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Whether you live in a cool, hot, or temperate climate, your HVAC system is vital. Your air conditioning sputtering out in the middle of a heatwave or heater malfunctioning in the winter can make your home miserable.
Unfortunately, replacing an HVAC system is expensive, with the average cost ranges between $4,850 and $9,400. If your system is on the fritz, you need to research your options before committing to a purchase.
To help you out, we spoke to a real estate agent and an HVAC professional to shed light on when it’s time to replace the HVAC.
Replacing your HVAC comes with a hefty bill
The average cost of replacing an HVAC system is $7,000, with most replacements ranging between $5,000 and $10,000. Of course, the price to replace your HVAC will depend on what type of system you buy and where you live.
“It all depends on what you need,” explains Franklin Flores, owner of Alexair Heating and Cooling in Maryland and West Virginia. “If it’s a two-ton system and it just needs to be swapped out, you’re probably looking at $6,500 for something like that.”
Prices are generally higher for high-capacity air conditioners, energy-efficient systems, mini-split systems, and systems that need extensive duct repair. Price also ranges by brand. Flores says Coleman is a popular budget-friendly brand among customers.
Check for these tell-tale signs you need to replace the HVAC
It’s difficult to gauge when your HVAC needs a repair or a full replacement. Here are a few signs that indicate it’s time to replace heating and cooling systems:
If your HVAC technician tells you that you need to replace a part or repair a portion of your system every time you see them, it might be time to bite the bullet and replace the whole system. Replacing an HVAC system can often be more cost-effective than making a large number of repairs, says Flores.
“You don’t want to spend $3,000 on [repairs] when you don’t know if the compressor is going to die soon, the blower is going to die soon, or whatever,” Flores says. “So the best thing would be to replace the system.”
Increased running time and inconsistent temperatures
However, sometimes these signs just indicate it’s time for routine maintenance. Flores recommends changing out your filters every month and cleaning your coil regularly. Not only can this help fix some of your problems, but it can also help your system last longer.
Do you hear strange noises from your system? You’re probably accustomed to the sounds your HVAC system makes while it’s running, but if you hear something new, take note. These sounds can include banging, screeching, rattling, hissing, bubbling, or clicking.
First, check and clean the air filters to see if that solves the problem. Furnaces are likely to make some amount of noise, but if you’ve recently repaired the unit and the noises continue, that could be a sign it’s reaching the end of its life.
Rust, cracks, or soot
You’ll also want to take a look at parts of the system itself. Is your furnace rusting? Is your coil? Is there more soot or rust than usual around the system? Are parts of the system cracking? These could all be signs that your system is on its way out.
Often, the furnace cabinet can rust if there is a leak in the air-conditioning cabinet above it. Be sure to check for any leaks or faulty pipes before you go ahead with a new system.
Higher energy bills
If your energy bills are higher than usual, it might mean your system is becoming less efficient. While this is expected of older units, your system’s efficiency might decrease sooner than you think if you don’t maintain your system. Look out for any sudden spikes in your bills that aren’t related to intense heat waves or cold fronts. Be sure to call a technician to see if there’s a fixable problem.
Poor air quality (e.g., dust, mildew, and allergens)
Not only do HVAC systems heat and cool your home, but they also keep the air quality fresh. Flores notes that routine maintenance of your system should help reduce the amount of dust and mildew in the house. But if poor air quality is a persistent problem, it could be time to get a whole new system.
Your system is 10+ years old
The longevity of your system will largely depend on its type and brand, in addition to how often you service or maintain it. Generally, though, many contractors use ten years as a baseline minimum. However, certain parts of the system should last 15 to 25 years.
“If you don’t do maintenance on it, it’s not going to last you,” Flores notes. “It’s supposed to last 10 years. I have systems that last 20 years, but with all this new refrigerant and R-410a, you’d be really lucky if it lasts 14 years.”
Newer HVAC models run on a refrigerant called R-410a rather than the former R-22, which was phased out after the Environmental Protection Agency deemed it unsafe for the environment. While R-410a is more efficient and safer than R-22, it is more susceptible to moisture and acid buildup, which can damage the system.
Research replacement options
When it’s time to replace your HVAC, there are many system types to consider. Here are a few different types of HVAC systems and terms you should know:
Heating and cooling split systems
The heating and cooling split system is the most common type of HVAC system. As the name suggests, these systems have different units for heating and cooling. Typically, the cooling unit is placed outside the house and contains coils, compressors, refrigerants, and a large fan. The heating unit is often located in the basement, garage, or utility room, and uses gas to heat the home. The systems generate hot or cold air and deliver it to the rooms via ductwork.
If you’re only looking to replace or install central air, you can expect to pay between
- Split systems are generally applicable to most homes in a variety of environments and climates.
- These systems are usually relatively quiet.
- Split systems have a lower upfront cost than mini-split and hybrid as long as ductwork is already in place.
- Homeowners must maintain two separate units — usually one outdoors (cooling) and one indoors (heating).
- Duct systems use more energy than ductless systems.
Hybrid split systems
Hybrid split systems are similar to regular split systems, except the heater can be powered by either gas, oil, or electricity. The hybrid model allows homeowners to save on energy costs by switching between gas, oil, or electricity, depending on which energy source is cheaper at the time.
The average upfront cost of a hybrid split system is $8,015.
- Hybrid systems can lead to lower energy bills than other systems due to the ability to switch between gas and electricity.
- Hybrid systems work like regular split systems and are user-friendly.
- Hybrid split systems can carry an expensive up-front cost.
- Electric heat might not be adequate for some frigid environments. These systems work better in mild, temperate locales.
