Tips to Replace Air Conditioner Units: The Savvy Consumer’s Guide

The federal government recommends that homeowners replace air conditioner units that are more than ten years old. The main reason for this, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency is “ENERGY STAR qualified air conditioners and heat pumps offer significant long-term energy savings.” Replacing central air conditioning units 10 years or older can save at least 20 percent on A/C energy use.

Below, you will find more tips to consider before replacing central air conditioner units.

  1. Up-front cost vs. long term savings
  2. Our rebates or other incentives that can assist in your purchase
  3. The dependability and brand reputation of the air conditioner

Is It Time to Replace Your Unit?

Here is a checklist from ENERGY STAR, that outlines when and why you may need to replace your A/C unit.

When is it time to replace?
Certain telltale signs indicate it’s time to consider replacing heating and cooling equipment or improving the performance of your overall system. It may be time to call a professional contractor to help you make a change if:

Your heat pump or air conditioner is more than 10 years old.
Consider replacing it with a unit that has earned the ENERGY STAR label. Installed correctly, these high-efficiency units can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs.

Your furnace or boiler is more than 15 years old.
Consider replacing with an ENERGY STAR qualified furnace, which is 15% more efficient than a conventional furnace. If you have a boiler, consider replacing with an ENERGY STAR qualified boiler that is 5% more efficient than a new, standard model.

Your equipment needs frequent repairs and your energy bills are going up.
Your cooling or heating equipment my have become less efficient.

Some rooms in your home are too hot or too cold.
Improper equipment operation, duct problems or inadequate insulation could be the cause.

No one is home for long periods of the day and you do not have a programmable thermostat.
Install a programmable thermostat or have a good contractor install one and instruct you on its use — to start saving energy and money while they’re away or sleeping.

Your home has humidity problems.
Poor equipment operation, inadequate equipment, and leaky ductwork can cause the air to be too dry in the winter or too humid in the summer.

Your home has excessive dust.
Leaky ducts can pull particles and air from attics, crawl spaces and basements and distribute them throughout your house. Sealing your ducts may be a solution.

Your heating or cooling system is noisy.
You could have an undersized duct system or a problem with the indoor coil of your cooling equipment.

Your score on the Home Energy Yardstick is below five.
That means your energy use at home is above average and you’re probably paying more than you need to on energy bills. Information about FurnacesBoilersHeat Pumps, and Air Conditioners that have earned the ENERGY STAR.

Among the most important reasons listed are:

  • Your air conditioner is more than 10 years old: Older units may not be as efficient. New units can save up to 20 percent on cooling costs.
  • Your air conditioner needs frequent repairs and your energy bills are going up: Your cooling equipment may have become less efficient.
  • Your cooling system is noisy: You could have a problem with the indoor coil of your cooling equipment.
  • Your Home Energy Yardstick score is below five: Your home energy use is above average and you’re probably paying more than you need to on energy bills.

Look for Energy Efficiency

SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is an indicator of how efficient your unit will be. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit and the lower the operating cost. So, it is advisable to shop around for high-SEER units.

As you research high-SEER air conditioners, you will see that well-known, dependable brands rise to the top of the list of many consumer advocacy review sites (such as The Green Guide, owned by the National Geographic Society).

It’s pretty simple: to save money, replace air conditioner units with durable, trusted brands, high SEER ratings, lower operational and energy costs, and rebates.

Before replacing your furnace, air conditioner or heat pump, learn the difference between HVAC manufacturers.

If you’re in the market for a new furnace, air conditioner or heat pump system, then chances are that you need to hire someone to install it properly.

So you went online to start figuring out which brand, which model, which size, which contractor, how much, what financing options, etc. — a lot of things to consider!

Couple that with the fact that this expense is most likely unplanned, perhaps even an emergency situation, and it becomes quite a big decision that needs to be made quickly. Here’s how to do it:

Shop for local HVAC offers
Does your HVAC system need maintenance? Shop HVAC offers in your area.

