The three major functions of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning are interrelated, especially with the need to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality within reasonable installation, operation, and maintenance costs. HVAC systems can be used in both domestic and commercial environments. HVAC systems can provide ventilation, and maintain pressure relationships between spaces. The means of air delivery and removal from spaces is known as room air distribution.
DIY: We don’t recommend a DIY approach. Depending on the system, working with gas, electricity and refrigerant create dangers. Beyond that, it is essential that split system components be selected for compatibility. DIY installation of an HVAC system will void the warranty of most brands. The manufacturers won’t stand behind the warranty when anyone other than a certified installer does the work. This is true since improper installation is the main cause of poor system performance and mechanical breakdowns.
Asking how much an HVAC installation costs is kind of like asking, “how much does a new car cost?” Well, are you buying a Porsche or a Honda? Is it a 911 or just a Boxster, and are you going to get the leather seats? Likewise, are you going to get a Carrier or a Goodman air conditioner? Does the ductwork need to be replaced? These are all questions that will affect your HVAC installation cost, so let’s take a closer look.
If you are using existing ducting, it will have to be inspected. Proper ducting loses around 2% to 5% of your energy. Old, leaking ducts can lose 50% or more. A contractor will need to have the ducts inspected and replace any parts ahead of time. If you are changing the size of your HVAC system because of significant changes to your home, you might need to replace the ductwork regardless.
Stick with a maximum of 16 SEER units in most cases. Like I said above, contractors push higher SEER units because they make more money, but these units can be expensive at this stage of development, and can drive up your HVAC installation cost. 21 SEER units run about twice the price of a 14 SEER unit, so unless you live in a desert and plan on being there for 30 more years... Likewise, a 16 SEER unit typically costs only about $600-$1,000 more than a 14 SEER, and will usually pay for itself over the lifetime of the unit.
An air conditioning system's SEER is especially important if you live in a climate that changes temperature dramatically. The SEER is determined by the cooling output during the winter divided by its electric input during the winter. The higher the rating, the more efficient it will be. In January of 2006, the U.S. put standards in place for cooling units which are still in effect today. They must have a minimum SEER of 13. So, if you live in a home with a system installed before the new standards went into effect, consider having it replaced. SEER 13 units increase home efficiency by 30 percent.
Some systems include an "economizer mode", which is sometimes called a "free-cooling mode". When economizing, the control system will open (fully or partially) the outside air damper and close (fully or partially) the return air damper. This will cause fresh, outside air to be supplied to the system. When the outside air is cooler than the demanded cool air, this will allow the demand to be met without using the mechanical supply of cooling (typically chilled water or a direct expansion "DX" unit), thus saving energy. The control system can compare the temperature of the outside air vs. return air, or it can compare the enthalpy of the air, as is frequently done in climates where humidity is more of an issue. In both cases, the outside air must be less energetic than the return air for the system to enter the economizer mode.
It's always changing: Some newer thermostats take advantage of wireless technology. You can adjust your thermostat remotely so that if you leave and forget to adjust it, or if you are going to be home later than you thought, you can adjust it via your smartphone. Some can even give you reports on how efficient your system is performing based on usage. These are very efficient models, but they are also very expensive with some costing over $250.00.
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years, as Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.
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.