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FAQs When Replacing an HVAC System

Buying a new HVAC system is a significant investment and working with the right company may be the most important decision in the buying process. An experienced, reputable HVAC company will guide you through the replacement process with honesty and integrity. That being said, you shouldn’t start the process uniformed so it’s important to know which questions to ask.

1. What size air conditioner is right for my home?

Size determines energy efficiency and overall comfort. An HVAC unit’s capacity must reflect the size and configuration of your home. A unit that is too big won’t run as often as it should and will provide poorer temperature and humidity control. A unit that is too small will struggle to keep all of the rooms in your home at the desired temperature, and run constantly, especially in extreme weather. According to ENERGY STAR, “improper installation can reduce performance by as much as 30%.”

The HVAC industry standard calculation to determine proper size is known as a Manual J load calculation. This calculation takes into account the climate, size, shape, and orientation of your home, as well as its square footage. The contractor has to measure the house completely - get all the insulation R-values, window types, orientation, infiltration rate, duct leakage, and more. Then they put all that into the load calculation software and find out the actual heating and cooling loads for your home.

2. Can I keep my current ductwork?

The distribution system in your home plays a large role in the functioning of the HVAC unit. Many duct systems don't move as much air as they should because of ducts that are too small, kinked, too long, or have other types of constrictions. The condition of your ductwork should be evaluated during your replacement estimate. Ductwork should be properly sealed and insulated, and it should be sized for your new system. If you need your ductwork repaired, cleaned, or replaced, the cost should be included in your estimate.

3. What should I look for in a contractor?

Selecting the right contractor is critical. Ask about the licensing and qualifications of prospective contractors. He/she should be appropriately licensed and adequately insured. Also ask if the contractor is a member of state and/or national associations such as Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). The ACCA website provides a contractor scorecard to help you find a quality contractor. The ACCA also has a Quality HVAC Installation Checklist that your contractor should be utilizing during the installation process and that you can access on their website.

Ask about the size of your contractor’s staff to ensure there are adequate workers to not only install the system but also to respond to service calls. You should also ask about the technicians’ certifications and if they are familiar with the brand of equipment you want to purchase.

4. What should I know about filters?

There are many air filter options – disposable, washable, and some, like HEPA filters, are manufactured to improve indoor air quality and protect your health. Ask your HVAC contractor about compatible filters for the unit you want to have installed to ensure your ability to use the type of filter you prefer.

5. What type of HVAC unit should I get?

There are many choices when it comes to selecting an HVAC system. Some systems are engineered for quiet operation or are designed to integrate seamlessly with furnaces, thermostats, and other HVAC equipment. A qualified HVAC contractor will be willing and able to explain the best options for your home.

A split air conditioner is the most common option. It consists of two units: one that sits outside your home and one that resides inside. The two units communicate via coolant lines.

A packaged system puts both units in the same cabinet, which your HVAC technician installs outside. These models take up less space and often cost less to install.

A variable-speed furnace increases your system’s heating and cooling efficiency by running for longer periods of time. It adjusts the speed based on what is needed. A variable-speed furnace often runs for longer periods of time but at slower speeds. This increases energy efficiency by eliminating the waste caused from frequent stops and starts.

A heat pump is an air conditioner that can also work in reverse to heat your home during the winter. They are best used, however, in climates that don’t see extreme winters unless paired with a gas furnace for powerful heating during the winter. Heat pumps are more energy efficient than furnaces, so they are a cost-effective option.

6. What Thermostat Do You Recommend?

The right thermostat can help you save on energy costs throughout the year. Programmable thermostats allow you to set a schedule that varies depending on the day of the week to reduce energy waste while you’re not at home. Many newer HVAC units have advanced, smart thermostats that let you manage your heating and cooling needs remotely from an app. They can also provide energy usage reports to help you understand your energy consumption. Some thermostats work better with certain types of HVAC systems than others so check with your contractor to understand which options will work with your choice of system.

7. Should I replace all of my HVAC equipment at the same time?

You want to be sure that all the parts of your HVAC system work together properly. A mismatched system may not deliver the energy efficiency or performance that you expect. If you’re buying multiple units for your home, ask whether they work together efficiently. In many cases, it’s best to purchase furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, and other HVAC components from the same manufacturer.

8. What is the installation timeline?

Understand how long it will take to install the units you choose. If you’re planning to purchase an HVAC system to replace a malfunctioning or broken unit, you probably want the new system in place as soon as possible. In many cases, however, installing an HVAC system isn’t a quick process. With electrical, plumbing, and ductwork components to coordinate, not to mention extensive calibration and testing, the installation process can easily take more than a day. If the system is larger or requires significant ductwork updates, the process could take several days. In some cases, the specific models you select will impact installation time periods and costs, so you might want to consider this information as part of the decision-making process.

9. What is the total cost?

It is recommended that you obtain three written estimates prior to choosing a contractor. Ask the prospective contractors to explain their cost breakdown including the system pricing, the labor cost, and charges for extras like thermostats or air quality components. Be sure you understand what is included in each price – what is being done, what equipment is being provided and when the installation process will begin and end.

Installation prices vary from one HVAC company to the next and equipment costs vary from brand to brand. You can check to see if your state or local utility company offers any rebates or incentives for replacing an old HVAC system. You should also review current rebate offers from the leading HVAC manufacturers.

10. What about maintenance?

All HVAC equipment requires routine maintenance and having a maintenance agreement helps assure your system is ready no matter the weather situation. Understand what guarantees, warranties and follow-up services are available. Ask if the contractor offers a maintenance service agreement, how much it costs, and what it covers. Equipment warranties vary, so it’s important to know what is included in the warranty and what is not. You should also know whether you should register your equipment or if your contractor will take care of it.

11. When is the best time to replace my HVAC system?

HVAC companies are busy repairing and replacing furnaces and heat pumps during the winter months and summer is the peak season for air conditioners. There are significant savings involved if you buy a new system after summer. Similar to stores’ after-Christmas sales, many HVAC companies and manufacturers offer sales and rebates on units and installation after the peak season. If you can wait until after the summer to upgrade your system, you could see some significant savings on a new unit.

The next best time would be the months in-between the busy summer and winter seasons. Months when the weather is milder tend to be a slow time for HVAC companies so you may find specials on installations.

Terms to Know

ACCA: Air Conditioning Contractors of America—the nationwide association representing the HVAC contracting industry.

AHRI: Air conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute which publishes a directory of certified product performance at AHRIDirectory.org.

HVAC: Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning system.

HSPF: Heating Season Performance Factor is a measure of a heat pump’s energy efficiency over one heating season. All heat pumps sold today must have an HSPF of at least 7.7.

NATE: North American Technician Excellence, Inc. (NATE) is the leading certification program for technicians in the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R) industry and it conducts the only test supported by the entire industry.

SEER: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio is a measure of equipment energy efficiency over the cooling season. All cooling systems sold today must have at least a SEER 13 rating. Every point over that indicates that the air conditioner is more energy efficient and can lead to a lower utility bill.

If you have additional questions on selecting the right HVAC system for your home, do not hesitate to contact the experts at GV’s Heating & Cooling. We have over 25 years of experience and are happy to provide you the assistance and expertise you need when you replace your HVAC system.