Replacing Your Central Air Conditioner?

Couple happily reviews electricity bills that lowered since they replaced their HVAC system

Originally published on November 12, 2012

10 Things You Should Know about AC Units

Maybe your old central air conditioner has quit working, and you think you need a replacement.  Maybe you want to upgrade to a more energy-efficient or environmentally-friendly system. Maybe you’re not sure what to do.

Whatever the reason you’re considering a new air conditioner or furnace, you’ll want to go through this handy checklist to make sure you are shopping for the right equipment and asking contractors the right questions.

1.  How much time do I really have to replace my system?

Click here to learn how to put time on your side to get the right equipment for your needs.

2.  Do I really need to replace my entire system or can it be repaired?

Click here to see the many factors facing the repair vs. replace decision.

3.  How much space am I trying to cool (and has it changed since the old AC was installed)?

Click here to learn how you might need more or less cooling and heating power based on changes in your home or workspace.

4.  Do I want something more than “just cold air”?

Click here to read about how improvements in comfort, energy costs and the environment can make you feel better and save you money.

5.   Do I really need to cool the whole house all the time?

Click here to see how some common suggestions can actually lead to bigger problems.

6.  Is there really anything new in air conditioning?

Click here for an overview of new technologies available today and what they mean to you.

7.  Are there unique needs in my region of the country?

Click here to see how where you live might determine the type of equipment you should buy.

8.  Should I replace my furnace if I replace my air conditioner?

Click here to learn how your air conditioner and furnace work together… and apart.

9.  Should I invest in a programmable thermostat?

Click here to see how you can save 20-30% on your energy bill without changing your routine.

10.  How do I know which contractor to hire?

Click here for insights into how to ask the right questions and select the best contractor for your situation.


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80 thoughts on “Replacing Your Central Air Conditioner?

  1. We just replaced our AC unit. 3 months later water in the basement due to the pump Not being replaced at the same time by the contractor. Isn’t the pump a significant part of replacing the new unit? Of course now told the pump not included in the warranty because it was not replaced. Should it hv been? The old unit was 17 years old. Thx

  2. W e have an HVAC unit that is 22 years old and finally quit. We have Insurance, but the contractor quoted us over $1400 when the normal fee is only $60. The contractor said it was due to changes in city codes and that he had to replace some of the piping that runs from AC to inside of home and attic unit. How on earth could it be that expensive? Why do we have to pay for all new piping? Why wouldn’t insurance cover these costs?

    • Hi Jodi – most contractors replace the refrigerant lines (piping) when replacing older units because they have to switch to the new refrigerant and oil for the new systems and it is better to start with clean pipes that have no residual oil in them. These lines also fatigue over time at the braze joints so the probability is higher for leaks and losing your whole refrigerant charge later which could be expensive to fix. I hope this helps answer some of your questions.

  3. we have a 1600 sqf house outside temp never exceeds more than 90 DEGREES. Average a/c usage is one mth out of a year. the unit is about 20 years old. I have
    a repair cost of $1200. What is the average labor cost to replace a 3-ton unit. I have asked the couple of repair people, have not got no answer or estimate on the replacement cost. Everyone is willing to repair the old unit. Can you pls advise what is involved in replacing the old unit, of course other than the cost of the unit. The main structure of the house has not changed ever since the old unit was installed.

    • Hi Faisal – typical labor associated with installing a new AC unit includes: removing and disposing of the old unit (including refrigerant reclaim), installing new refrigerant lines running to the indoor unit, brazing the lines, evacuating the lines, recharging with refrigerant, running new wiring if needed and modifying ductwork if needed, among other things. These costs vary from location to location, throughout the season and from job to job depending on the complexities involved. In most cases these can be pretty high – approaching $1,000 unless they are doing a partial replacement. I hope this helps answer some of your questions.

  4. We have moved into a 1600 sf home and have a home warranty on the major appliances. The air conditioner isn’t able to keep the temp at 68 degrees without running almost constantly thru the day. It is cool by morning but not comfortable during daytime. The home warranty people have unstuck a valve and refilled the refrigerant, but the air conditioner is about 15 years old. Should we look into replacing it or keep trying to get them to find something?? Do you recommend air and furnace or just air if the furnace is doing ok…

    • On average HVAC systems in the US are about 14-16 years old when they are replaced. They tend to last a little longer in the north due to the lower AC run hours and heat pumps tend to have shorter lives since they run all year round (heating and cooling). It is a pretty common practice to replace just the AC and keep the furnace. Lately, some people have been keeping their furnace (if it is still in good shape) but upgrading the AC to a higher efficiency (16 SEER or greater) heat pump with at least two steps of capacity modulation. This could provide both comfort and energy benefits over the minimum 13/14 SEER systems. Using the heat pump in the spring and fall seasons should provide additional energy savings over your (gas?) furnace but then you can run the furnace during the coldest parts of the season when the heat pump efficiency goes down with lower ambient temperatures (below around 15F). They also call these systems “dual fuel” systems because you can use gas heat or electric (heat pump) based on the relative prices of gas or electricity. I hope this helps to answer some of your questions.

