Repair Or Replace Your Air Conditioning Unit(s)?
Changes In the World of HVAC Limit the Choices
Who would have guessed it?
The the invention of nonflammable Freon in 1928 made air conditioning for homes a reality. And as waves of people moved to the southwest after World War II, air conditioning made year around living very pleasant.
Since then, little has changed in the industry. Yes, newer, better and little more efficient. But energy costs were cheap, so change didn’t come quickly. But things have changed.
2010 Brought Big Changes
First, the Federal mandated changes have changed the refrigerant used in air conditioning systems. That 2010 law required manufactures to stop using R-22 refrigerant in all new units and switch to R-410A. It is also known as Puron.
Studies indicated R-22 was an ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon. R-410A is not.
R-22 continued in use to recharge older AC equipment until 2020. But after that date the only way to get R-22 is from recycling. And that will add cost to a AC recharge. And it will soon not be available at all.
So R-410A is IN and R-22 is OUT!
And if your air conditioning system is over 10 years old, and has a problem, it raises a BIG question. Fix the old system or replace it. A key factor in the decision is the nature of the problem.
Small, fix it. Bigger, hmmmmm, replace??
Another consideration for a new air conditioning system is they use less than half the electricity of older ones. And do a far better job of keeping you cool and comfortable.
The replacement should also include condition the ducts and insulation in your house. Yes, increased costs, but much more efficient cooling.
Assess the Efficiency of Your Current System
The improved efficiency of new air conditioning units is surprising. An eight- to 10-year-old AC can use twice the electricity that even a low-end new one.
That’s because it operates at or below 10 to 12 SEER. By the way, SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It is a measurement of the amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output.
Until 2006, 10 SEER was standard, but these days, federal law mandates 13 SEER. And new home builders in the southwest are required to install 14 SEER air conditioning units.
That translates to 30% less electrical consumption. For an 1,800 square foot house, a new 13 SEER unit will cost $3,000 to $4,000.
You can double your energy savings by jumping up to a 16 SEER air conditioning unit. And that will reduce cooling expenses by 60% over a 10 SEER unit.
At $5,000 to $6,000, these super-efficient units are more expensive. But they qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $300. Not a lot by itself. but combined with big energy savings the payback is impressive.
Size The New System Right
When you replace, it is critical to have the air conditioning system sized right. Make sure the contractor’s bid includes a load calculation. It will be printout showing how big a system you need and why.
Needless to say, multi bids and confirmation of the load calculation is a must.
Somethings are old, but still used. One of them is air conditioning systems are measured in tons. It represents the cooling power of a one-ton block of ice melting in 24 hours.
Some old-school installers size equipment at one ton for every 400 or 600 square feet of living space.
That creates a system that is too big. An oversized air conditioning systems costs more. The answer to the question, why is that approached used?
An oversized system cools work too fast. That means more frequent on/off cycles, wearing out components and gobbling electricity.
And they don’t have a chance to dehumidify the air.
Good contractors use load-calculating software. It factors in data for the number of windows, thickness of insulation and attic space. Even the home’s orientation to the sun.
It produces an exact tonnage for the air conditioning system and determines how much cool air each room needs. Any bids (get at least three) should include this one-page printout. And if they are different, find out why before you buy!
Inspect the Condition of the Duct work
OK. A trick question. Would installing the most efficient AC equipment ensure you’re comfortable on hot days?
Why you might ask.
It’s because the mechanical is only part of the air conditioning system. The average house’s duct work leaks 10% to 30% of its air before it can reach your living space. That’s according to Pacific Gas & Electric.
So before you buy anything, have your technician should run a duct-leakage test. They will seal the vents and measure how much air escapes the system.
Then the tech can locate and seal the gaps. The cost should be around $25 to $35 per vent. That’s per “run” in industry jargon.
Or replace the duct work. New insulated pipe will cost around $100 per run. Understand what will give you the most bang for the buck.
Consider the Building Envelope Itself
Poor insulation puts a strain on your aging air conditioner.
Fixing insulation and duct work can extend the life of your AC system. Some tines over 5 or more years. Or it may enable you to buy a smaller replacement air conditioning system. That will lower your upfront and ongoing energy costs.
Your heating and cooling contractor do the assessment and make repairs. While not free, insulation is less expensive then replacing an AC system.
And trim as much as 30% off your heating and cooling costs.
How About The Heating System?
Homes need to be cooled and heated. And unless you are using “heat pumps” that means TWO systems. AC’s and heat pump us electric energy. Furnaces will us natural gas. BUT, both units will use the same duct work.
So, if you are replacing the air conditioning, you better take a look at the heating system at the same time. And here are some helpful tips when considering a new heating system.
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