Knowing what you should be paying for your HVAC equipment and installation is essential to getting a fair deal. Most HVAC prices aren’t advertised. Contractor strategy is to get a salesperson into your home to sell you on a package of equipment, accessories and installation. This makes comparing systems difficult, and some sales pressure might be applied.
Central home air conditioner service systems consist of two major components: a condensing unit that sits outside your house, and the evaporator coil (often referred to as an A-coil) that sits in the plenum of your furnace or air handler. The refrigerant in the A-coil picks up the heat from your home and moves it to the outdoor condensing unit. The condensing unit fan blows outside air through the condensing coil to remove the heat. The condensing unit houses the three parts replaceable by a DIYer: the AC contactor, the start/run capacitor(s) and the condenser fan motor. The condensing unit also houses the compressor, but only a pro can replace that. The A-coil has no parts that can be serviced by a DIYer.
Cost Factors: The size of the unit, its efficiency and it’s single-stage, two-stage or variable-capacity are the top cost factors. Features like communicating technology and improved dehumidification performance also affect the price. Learn more about communicating technology here including the pros and cons, before being agreeing to a communicating system.
So, naturally I respond with, “you don’t tell your doctor which medication to prescribe you, do you?” The point is, on the residential level, who you get to install your HVAC unit is far more important than which unit you choose. Keep your options open and let your HVAC contractor make a few recommendations – that’s why you spent time finding a reputable contractor!
All modern air conditioning systems, even small window package units, are equipped with internal air filters. These are generally of a lightweight gauze-like material, and must be replaced or washed as conditions warrant. For example, a building in a high dust environment, or a home with furry pets, will need to have the filters changed more often than buildings without these dirt loads. Failure to replace these filters as needed will contribute to a lower heat exchange rate, resulting in wasted energy, shortened equipment life, and higher energy bills; low air flow can result in iced-over evaporator coils, which can completely stop air flow. Additionally, very dirty or plugged filters can cause overheating during a heating cycle, and can result in damage to the system or even fire.
PickHVAC Tips: Don’t be sold on systems with features you don’t want or need. Called “upselling,” it is rampant in the HVAC industry. Some features are nice – if you want them. If your single-stage furnace was loud and pushed out cold air at the start of the cycle, then a two-stage model will improve those issues. If you didn’t notice them, the upgrade will be a waste of money. That’s just one common example.
If your AC doesn’t turn off when room temperature reaches the temperature set on the thermostat, the problem is generally occurring either at the thermostat or in the electrical system that runs the outside condensing unit. You can use the AC’s circuit breaker to shut off the unit, but that should not be a permanent solution—circuit breakers are not designed to be used like light switches.
Your contractor will do a load calculation to determine the proper central air conditioning unit for your home. This calculation accounts for the climate, size, shape and orientation of your home, as well as its square footage. A professional will also look at the insulation, windows, walls, floors and other materials that compose your home. He/she will then examine any leaks, seals and existing ducts or vents.
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.
Engineers have pointed out some areas where efficiency of the existing hardware could be improved. For example, the fan blades used to move the air are usually stamped from sheet metal, an economical method of manufacture, but as a result they are not aerodynamically efficient. A well-designed blade could reduce electrical power required to move the air by a third.
PickHVAC Tips: Electricity resistance heat is the most expensive heating type. You don’t want one of these unless you’re heating less than 30 days per year. The upfront cost of an electric furnace is much lower than the cost of a gas furnace. However, operating costs are two to three times higher. If winters are cold where you live, you’ll waste your upfront cost savings in just a few years of high electric bills.