Buying a New Air Conditioner or Heat Pump?

HVAC technician greeting customer

6 Pitfalls to Avoid

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 air conditioner or heat pump 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 (North AC)/ 14 SEER (South AC and Heat Pump) rating is the minimum; 16 SEER is good; above 18 is high efficiency. A higher efficiency system can significantly reduce 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 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.

Buying a new air conditioner or heat pump 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! Looking for heat pump rebates in your area?


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76 thoughts on “Buying a New Air Conditioner or Heat Pump?

  1. My condenser went out on our a/c. The unit is 10yr. old. but it uses the R-22 and condenser is hard to find. there is no warranty with this unit as we bought this with the home (new home). What are my options?

    • There are some R-22 replacement condensing units available but at 10 years old you might be better off just replacing the whole system. You would probably get a new, more efficient system with a new warranty. There have been a lot of improvements in HVAC tech over the past 10 years so I’d recommend getting several quotes from different contractors which offer different efficiency levels and other features.

  2. Hello our home is 17 years old and we are having issues with our central air making noise so we thinking of replacing both Central Air and gas furnace so we need to replace our duc’s also?

    • It is a good idea to have your contractor inspect the ductwork before installing a new HVAC system to make sure there are no leaks, cleaning or repairs required. Most people do not replace the ductwork unless it is in really bad shape. If you concerned about accumulated dust and debris in your ductwork you might consider upgrading to a premium air filter along with your new HVAC system.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

    • Oh now on July 31 lowes just till me 7208 for furnace and ac, I live in Maryland, were do you live that is cheap up there , I hear that these units are cheaper on spring or fall, I will wait until fall

  5. 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.

      • My condenser went out on my unit. it is using the r-22. the condenser is hard to find for this unit. there is talk that I will have to replace the whole unit outside and the unit in the attic. very costly. what should I do? look harder for a condenser or start getting quotes?

  6. I’ve had very bad luck with warranties and the annual service calls you describe. over the course of 16 years with my last furnace, I had it inspected and cleaned every year for the first five years. I then ratcheted that back to every other year, and when I finally decided to replace the furnace, I asked the firm replacing it to give me an assessment of how well it had been maintained. They complimented me on my ducts which were “immaculate”, and the records kept for the inspections and cleanings. He said the furnace was obviously maintained well, until he opened the blower. He pulled out a disgusting set of blades that should have required a micrometer to measure the thickness, and instead was easily 1/3″ thick with gunk. He said it was most likely it had never been inspected or cleaned. This is across 3-4 service organizations over the 16 years. It was a little more than luck of the draw.I question the inspection process and think replacing filters more frequently than recommended is probably better than annual inspections which could be backed down to every 4 years.

    • Hi Steve – thanks for your excellent comments. I agree that changing filters before every cooling and heating season may not be enough and especially in certain situations – e.g. if the home has high humidity, pets, and other issues that a media filter could have trouble collecting. You also raise a good point about the quality of the filters too. There are many different types of filters and these are a very important part of the overall system approach to yield both good temperature/humidity control as well as good indoor air quality. Having that much stuff on the blower probably also reduced your air flow and the energy efficiency of your system. I have heard about this a few times in posts on this site so we might need to research this a little more and post some more info on this condition. Thanks again for visiting our site and contributing.

  7. Just started the process of info gathering before purchase. Thank you for your information. It is nice to help others and while I do not know anything about AC-Furnace, I make sure my customers are educated so they can make the decision that is right for them. So I believe in “Pass It On”.

