be made to existing systems using the R-22 refrigerant that is already in your old system or it can be repaired and recharged with “re-claimed” and recycled R-22 refrigerant from other old systems.

Buying a new air conditioner or furnace is a big decision.  Take the time to make it a good one.  Have you recently replaced your system?  Tell us what you learned before your purchase!

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42 thoughts on “Be Cool and Avoid Disaster: Six Pitfalls to Avoid When Buying a New AC or Furnace

  1. We bought a home last fall and after 2 weeks of living in it the air conditioner went out. (Thank goodness winter came). I have gotten 2 estimates. $4450.00 and $6664.00. Neither one said it included a maintenance contract. The more expensive one said we had duct board and that it is bad on our lungs. I can’t believe the price difference and how expensive this process is. Also, we have baseboard heat which we love. Does every air conditioner come with a heater?

    • hope, Here are a few suggestions:

      Every AC does not come with a heater although sometimes it is better to go ahead and replace both when you replace one of them depending on the age and run hours

      Some AC systems are “heat pump” systems that can run as a heater in the winter months. There are many articles and post about heat pumps on this site so you might want to use the search tool to look for those.

      Some duct board is worse than others. You might get a few opinions from different contractors on whether yours is causing any problems.

      The prices you shared are not surprising but prices tend to vary greatly based your location and on the efficiency and some of the comfort features you choose (e.g. capacity modulation)

      We always suggest that you talk to a few different contractors about your various equipment options before deciding to make sure you and the contractor are on the same page.

      I hope this helps answer some of you questions.

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