Cooling season has ended throughout much of North America, and some homeowners are wondering whether they should replace their air conditioners before next summer. No matter how diligent you are about maintaining your cooling system, you’ll inevitably have to replace it if you remain in the same home long enough. And budgeting for this expense can be a little tricky due to the numerous variables.
If you anticipate replacing your air conditioner within the next year or so, it’s a good idea to schedule a no-obligation consultation with your local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning to get an idea of what it will cost and how you can benefit from a new, energy efficient system. But it’s also helpful to understand the factors that affect how much it will cost to install your new system.
Cooling System Type
While the average North American home has a ducted central air conditioning system, there are all sorts of cooling systems available at various price points. In warmer climates, for example, heat pumps are an attractive option because they cool effectively at a fraction of the operating cost of central air. But the equipment itself is often more expensive than a comparable air conditioner, and the installation typically costs thousands of dollars more.
Ductless mini-split systems may be more or less expensive than ducted central air, depending on how many units are needed. These systems cool individual rooms and are ideal for home additions and multi-unit buildings. In a small space, a mini-split system may be the most economical option. But if it would take several units to cool a home, it could be more cost effective to choose central air, even if it means installing ductwork.
One cooling system that is often less expensive to install than air conditioning is an evaporative cooler, also known as a swamp cooler. These systems cool homes by circulating air through wet pads, but they only work well in dry climates, and are rarely used outside of the Western United States.
Air Conditioner Size
One of the reasons why you should always work with an experienced, licensed installer is because an air conditioner must be sized to your home. Some contractors may think they’re helping their clients’ homes cool down faster by installing oversized units, but this just invites more problems.
If a unit is oversized, it will cool a home faster than it can dehumidify it, resulting in damp, clammy air. This can even contribute to mold growth. And if an air conditioner is undersized, it will run constantly without ever cooling the home, resulting in discomfort and high energy bills.
The bigger the air conditioner, the higher the equipment cost. But this is no place to go looking for savings -- your home needs the size it needs.
Because air conditioners lose efficiency with age and manufacturers are always making technological improvements, replacing your air conditioner will almost certainly result in improved energy efficiency. But the size of that efficiency gain has a lot to do with your new air conditioner’s seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER rating.
The SEER rating offers a handy way to compare the efficiency of different air conditioners at a glance. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the air conditioner -- and the higher the price.
If a home has existing ductwork, vents and returns, replacing or installing an air conditioner tends to be a straightforward job. But in homes that lack this infrastructure, the cost of installation can be several thousand more. The actual cost will vary based on the unique challenges of duct installation in the spaces you want to cool, but even with a simple installation, there is a lot of labor involved.
Your HVAC system can do more than keep your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. With indoor air quality systems, you can remove fine particles from your home’s air and make breathing easier for anyone with allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions. And if you live in an especially dry or damp climate, whole-home humidifiers and dehumidifiers can work alongside your air conditioner and furnace to keep your air healthy and comfortable.
Adding one or more of these systems to your air conditioner installation will increase the cost, but may offer savings compared to installing them separately.
One or Both?
If your furnace is within a few years of its expected lifespan -- about 20 years -- it may make financial sense to replace it at the same time as you replace your air conditioner. Obtain quotes for the replacement of both systems individually and together to find out if you can save by replacing your furnace proactively. Don’t forget to factor in the efficiency gains you can expect from replacing your furnace before winter begins.
There’s no substitute for guaranteed quality when it comes to the systems that keep your home comfortable and safe. It’s important to always choose HVAC technicians who are experienced, licensed and insured. Handymen who lack these qualifications may offer lower prices, but air conditioner installation is no job for amateurs.
So if you’re considering whether your air conditioner has soldiered through its last summer, contact the experts at your local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning for a no-obligation consultation.