A BTU is the amount of energy required to heat or cool one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. So a 1-ton air conditioner can cool 12,000 pounds of water by one degree every hour. That’s all it means, so don’t let yourself be lost in jargon! How this affects your HVAC installation cost is that the larger your house is, the more tons will be required to heat and cool it.
Air conditioner size is measured in “tons.” However, the tonnage of an HVAC unit is not actually based on its weight. A “ton” is simply a measure of an air conditioner’s ability to cool your home. One ton is the ability of your air conditioning system to cool 12,000 BTUs (BTU stands for British Thermal Unit) in an hour. Likewise, a “2-ton” central air conditioner is able to cool 24,000 BTUs per hour.
The AC contactor (relay) and start/run capacitor(s) (see illustration below) fail most often and are inexpensive. So it's a safe bet to buy and install those parts right away, especially if your air conditioning service unit is older than five years. The condenser fan motor can also fail, but it runs about $150 — hold off buying that unless you're sure that's the culprit.
Typically speaking, the lower SEER, more basic models are also more reliable. Reliability is big with us, so we steer clear of features with reliability issues, and it’s as simple as that. When you factor in the price of repairs and the extra expense of the 21-SEER, you may actually lose money! 16 SEER is the sweet-spot, and it is key to reducing your HVAC installation cost.
My Carrier furnace occasionally (one-two times a day) does not start. It shows error code 15 ("BLOWER MOTOR LOCKOUT -This status code indicates the blower failed to reach 250 RPM or the blower failed to communicate to the variable speed furnace control within 30 seconds after being turned ON in two successive heating cycles."). However, when I turn off and on the furnace power switch it starts and runs fine for a while. Sometimes it runs fine all day, but does not start only once in the evening or in the night. It is 13 years old I was thinking to replace whole thing if repair cost is too high. But I am not ready to pay $10,000.
These are the prices for a proper installation from a professional – as a word to the wise, HVAC systems require fine tuning and the custom fabrication of parts during installation to work properly, otherwise they will likely fail prematurely. But there are plenty of people who will do it for cheaper than this, using substandard, used, or stolen equipment (stolen from construction sites and new housing developments). Or, they are using unskilled laborers with no experience, etc. But HVAC is not a “we’ll figure it out trade;” there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. There are just too many predatory companies out there, so be careful. I’d highly recommend not skimping on your HVAC contractor. If you go cheap, you will typically pay more in the long run...and in California, that will be a lot!
Air conditioners can create a lot of water because they remove moisture from the air. To get rid of this, they have a [usually plastic] drain pipe that comes out of the side of the air handler. Over time, algae can block this pipe and, when it does, the AC won’t work. In fact, some condensate drains have a float switch that won’t let the AC run if water backs-up. Water can also puddle around the unit or flood the area. To deal with condensate problems, please see Air Conditioner Leaks Water, below.