  5. I have a two story home with a single heat pump. How much should it cost to replace my single heat pump with two units. I have 2700sqft to heat and cool. I was quoted at 15k.

    • Prices vary by geography and by equipment and by installer. The price you referenced would be in line with others we have seen recently but we recommend getting a few different quotes to make sure you are satisfied with the contractor and with your equipment decision – size, capacity, efficiency, etc..

      I hope this helps to answer some of your questions.

  6. My AC runs but the flow of air varies from room to room. Some rooms feel almost as if no air is coming out. It takes an extremely long time for my house to cool down and it never really reaches the temp I want it. I had someone come out and refill the coolant but that didn’t seem to help. Does anyone know what might be the problem?

    • Hi Arturo, one simple thing you might check is to see if all your returns are working. If you have a room with only a cool air supply and no warm air return you would need to keep the door to that room open so the warm air in the room can move back into the hallway or wherever your return vent is located. If the door is closed in a room with no dedicated return it is like you are practically blocking off the supply to that room. The pressure builds up in the room and the cool air is slowed from coming out.

      You can also check for leaks in your ductwork or other blockages. Sometimes people put something on flex duct in an attic or crawl space or there are tears and holes. This can affect air flow through the house. If none of these simple checks work for you it might be best to call a local HVAC contractor to check for other problems. Most of them have tools to measure airflow and blower operation.

      I hope this helps.

    • Hi Gloria – depending on the size of the coil, your location and the other parts you might need to change this could cost between ~$1,000 and $1,500+ for material and labor to install. We also recommend getting 2-3 quotes from different contractors before deciding. I hope this helps to answer some of your questions.

  7. Hi Wanda – Our homeowner research suggests that the typical, U.S. style central AC systems are replaced when they are, on average about 14 years old. This age can vary due to climate and run times i.e. units in the south and heat pumps get replaced sooner due to longer run times experienced in each season. Repairs for an 8 year old system are not uncommon but you might ask the contractor if you can just replace the reversing valve instead of the whole outdoor unit. We also recommend getting 2-3 quotes from different contractors before deciding. I hope this helps to answer some of your questions.

  8. My home and AC unit are almost 8 years old. My home has 2 units 1 each for upstairs and downstairs. I’ve already had to replace the coil on the upstairs unit (900.00) and now i”ve been told that on the reversing valve is stuck in the middle and my unit needs to be replaced. Is this normal, so early in the life of an AC? Of course my home warranty doesn’t cover valves.

  9. I just had a new heating/air conditioning unit replace a day ago; should the tech have replaced the heating coil at the same time? He said that it may have to be replaced at a later if needed. If this is a brand new installation, should everything have been replaced. He left no instructions in writing,nor did he show me the manual. When he left, I found the instruction packet in the yard. When installing the new unit, is the refrigerant included in the entire package? Last question, should he have asked me if I wanted to keep the old unit to scrap it or do they normally take it with them?

    • Hi Beverly – Here are my thoughts on your questions. It sounds like you have a heat pump system (that also works like an air conditioner in the summer) and had the outdoor unit replaced and did not replace the old indoor coil and air handler. My answers assume that is the case – if something else was done, please provide a little more information and I will try to answer later.

      It is fairly common to replace just the outdoor unit of an air conditioner or heat pump and leave the indoor coil and air handler if it is functioning ok and not too old. As long as your old and new unit used the same refrigerant there should not be a problem. If the refrigerant in the new outdoor unit was upgraded to a different refrigerant then there are a few additional steps that need to be done by the contractor but that approach is still pretty common as well.

      If he just changed the outdoor unit there should not be any change in the way you operate your system – it should work the same as before but reading the instructions and keeping them handy would be a good thing to do.

      Refrigerant charging or re-charging would probably have been included in the service charge as the system would not run without it.

      Most contractors include disposal of your old unit in the cost of the job unless you tell them you want to keep it for some reason. Most people just let the contractors take care of the disposal process. Some scrap dealers want the parts separated into various components – copper, steel, aluminum, etc and if you take it to a scrap dealer yourself they might not accept it – plus you have to haul it there and all. Most people just let the contractor handle it. I hope this answers your questions.

      • I hate when they take it without asking. Are you telling me they charge to take it? I hope not they should give a discount for taking it cuz its worth money

        • Hi Kato – You can ask a contractor about that but again, it is often not easy for a person to get it to the scrap dealer and sometimes the dealers charge because it has all the metals mixed up and they have to tear them apart to separate. It is always good to ask though. The contractor should be able to explain your options.

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