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

  1. I have a Magic Pak combination heater and a/c that is used for heating and cooling my condo unit.. I would like to know if it would be wise to just purchase the heater and A/c have them installed in to the old Magic Pak case. It would run me a little over four thousand for the heater and a/c. Also would these items be covered under the various warranties and work specifications?

    • Hi Paul – it depends on the age of your system and maybe the run time it has experienced. On average, HVAC systems in the US are replaced after about 14-16 years more or less depending on the run time (i.e. long cooling season, whether it is a heat pump, etc). Warranties also have limited timelines so you might check when your warranty is over. In general, trying to fit all new system components into your existing frame might get to be too expensive due to replacement parts and labor to rebuild it. Depending on the age you might be better off replacing it unless it just needs minor repairs. I hope this helps answer your questions. Thanks for using our site!

  2. Have a Air-conditioner that leaks coolant, its 18 years old. Home Depot came out and did a estimate and they said it’s best to change the furnace too?
    Would that be the best to do or are they trying to get me in the furnace? 3,600 with out and 5,800 with furnace

    • HVAC systems in the US usually last about 14-16 years on average before they are replaced, depending on run time, where you are geographically and whether it is a heat pump that runs year round. At that age, you might be better off with a whole new unit with a new warranty, etc. However, if the contractor thinks your furnace is ok then you can save a little on the deal but you might be calling them back in a year or two to replace the furnace too and then you will end up paying another trip/job charge. You could also look at an AC heat pump and keep your old furnace for just the coldest days and keep the run time down on it. This is called a “dual fuel” approach because you can switch from the electric heat pump to the gas furnace based on the relative fuel costs. You might have to ask around to find a contractor familiar with this approach but a lot of people are doing this when they have an old furnace but need a new AC. We always recommend talking to a few different contractors just to make sure you find one that is on the same page with you. Good luck and thanks for using or site.

  3. 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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