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Written by Kevin Hansen | February 12, 2020
Do you ever get one part on your car replaced, only to have another part fail soon afterward? Car engines are complicated systems, and all of their individual parts are carefully matched for maximum performance. A new part with radically different operating characteristics can put extreme stress on other related parts, causing them to fail.
Similarly, your home’s heating and air conditioning units form another complex system and share critical components. These critical components are your furnace and air conditioner. They often use the same blower to force conditioned air throughout your home. If you’re thinking about replacing your air conditioner, should you also be replacing your furnace at the same time? To answer that question, let’s take a look at what the furnace and air conditioner have in common, as well as the pros and cons of replacing both systems at the same time.
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Your heating and cooling equipment work together to form an HVAC system. Your furnace, air handler or blower, and evaporator coil are located inside your home, and they’re connected to your ductwork. Air conditioning units sit outside your home. ENERGY STAR®, the American National Standards Institute, and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America recommend that the air conditioner, coil, and furnace be replaced together in order to meet their installation guidelines.
Like the car engine we mentioned above, not doing this can have serious implications on the performance and efficiency of your entire HVAC system, and you may encounter the following issues:
Obviously, if your air conditioner just stopped working, you’re facing some quick and tough decisions. It may be better to take a moment to think, then respond rationally, without rushing into an uninformed choice for your home.
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What is the age of your system?
On average, a furnace will last 15 to 20 years, and a central air conditioning system will last 12 to 15 years, depending on the quality and efficiency of the equipment. If your furnace and air conditioner were installed at the same time, then they are the same age. So, if your air conditioner stops working at the end of its usable life (10 to 12 years), then your furnace is also near the end of its usable life. If you have to replace your air conditioner, consider replacing your furnace and coil in order to maximize the return from your investment.
What is the SEER?
The higher the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating, the more efficient the unit, which translates to less money spent monthly cooling your home. A 13 to 14 SEER rating is the minimum, 15 SEER is good, and above 16 is highly efficient. A high-efficiency system can cut energy bills in half when compared to an old 8 SEER unit, and it will also provide many comfort benefits.
An unmatched system will never be able to achieve the SEER designated on the yellow hangtag affixed to your condenser. In fact, it will probably be closer to the SEER of your old system. When you match your condenser with the correct coil and furnace, you are guaranteed to get the SEER you paid for. Often, matching the best furnace will boost your efficiency beyond the yellow hangtag. Remember, the higher the SEER with your matched system, the greater the utility savings for you every month.
What type of refrigerant is used?
R-22, also referred to by brand names like Freon® and Puron®, has been banned from use in all units produced after 2009. As an ozone-depleting gas, R-22 refrigerant should NOT be used in new systems. If you’re buying a new system, make sure it uses R-410A or a similar approved refrigerant. In some cases, repairs can be made to existing systems using the R-22 refrigerant already in your old system, or it can be repaired and recharged with “reclaimed” and recycled R-22 refrigerant from other old systems.
R-22 system components such as indoor coils and refrigerant controls are NOT compatible with new R-410A systems! Don’t just go for the lowest price. Don’t just think about the price of each component — consider how your system will work as a whole.
Should you consider a maintenance contract?
Maintenance is necessary to keep your system functioning in optimal conditions over the life of the unit. Over time, dirt, debris, and other foreign substances can cause buildup in your system, erode electrical connections, and cause other damage that is expensive to repair. The buildup can also cause a 14 SEER unit to perform like a 10 SEER one, making your system work harder and your utility bills spike. Ensuring your system is clean and maintained annually can extend the life of your system and help you avoid expensive and preventable repairs.
How do I know if it’s time to replace?
You may qualify for a federal tax credit.
A number of tax credits for residential energy efficiency have been renewed and are available for purchases made in 2020, as well as retroactive to purchases made in 2018 and 2019. ENERGY STAR products eligible for tax credits are independently certified to save energy, save money, and protect the environment. The total credit can be as much as $500. It only applies to an existing home, which must be your principal residence. New construction and rentals do not apply.
Replacing an air conditioner and a furnace at the same time is going to be expensive. However, based on the information given, replacing your furnace and air conditioner at the same time is smart and cost-effective. It will save you money in the future by lowering your energy bills, reducing repairs, and minimizing installation costs. Your comfort level will increase year-round when you get the best performance possible out of your system and better maintain the temperature and humidity levels in your home.
Ultimately, the decision is yours, and we will support your choice. However, we strongly suggest you get a matched system. Replacing both your air conditioner and furnace at the same time will keep your home as safe and comfortable as possible.
This post was adapted from one on the Lennox Comfort Matters blog.
Kevin was a comfort consultant for All Comfort Services for eight years and retired in 2023. He is happy he found a company that fit his customer service philosophy. “I wanted to work for a company that puts the customer first, and All Comfort Services does that,” says Kevin. He says that often homeowners don’t think of the importance of buying home equipment as a long-term investment as corporations do. And he says that home equipment has changed in the 10-15 years, and he wants to help educate customers about the benefits of choosing the newest high-efficient and high-performance solutions to meet their home comfort needs.
Kevin has degrees in Marketing and Management. His career spans over 25 years in air handling and fluid dynamics for commercial, municipal, and industrial applications. While supporting engineers with sales and equipment, he also learned how to help solve problems such as salvage and reuse of wastewater. He learned how to be innovative and provide solutions that often involved chemistry, physics, and biology. His past work experience helps him every day to observe and listen. He says the best reward for his work is a satisfied customer.