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 actually share critical components, in particular your furnace and air conditioner. Both of them 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, and the pros and cons of replacing both systems at the same time.
Your air handler or furnace and the evaporator coil are located in the indoor portion of your air conditioner, and are connected to your home’s ductwork. If you replace your air conditioner without replacing your furnace and coil, you will only be replacing your air conditioner’s outdoor unit. Energy Star, the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) recommend the air conditioner, coil and furnace be replaced together in order to meet their Quality Installation Guidelines.
Like the car engine above, not doing this can have serious implications on the performance and efficiency of your entire HVAC system, and may encounter the following issues:
- A decreased lifespan of your system – According to AHRI, “When improperly matched, the efficiency and longevity of these systems are significantly compromised.” With matched equipment, you’ll get the best possible system performance without additional stress on any one component of the system.
- Lower system efficiency – Would you put used tires on a brand new car? Of course not, because it would prevent your car from running as smoothly as possible. The same is true for your furnace and air conditioner. Even if your new outdoor unit is 18 SEER, the old indoor section (probably for an 8-10 SEER unit) could cause the system to lag behind, keeping your energy bills higher than they should be.
- Premature breakdowns – As in the automobile example, an old air handler may not be capable of moving the required volume of air as a new one. This creates undue stress on the other components of your air conditioner and forces them to work harder, resulting in unnecessary, premature breakdowns.
- Increased installation costs – Replacing the outside unit, waiting a few years, and then having another contractor come out to install the furnace unit means paying for two separate installations instead of one. Replacing your furnace and air conditioner at the same time will cut down on overall installation costs for both systems.
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, and then respond rationally without rushing into an uninformed decision.
Here are important factors to consider when purchasing a new heating or cooling system:
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 quality and efficiency of the equipment. If your furnace and air conditioner were installed at the same time, then they are both the same age. So if your air conditioner stops working at the end of its usable life (10-12 years), then your furnace is also at the end of its usable life. You 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 high efficiency. A high efficiency system can cut energy bills in half when compared to an old 8 SEER unit, and provide many comfort benefits.
An unmatched system will never be able to achieve the SEER designated on the yellow hang tag 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. Oftentimes, matching the best furnace will boost your efficiency beyond the yellow hang tag. Remember, the higher the SEER with your matched system the higher 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 restricted from use in all new 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 “re-claimed” and recycled R-22 refrigerant from other old systems.
R-22 system components such as indoor coils, refrigerant controls and driers are NOT compatible with new R-410A systems!
Don’t go for the lowest price.
A low price does not always equal the best value. A higher efficiency system might cost extra upfront, but could save you extra dollars per year in energy costs throughout the life of your new system. In addition, new furnaces have stronger blowers and can move more air to cool your entire house better. Your air handler has a huge impact on your heating and cooling bills. Even if you install a high efficiency air conditioner, it will not operate as efficiently as it would if you installed a new furnace or air handler also.
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 build up in your system, erode electrical connections and cause other damage that is expensive to replace. 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 higher. 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?
There are certain telltale signs that indicate it’s time to replace your heating and cooling equipment, or improve the performance of your overall system:
- Your heat pump or air conditioner is more than 10 years old
- Your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old
- Your energy bills are going up
- Your cooling or heating isn’t as efficient as they used to be
- Some rooms are too hot or too cold
- Your home is too dry in the winter or too humid in the summer
- Your home has excessive dust, or
- Your heating or cooling system is noisy
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 2016, as well as retroactive to purchases made in 2015. 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 and it 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 installation costs. Your comfort level will increase year around by getting 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, but we strongly suggest you make the smart choice and get a matched system; replacing both your air conditioner and furnace at the same time.
Call us today at contact us today at 608-205-4410 to schedule an appointment to discuss your future system.
This post was originally featured on the Lennox Comfort Matters blog.