Has your HVAC system been on the fritz? When your cooling and heating system isn’t performing like it should, your local contractor is likely on your speed dial—after all, repair is much cheaper than replacement, right? Not always.
Before you pay a contractor to come out and repair your system, it’s important to consider whether you can get a better return on your investment through an HVAC replacement.
When You Should Replace Your HVAC System
HVAC replacement is the obvious answer in certain situations. If you’re currently in any of the following predicaments, the benefits of replacement generally outweigh those of repair.
- Your system is 10 - 15 years old: Follow this simple rule of thumb from Energy Star—if your current system is over 10 years old, it's time to start looking into an HVAC replacement. Most HVAC systems last for about 15 years, so there’s no immediate need to replace yours if it’s still functioning properly. But by doing your research now, you’ll know just what you want to do should your HVAC system suddenly stop working properly.
Keep in mind that with an older system, you are likely spending more on utility bills than you would be if you were to upgrade to a newer model. New technology has made modern systems more efficient, and switching to one of these energy-efficient systems could see you saving big on your utility bills.
- Safety hazards: As always, safety comes first. If you think the problem with your HVAC presents a safety hazard for your family, replacement is the answer. Malfunctions in your cooling and heating system can have scary consequences, including carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazards.
- You’re constantly repairing your HVAC: If your heating and cooling system has needed repairs more than once or twice in the past few years, it may be time to take the leap with a replacement system. The money you spend repairing older equipment can often be better used towards the purchase of newer, energy-efficient HVAC systems. Here’s a simple guide: If your labor and parts cost upwards of $1,000, look toward replacement.
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The HVAC Conundrum: When Professionals Should Weigh In
If you’re still unsure about replacement versus repair, it’s time to enlist the help of a professional. In the following situations, it’s best to get a contractor’s advice:
- You haven’t had a ductwork inspection in years: According to PG&E, the average home’s ductwork leaks up to 30 percent of its air before it actually reaches your living space. That means you’re still paying for the energy used to cool the air—without getting the relief of a cool home. Hire a technician to come take a look at your system; they can perform what’s called a duct-leakage test, which measures how much air is escaping the system. If it turns out your ducts are faulty or have significant gaps, a technician should be able to seal them up or replace your pipes—meaning you might not need a complete system overhaul. However, keep in mind that modern HVAC units are almost always more efficient thanks to technology advancements. In the end, you have to weigh your options: will you need to perform repairs each month?
- Your system seems inefficient: If your system is less than 10 years old, make time to assess its efficiency. Remember this: Just because it’s running, doesn’t mean it’s working at full capacity.
Here’s a simple test to try on your own: When it’s hotter than 80 degrees outside, turn on your AC unit, and set it to well below room temperature. Let it run for 15 minutes, then use a thermometer to check just outside the return duct (the area where air flows in to be cooled). Now take a temperature reading just outside the strongest, most easily accessible vent (where cool air should be flowing out). Subtract the second reading from the first. If the difference between these two is fewer than 14 degrees, your HVAC unit might need work.
Let’s put this into numbers. Say the temperature outside your return duct reads 86 degrees. If the temperature outside your strongest vent isn’t 72 degrees or less (a difference of 14 degrees), your system isn’t running efficiently.
Looking for a more specific answer? Hire a contractor to run an energy assessment on your home. This audit will check out the areas that have energy leaks; their findings can help you determine if your system just needs a few repairs or whether HVAC replacement is in your future.
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If You’re Considering a Repair
If you’re still waffling between repair and replacement, we’ll leave you with one last tip:
- Consider the return on your investment: HVAC replacement cost tends to be initially more expensive than repair, but it’s important to consider the ways this investment can benefit your family for years to come. If repairing your HVAC will only extend its lifetime by another year or two, HVAC replacement is likely the better choice.
The return is typically greater when you invest in an energy-efficient HVAC unit, and replacement almost always saves you more money down the line. When assessing HVAC replacement cost, keep in mind that replacing may be easier on your wallet in the long run. When it comes to heating and cooling savings, it’s a marathon effort, not a sprint.
When your heating and cooling system is acting up, your family’s comfort and safety come first. Consider the ways a new heating and cooling system could transform your home and improve your everyday life. Learn the basics of HVAC to be prepared when it's time to make an upgrade.