How do you know if you need a new HVAC system?

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By Terri Williams September 12th, 2019
For business

It's important to properly maintain your HVAC system during the summer or winter months.

During the blazing heat of summer or when harsh winter winds blow, your HVAC needs to work and it needs to work well. If your unit doesn’t function as efficiently as it should, it might need some maintenance work, or you might need to replace it altogether. So, how do you know if your HVAC needs to be replaced or not? And if you need a new one, when is the best time to purchase one?

Here are some important factors to consider:

Efficiency

When it’s hot outside, setting your HVAC thermostat to a drastically cooler temperature can cause your utility bills to be higher. Setting your thermostat at a more moderate temperature could ease the work that your system needs to do to cool your home. “However, if you have an older system that cannot maintain a reasonable set point, say 75 degrees F on a 90-degree day, it may be time to have it checked to see if it is performing correctly before considering whether to have it replaced,” says Tim Storm, senior product manager for Trane.

Storm also recommends upgrading a system that is more than 10 years old or has a SEER rating of 10 or less. “Newer systems with SEER ratings of between 14 and 23 provide energy saving features that can lessen the monthly bill and speed up the return on your investment,” Storm explains.

It’s important to keep an eye on how long your HVAC needs to run. “If your system seems to never cut off, it could be time to replace it,” explains Tommy Dutton, Franchise Consultant at Aire Serv.

Dutton agrees that 10 years is a good time to replace it, since the HVAC is out of warranty. “If your warranty has expired, Murphy’s Law can kick in at any time and problems always seem surface at the worst possible time like overnight, during the weekends, when you have company over, or as you’re gearing up to go out of town.”

When your system never cuts off, you’re paying more money to the utility company. This money could be better spent on a more comfortable, high efficiency system, Dutton says.

Noise

A noisy system is never a good sign. “Can you hear it running from a block away or does the air circulating in and out of vents whistle, whine or sound like a windstorm inside of your home?” asks Dutton. If so, there’s a good chance your HVAC is nearing the end of its lifespan.

Warm air

A properly operating HVAC system shouldn’t need to have refrigerant replaced,” Storm explains. “However, refrigerant leaks or failure of the compressor, outdoor fan motor, capacitors or contactor can happen over time.” Storm recommends consulting with a certified HVAC technician who can pinpoint the source of the problem, repair any leaks and restore the refrigerant level.

Appearance

You’re not usually advised to judge your home’s hardworking equipment by its appearance. However, when your system starts to look worn out, Dutton says this could be a sign that it needs to be replaced. “After time, some systems just look beat up,” he says. “This may be due to hard use in extremely hot or cold weather, proximity to corrosives like salt water or chemicals, or maybe just bad treatment or lack of attention.”

If you need to replace your HVAC

If you decide you need to purchase a new system, Dutton recommends doing this during the spring or fall seasons when the weather is a bit more moderate and companies are not as busy. “It’s easier to find a contractor that has time to do the job then and some companies offer an off-season discount.”

So, how long will it take to replace the system, and how much should you expect to pay? “Depending on the condition, most replacements take one to two days and prices can vary from $7,000 to over $20,000,” Dutton says. “Like cars, there are many makes and models, so it is important to consider your budget and the needs of your individual home.”

Before calling an HVAC technician, check these items

It’s important to test the efficiency of your system before calling an HVAC technician. There may be a false alarm, and your system is working fine. “Make sure your thermostat is set to cool,” Storm advises. “Especially at the beginning of a new season, your thermostat may still be in heating mode.” He suggests trying to set the temperature 2 to 4 degrees below room temperature.”

Storm also recommends checking your circuit breaker to see if it has been tripped and, if so, try to reset it.

There are other areas of your system that you should check, too. “Sometimes filters or evaporator coils can get severely clogged and restrict airflow, or condensate drains can back up and trip an overflow safety switch which is designed to shut off the system to prevent water damage,” Storm says. “That’s why we recommend checking and cleaning or replacing your filters every 30-90 days and keeping all condensate lines clear.” The owner’s manual should help you locate your filter. If you are having trouble locating it, Storm recommends consulting with a trusted HVAC technician.

Maintenance tasks to ensure the longevity of your HVAC

To keep your HVAC working properly, Dutton says most systems should be checked out and maintained by a professional twice a year, including the following:

  • Testing the safety controls
  • Carbon monoxide testing for fossil fuel systems, homes with fireplaces or gas logs, and homes with attached garages
  • Evaporator and condenser coils inspected for leaks or other problems and cleared of dust, debris and damage to
  • Checking the refrigerant and gas pressures
  • Inspecting the electrical connections (it’s important that homeowners do notdo this themselves – call a certified specialist)
  • Check for sufficient airflow
  • Ensure ductwork is in good shape

Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Image/Shutterstock

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