When to Replace your Home Air Conditioning Unit
(Revised from Oct. 29, 2014 original post)
After a long, hot summer you are probably happy to be turning off your air conditioner for the last time until next spring when you hope it starts up again, right? Well, you might want to rethink that. Before you put your AC system away for the winter, you might want to consider having it checked out by a certified contractor. If it is older or has been giving you problems, you might want to have it replaced. AC replacements done in the fall often have much better outcomes for consumers than those done in the heat of the summer or when you first start your system up in the spring.
Here are five good reasons to replace your old AC in the fall.
- Saves you $$$ – By replacing your system in the fall, you put time on your side. Time to research the type of equipment that would be best for your situation instead of just replicating whatever you had before. Fall replacements also give you time to search for the best contractor in the area to do the installation and chances are, since contractors are in between the cooling and heating seasons, they will be much more available and willing to spend time with you to help you figure out the best ways to solve your cooling problems. Since investments in new HVAC systems can be significant, this time also allows you to plan. You might even consider covering it under a home equity loan, thus saving on financing costs.
- You Can Get What You Want – Since you and the contractor both have more time to figure out what system to buy, you can also take time to see some of the latest technology available in HVAC systems. A lot has changed since your old system was installed. You will probably realize some significant improvements in comfort and reductions in energy costs, and there are many more options available today than 15 or 20 years ago. Today you can decide on systems that provide superior nighttime comfort and humidity reductions, as well as being less noisy both inside and outside of your home. Controls, communications and programmable thermostats are some other features you might consider if you have the time to research them.
- Beware of the Zombie Heat Pump – If you have an air conditioner that doubles as a heat pump in the winter you should definitely have your system checked out in the fall. If it was not keeping up during the hottest days in the summer, it will not keep up on the coldest days of the winter and you might end up paying extra on your power bills since you will be using auxiliary resistance heaters to stay warm. We call these “zombie” heat pumps because they appear to be alive and running but in reality, they are not keeping up or might not be cooling at all. Because most heat pumps come with backup heaters, you might not even know this until you get your first heating bill. If you have a conventional furnace instead of a heat pump, fall is also a good time to have that checked out by a contractor. If it is older like the AC, you might be better off having them both replaced at the same time.
- Can I Rethink This? – If you have contractors out to check your AC system in the fall, you might have time to have them run some new calculations on both the actual cooling requirements for your home as well as the ductwork and airflow calculations. A lot might have changed with your home since that old AC system was installed and these changes can affect both the size and type of system you now need to adequately cool and heat your home. For example, if you added insulation, added or upgraded to windows that are more efficient, knocked out some walls or added a room, you might need a different system size. If you get the wrong size system, you could have multiple problems.
- If your system is too small, it will not keep up on the hottest days.
- If your system is too large, it will cycle too much and cause wide swings in your indoor temperature.
- If you live in an area where humidity levels can be high, a wrong-sized system will not remove all the humidity from your home and you will have problems – especially at night, when you are trying to sleep.
- If, for example, you have kids going away to college and you want to shut off the AC vents in their rooms while they are gone, you might be better off with a system that has at least two steps of capacity modulation or you will run into the same problems as having the wrong size system. Closing room vents and doors effectively makes your house appear smaller to your HVAC system and in addition to comfort problems, you could even do significant damage to the system or cause it to fail prematurely.
- Last but not least, consider the energy savings you might get from high efficiency systems – Based on the results of our recent homeowner survey, the consumers who had the time to consider higher efficiency systems were more satisfied. Consider this: 88 percent of the respondents who said they were “satisfied” had discussions with their contractor about high-efficiency system alternatives, versus just 67 percent with the “dissatisfied” group – even if they did not end up buying the high-efficiency models. The satisfied group also showed a higher incidence (35 percent) of contractor inspections of ductwork, insulation and square footage than the dissatisfied group (27 percent) – and these inspections often take time.
The survey also indicates that, on average, HVAC systems get replaced when they are about 14-16 years old (or more, depending on the length of the cooling or heating seasons and accumulated run time). So, if your system is getting older or you have had some problems recently it might be worth taking some time in the fall to do your research and find a few good contractors who can talk with you about the best options for your home HVAC investments.