Advice: Repair or Replace my Air Conditioner?

 Repair or Replace AC System Advice?

Repair or Replace AC System Advice?

Repair my existing air conditioner or replace it with a newer unit? What should I do?     Ouch - I'm sure you'd rather be considering paint colors for your next car and yet you're faced with harder(and more uncomfortable) decisions.  The short and potentially unsatisfying(yet wise) answer to your conundrum is 'it depends'.  Though I can not give you the definitive answer I can offer you some guiding thoughts for your decision making process.

1. Don't get bullied.  If you have an air conditioning technician at your home saying 'lets get this done in 3-2-1 ....... GO!! I've got the installers her in 5 minutes'.  Pump the brakes and take a breather.  I know you're hot(or cold) but ask yourself, 'would I invest thousands of dollars for surgery without consulting more than one doctor?' or even without at least investigate on Web MD first?  If the answer is 'no' then you are a gunslinger.  Good luck. You can stop reading now.  If 'yes' then read on.

2.  Assess the current system situation, repairs etc.   Feel free even to give this list to any technician.

a) Is the system repairable?  A qualified technician can tell you this answer but always ask him to explain why and how.  Even ask him to show you his findings.  Yes sometimes this involves going in uncomfortable places like your attic but being thorough is important at this stage.  If you're not comfortable with the diagnosis get a second opinion. 

b) Price of current repairs & Repair history - What is the total damage for all the repairs.  How does this compare to the cost of replacement?   Also consider the likelihood of additional repairs in the near future.  Think back have you been consistently putting a few hundred dollars into your HVAC systems each year?  Lastly compare the efficiency savings you will likely experience (more later).

c) Age of equipment - Under Warranty?  Check with the tech and see if the manufacturer still covers the failed components.  Don't skip this step.  If your system is less than 5 years old we can safely assume that your failed parts are covered and there will be no need to replace.  Repairs will also be cheap.  Even some units that are 10 years old and "past there mechanical life" may still be under warranty.  Trane has some units with 12 year warranties.  Probably a silly marketing tactic but some people may get lucky on those extra 2 years.

d) Freon in use - 410 or R22?  R22 is damaging to the atmosphere.  No I'm not being paid by Al Gore to tell you this.  Our government(Under Bush) decided to phase out R22 refrigerant.  As supplies and production reduce down to zero over the coming years the price of R22 will continue to rise and rise.  Last year alone the HVAC contractors were shocked that R22 skyrocketed in price.  Makes us all look a bit goofy when all of us knew the legislation well.  Nonetheless, it is the consumer who is punished (all for the sake of our environment though) as contractor actually just pass on the cost to their customers.  Puron, 410A is the future.  It is better(a lesser evil) than the old R22 and costs much much less.  Ask your air conditioning tech for the going rates of each so you can compare.

3. Long Term Plans for they home - Moving or Staying?  Always consider the outlook.  A warning: Home inspectors will look to see if the units are running and savvy home buyers will try to negotiate with you further if they find the HVAC system to be in poor condition.  

4. Cost of New System - Cost Benefit Analysis - Compare with price of repairs and future savings against continuing to use your current system.

5. Future Energy Savings from the new system compared to current usage - AC systems measure their efficiency in SEER and EER.  These two demonstrate the Energy Rating of the equipment you may be buying.  SEER seems to be the more popular when discussed but EER is a better true measure.  Further, true SEER/EER can only be estimated on full system match ups.  Slapping a new "high efficient" condenser(outside air conditioner box looking thing) on old equipment will not let it live to its full potential.  For more on forecasted savings there are several ways to estimate savings.  Ruud has a system called Design star which can measure with decent accuracy what kind of savings you will experience of the life of the new vs old unit. More on that system in another post.

 * NOTE: There is NO WAY TO DETERMINE with 100% accuracy how much money you will save on each energy bill with a new system.  If you meet someone who does either they are a liar or they have a unique connection to God and I need to meet them.   Simply, there are too many outside variables involved.  Future cost of utilities, installation quality, system usage, use by other appliances, attic insulation, outdoor temperatures/weather etc.

6. Lastly - Learn as much as you can and make the best decision for you.   Best of luck in your buying process!  

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