1/10/2014 1:12:00 PM Ask the contractor: Better to replace than repair older HVAC systems
Sandy Griffis Yavapai County Contractors Association
Q: Our HVAC equipment is 15 years old. We are considering a new system and want to know what we should consider when talking with HVAC companies. - Mike and Shirley, Prescott Valley
A: Definition of CHANGE:
verb \chanj\: to become different; to make (someone or something) different
a: to make different in some particular: alter
b: to make radically different: transform
c: to replace with another
d: to undergo a modification
So much has changed in the world of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems over the years that it may be worth replacing your unit instead of repairing it. An HVAC system is probably one of the most costly big-ticket items purchased for a home and you will want to select a new operating system wisely. New systems use less than half of the electricity of older ones and they do a much better job of keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. New systems will result in more comfort, lower energy bills and better air quality.
Because of all the upgrades and improvements in the industry, local HVAC companies say that if your system is more than 8-10 years old, repair is probably not worth the expense, unless of course it is something simple like replacing a fan belt.
In considering replacement or repair, it is important to make sure your contractor assesses the condition of your current equipment, existing duct work, and house insulation.
If you current system is more than 10 years old, it is using more electricity than a new one would use. An 8-10 year old system is probably a 10 SEER or lower unit. SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is the amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output. Until 2006, 10 SEER was standard; now 13 SEER is the minimum allowed by federal law. 10 SEER vs. 13 SEER translates to 30 percent less electrical consumption and 30 percent lower cooling bills.
It is important to select a local well-established contractor. Be very suspicious of cost-saving mailers offering cut-rate prices. Do not use telemarketer solicitations for HVAC unit repair and maintenance. Also ask for references, check the company's contractor license status, find out how long have they been in business, and consult the BBB to find out if there are any reported complaints.
Make sure you purchase a system that is sized correctly for your home. Ask the contractor to perform a load calculation, which will show you how large of a system you will need and why. Load calculations take into account the number of windows in your home, the thickness of the insulation, the attic configuration, and the house orientation. Air conditioning is measured by the ton, which is the cooling power of a one-ton block of ice (2,000 pounds) that melts in a 24-hour period. Home HVAC systems are normally 1- to 5-ton units. The rule of thumb before all of the energy conservation/efficiency improvements was 1 ton for every 400 square feet of home, but this has decreased due to efficiency. Bigger is not better when it comes to systems - oversized systems cost more and they cool way too quickly, which leads to more on-off cycles, increased components wear, and wasted electricity.
If a contractor wants to increase the unit size because of warm areas in your home, be wary. A warm area in a house cannot be corrected by increasing the size of a unit.
It is also important to remember that replacing the outside AC unit without replacing the furnace or air handler will not correct the issue or give you better heating and cooling. These systems go hand-in-glove and should be replaced as a unit since they are designed to function together.
Look at different equipment manufacturers and their warranties and compare the parts and labor guarantee. Compare bids from at least three HVAC contractors.
A good starting point prior to installing a new system would be to have an energy audit performed on your home. For $99, you will know the facts about where your home is losing energy - through duct work, insulation, your HVAC system, etc. - so you will have the necessary knowledge prior to entering the HVAC purchase process.
Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA) is a professional association representing licensed, bonded and insured contractors, suppliers, distributors and business entities. Call YCCA for information on hiring a contractor at 778-0040. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or through www.ycca.org.