Why do you want to replace your HVAC system?

If you’re shopping for a new HVAC system because you recently had service, and the service tech told you that you had to, or that it’s dangerous, then let’s take a step back for a second.

It’s very rare that a system must be replaced. Now, sometimes repairs can cost as much as a new system, but that doesn’t mean you must go that route. There are almost always options for repair.

So, if your answer is, “because I have to,” then get a second opinion.

RELATED: 3 Tips to Avoid Poor HVAC Service

Now, maybe that system is getting old and you just don’t want to deal with annual repairs, or you want higher efficiency to reduce those utility bills, or your system has never heated or cooled your home just right. OK, those are some good reasons to replace your HVAC unit.

Anyway, it’s time to pick a contractor. Wait a minute, what about brand?

Before hiring an HVAC contractor, verify that they are properly licensed to perform the job in your area.

Who is the best HVAC manufacturer?

I have an Apple iPhone, a Honda Civic, and I’m reading this on a Sony laptop while drinking my Starbucks coffee! Brands are burned into our psyche as Americans.

For most purchases we make, you pick the brand first, then go to a dealer or retailer. Here is how the story goes: I see an ad for a Honda Civic, see people driving them around and now I want one. I’ll go to my local Honda Dealer, whichever one will give me the best deal, or one that I have a good relationship with (hopefully both). A Honda Civic is a Honda Civic, right? Yes.

However, HVAC dealers are actually the manufacturers. A Trane XL19i isn’t a Trane XL19i, even though it has the same label. Weird. Let me explain.

There are about six HVAC equipment manufacturers in the U.S. today, but they operate under more than 150 brand names.

Here are some brands that come off the same manufacturing lines — just different paint, labels, and marketing:

  • Lennox, Armstrong and Concord
  • Trane and American Standard
  • Carrier, Payne, Bryant and Tempstar
  • York, Lux and Coleman
  • Goodman and Amana

You get the idea.

Most of the components that make up these brands’ products are made by even fewer companies: Emerson, Johnson Controls and Honeywell.

Also, these companies are huge billion-dollar conglomerates. They all utilize very rigid quality processes incorporating multimillion dollar machines that produce nearly mistake-proof products. I’ve personally been to many of these facilities and worked as a quality engineer at one. They’re all pretty good at building HVAC units.

So, what’s the difference? Typically, there are small differences on the very top-end products, such as who has the bigger touch-screen thermostat, or is it 98.4 percent or 98.3 percent efficient. But, these are insignificant at the end of the day.

So, what’s the big, clear-cut difference? The installing contractor.

MORE: Angie’s List Guide to HVAC Maintenance

Pick the best HVAC contractor

Unlike a Honda Civic, the products we buy come in pieces and are uncalibrated. It’s our job as heating and cooling contractors to put them together and set them up for that specific installation. The only place the manufacturer sets up HVAC units for is in their testing lab.

Furnaces and air conditioners don’t just snap together and plug in, unfortunately. It takes about $5,000 in tools and a few years of training to “finish what the manufacturer started.” So, we really are the guys at the end of the manufacturing line; it just so happens to be in your backyard, attic or basement.

So, why are Trane, Carrier and Lennox perceived as better? For one, large national advertising campaigns assure that you have “heard of them.” But the big reason is that they’re selective about who they let install their products. They don’t let the plumber or handyman doing heating and cooling on the side purchase or install their products.

So, how do you pick the right contractor?

  1. Read reviews. Guess what? Angie’s List has tons of those! And they are actually real. Be careful of the fake testimonials out there.
  2. Check licensing. Most states have a contractor license portal.
  3. Check certifications. If a contractor is a member of North American Technician Excellence or ACCA-The Indoor Environment & Energy Efficiency Association, chances are that they and their installers know what they are doing. These organizations have stringent test standards and require continuing education.
  4. Ask around. Who did your neighbors or friends use? Did they meet their expectations? Was their pricing fair?




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