  8. I just replaced my entire HVAC system. New 3 ton seer16 package unit, new elbow & stand, work platform & ladder, R8 flex ducting w/dampers (which they moved from strap suspended to the attic floor & buried in insulation ) additional insulation, air sealing, new registers, thermostat. Just about everything that could be replaced. It was VERY pricey, but I just didn’t want to have to deal with problems anymore. My unit was 30 years old & I literally waited until it shook itself apart before replacing it. I don’t recommend withing THAT long, lol because I went without heat for a week during the coldest month of the year getting quotes & waiting for the install to be completed (took them 4 days to get me up & running)
    In 2 weeks I’ll be replacing all the windows through the co. the HVAC co. uses to do insulation & am assured when all is said & done I will likely get about $5k back in rebates.
    They did an energy audit before any work started (& couldn’t even do the duct test since my supply plenum had fallen off along with 2 ducts) so I’m sure I failed the test pretty good.
    If I get the $5k back in rebates the price will seem pretty reasonable in the end. I also got 10 year parts AND labor warranty, 20 year heat exchange warranty (the heat exhange is tin-plated so shouldn’t rust out like the other) + 2 years free maintenance. I’m hoping I never have to worry about any of this stuff again for a long time..

  9. I am looking at a house that was built in 1999. it has a furnace and A/C unit. the furnace was replaced in 2008, the A/C unit is original.
    I live in Oregon, generally not real extreme weather.
    Q: Is it reasonable to replace the A/C with a heat pump? Would that require the furnace be replaced also? Other costs involved? My impression is that a heat pump/ furnace system would be more efficient, is that just my bias? thanks

    • So, the furnace is 8 years old and the AC is 17 years old. On average, AC systems in the US are about 14 years old when they are replaced depending on the run times. For example, AC systems last longer in the North than in the south and heat pumps tend to have shorter lives since they run year round. So, at 17 years old, in Oregon your AC system should have a few more years left and your newer furnace should as well – again, depending on how it was used (run time).
      Lately, people have been replacing AC systems with heat pump systems in situations like yours and just leaving the existing (gas) furnace for days when it is really cold. This is called a “dual fuel” approach because you can switch back and forth from gas to electric depending on the conditions. Heat pumps tend to be more efficient than gas furnaces – especially when it is not really cold (above 15F) in the fall and spring, but their efficiency drops off as the outdoor ambient temperature gets too low. The other factor to consider is the relative costs of gas versus electric in your area. With a dual fuel configuration you can adjust the settings based on outdoor ambient and the prevailing fuel costs and probably save some money on energy. In any case, we recommend getting several quotes from different contractors to make sure you find one that is on the same page with what you are trying to do. You should also ask about upgrading to a higher efficiency AC and/or AC-HP system while you are at it to understand your expected energy cost savings relative to the investment.
      Thanks for using our site. I hope this information helps to answer some of your questions.

  10. So I’m trying to walk the delicate balance between nursing all I can out of my existing unit and Home Warranty and taking the plunge to pay for an entirely new unit and watching the entire industry upgrade and suddenly I’m not up to snuff with the best SEER, etc.

    I life in Florida, average Utility bill is $260/month. I probably spend another $50/month on repairs (average) through my Home Warranty system. The Unit for the downstairs (in garage attic) is an 86′ with an unknown Seer and the outside unit is a 97′. The upstairs attic unit is a 97′ with an 04′ outside unit.

    The downstairs unit gets most of the work. I was just quoted 4800 all-in to replace the downstairs unit with a 14 SEER set (replacing inside and out units). How much more efficient will these things really be???

    My energy bills are about 3200/year – how much would I save approximately per year?

    • Coach D – a contractor could probably tell you exactly what SEER your current systems are but since they are older and are mismatched with different ages for the outdoor it might be even more difficult to tell. After 1992, the minimum SEER you could buy was 10 (up from 8) and the minimum did not change again until 2006 when it went to 13 SEER. The current minimum today is actually 14 SEER in some regions (south and southwest) and there are some about this on our site if you want the specifics.

      Just based on the age of your systems and without looking at the tags, I would guess that your current systems are operating at a SEER that could be between 8 and 10. If you installed new, matched systems to replace them, the energy costs could be reduced by over 50% (assuming 14 SEER replacing 8-10 SEER) depending on how much you run the systems. You might also look into a heat pump option and even higher efficiency systems to get even more energy savings and some comfort benefits. Your contractor should be able to tell you this number with a lot more accuracy and you should plan to get a few different quotes. I hope this site can provide some of the answers to your questions. Good luck with your HVAC decision.

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