This type of HVAC system doesn’t use ducts. Typically, each room has a through-wall unit that can work as a heater, air conditioner, or dehumidifier. They connect to a large compressor that sits outside of the house. This type of system allows users to heat or cool specific rooms at one time. Additionally, it can provide HVAC to a home addition or guest house without connecting it to existing ductwork.
Ductless systems cost between $2,000 and $14,500 to install, depending on the number of units and the size of the house.
- Ductless systems can lower energy bills by only heating targeted rooms.
- This system allows for a greater amount of temperature control throughout the home.
- Mini-split systems carry higher upfront costs than other systems—up to 30% higher than regular split systems.
- Mini-split systems require a lot of maintenance and cleaning.
- Units can be obvious and bulky.
Packaged heating and air
This type of system is most popular in warm environments where heat is not as necessary. The system uses just one air unit that is typically stored in an attic or top floor. While most packaged air systems deliver both heat and air conditioning through electricity, some options can heat using gas, as well.
The average cost of a packaged air system is between $5,325 and $7,250.
- Packaged heating is excellent for small spaces.
- Packaged heating is suitable for houses without outdoor space for an external unit.
- Packaged heating systems are often less efficient than other systems.
Consider your new HVAC’s energy-efficiency rating
Each brand produces multiple models, including energy-efficient options. These are usually the most expensive systems to install upfront, but many claim to save money in the long run through lower energy bills. Flores said that’s not always the case.
“The more efficient you want, the more money you’re going to pay for it, and I don’t know if it’s worth it to spend the money and not get it back,” he said. “How much is it going to cost you in 10 years? If you get a basic system, it’s going to last you 10 years, too.”
HSPF: Heating seasonal performance factor
This rating indicates how efficient heat pumps are, with a higher rating meaning more efficiency. Heat pumps with high ratings use less energy than those with lower ratings, saving homeowners on their energy bills. Professionals usually suggest buying a pump with a rating between 8 and 10.
SEER: Seasonal energy efficiency ratio
This rating is similar to HSPF but for air conditioning instead of heat. The ratio takes the total cooling capacity during months of operation and divides it by its total electric input. In other words, it measures how much cooling power you’re getting for the energy. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the system and the less you’ll spend on energy. Ratios start at 13 and cap off at 24.
This joint program between the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency rates and certifies products that meet particular energy-efficiency criteria. For a system to be EnergyStar-certified, the heat pump needs to have an HSPF of 8.5 or higher, and the air conditioning units must have a SEER of 15 or higher. The EnergyStar website recommends products that help you conserve energy.
Consult a real estate agent about replacing your HVAC if you’re selling
If you’re selling your home soon, deciding whether or not to take on the extra expense is tricky. Sam Alpern, a top Rhode Island real estate agent, shares that buyers can look past older HVAC systems in a seller’s market when it’s more difficult to purchase a home due to the heightened competition. However, they still may struggle to accept a broken HVAC if the seller hasn’t reduced the listing price accordingly.
Where Alpern lives in New England, most houses do not have central air conditioning but almost always have a functioning heat system due to the frigid winters. He says he rarely sees homes listed without functioning heat.
“If we see that it needs to be replaced, almost 100% of the time, the seller would be having to provide a credit,” Alpern notes.
“So, if the seller knew about it beforehand, I absolutely think that they should be getting that fixed.”
Similarly, if you live in a very hot climate, your home should have a functioning air-conditioning unit.
Sellers who don’t have the financial capacity to replace an HVAC can help offset the cost for the buyers in the form of a closing credit, a cash incentive given to the buyer to help subsidize costs.
“So they’re bringing less cash to the closing table, and then that way they can take care of it afterward,” Alpern explains. “Because the seller might not want to take care of it, especially right now, with it being such a heavy seller’s market.”
Find a reputable professional for your HVAC replacement
To find a trusted HVAC professional, you should ensure they’re licensed, have experience in your type of system, and are well-trusted by their customers.
- Look up professionals on websites like Angi, Yelp, and Google. Read through their reviews to see what other customers have to say.
- Ask for referrals. Talk to your friends, family, and neighbors about what contractors they use for their HVAC systems. These referrals can point you in the right direction.
- Before calling, check their credentials. You can look up the business’ licenses through state-wide databases or the Air-Conditioning Contractors of America.
- Get estimates from a few professionals in writing to compare before making a final decision.
Get a warranty on your new HVAC
Often, HVAC systems come with 10-year warranties included, Flores says. However, he mentions taking note of the warranty’s requirements. If you don’t follow all the guidelines, then you might not be covered. For example, most warranties note that the system must be serviced twice a year by a professional to maintain coverage.
“That’s on the paperwork for every system,” Flores comments.
If you’ve recently moved into a new house and the HVAC system is less than ten years old, you can probably have the warranty transferred to you by calling the manufacturer, Flores notes.
Maintain your new HVAC unit
Once you have your new HVAC system in place, it’s essential to maintain it. Here are some tips to follow:
Replace your filters
Flores recommends replacing your filters at least once a month or at least keeping them clean. Not only will this help your system last longer, but it will also help keep the air in your house clean.
“The most common [problem] is people never replacing their filters,” Flores says. “And that will cause a lot of issues, a lack of airflow — it’ll kill the compressor.”
Keep your coils clean
Check outside at your coil to ensure it’s free of any debris, grass, or dirt. If the coil isn’t clean, it’ll constrict airflow and put added stress on the compressor.
Hire a pro for bi-annual maintenance
Schedule two maintenance appointments per year with the HVAC professional who installed the system. Keeping the system clean and running even when it’s new helps extend your HVAC’s lifespan.
Header Image Source: (Rob Christain Crosby / Death to the Stock Photo)