It’s a cool breeze on a hot summer day. It’s the warmest spot during a blizzard. It’s taking a deep breath when you walk in the door after a long day. Your HVAC system keeps you and your family comfortable all year long. When it’s not working properly, it can create a major disruption to your home and family.
Choosing the best heating and cooling system for your home is an important part of home ownership. If you’re in the market for a new AC unit, we are here to help. This ultimate buying guide to central AC answers all of your questions in one place so you can find the best unit, shop online wholesale prices, and purchase with confidence.
When to Replace Your Air Conditioner
It’s the middle of summer, you walk into your house, and it feels like a sauna. You say a few choice words as you picture thousands of dollars dropping out of your bank account. The truth is, just because your unit is not working at 100 percent, doesn’t mean you automatically replace it. There are several things to consider before you toss out your entire system.
- Age of the unit: The average lifespan is about 15 years. If your air conditioner is eight or nine years old, and it needs major repairs, it may be better to replace it rather than repair it. However, if you have a unit that is less than eight years old, it might be a simple repair issue and could possibly be covered under a manufacturer’s warranty.
- Use of Freon: If your AC unit uses R410A refrigerant, you’re in the clear. Older models use r-22 Freon, which the government is phasing out. If you’re still using R-22, it’s time for a replacement.
- Repetitive repairs: Do you keep having to call your HVAC technician to fix your unit? If you have a high frequency of repairs, then it’s probably time to upgrade to a new AC unit. After so many repair costs, you could have just bought a brand-new system.
- Cost of repairs: Over time, repair costs add up. If you add up the costs of three or four repairs, you may have just paid the same as a brand-new AC unit. If the total repair cost is greater than two-thirds of the cost of a new AC unit, then it’s a good idea to replace it.
- Increasing energy bills: If your energy bill keeps going up, but your rate remains the same, that’s usually a sign your unit isn’t working efficiently. It may be something that can be fixed with a few new parts, but it’s likely it may be time for a replacement.
How Often Should You Replace Your AC Unit?
A high-quality heat and air conditioning system can last up to 20 years with proper care and maintenance. Even an average system should last about 10-15 years.
If your system is getting older, think carefully about making any type of expensive repairs. We always recommend consulting with a licensed HVAC technician before shelling out thousands of your hard-earned money into your current system.
You shouldn’t spend too much on repairing an older unit, while also avoiding buying a new AC unit unnecessarily. Need more details to help you make the “repair or replace” decision? Check out our repair vs. replacement guide.
Cost of New Furnace and AC Unit
Ask anyone who’s been without air conditioning during July and they will tell you that you can’t put a price on comfort. The truth is, you actually can. And sometimes that price can make your jaw drop. The average cost of a new AC unit is $3,000 to $7,500. Still, air conditioners and furnaces are central components to any home. To keep your home comfortable, finding an affordable new HVAC system is a top priority.
Understanding exactly what makes up the cost of a new system and can help ease some of the worry and help you make a better, more informed decision when it comes time to purchase one. The price range of heating and air systems differ depending on size, brand, and needed durability.
The cheapest is not always the better option. You may save money now, but after costly repairs and a short lifespan, your “bargain deal” system will actually cost you more money in the long run.
When shopping for your new AC unit wholesale, there are four important components that make up the cost of HVAC systems. These are generally very clear to see and it’s important to understand and consider each one when deciding which system is right for your home.
- Quality: Every manufacturer offers three levels of quality within their product line. Each level is designed to give the consumer a different balance of price and durability.
- Basic: this is the base model, the cheapest option, and usually delivers 12-16 years of durability.
- Standard: this type is the mid-range option. It is better than basic, but not the most expensive model. Most standard units will give you 15-18 years of durability.
- Premium: The premium model of any manufacturer will typically give you 18-25 years of durability.
- Performance: Each unit is also given a performance rating. This is typically found in the product description. The performance is based on the SEER (“Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating”) scale. The SEER scale is a universal measurement to see how much power your unit will produce.
- Basic SEER 13-1
- Better SEER 16-19
- Best SEER 20-24
Your SEER rating is often determined by the climate you live in. The higher the SEER, the more efficient your new AC unit is. Hotter climates need AC units with higher SEER ratings, whereas colder areas use a lower SEER unit.
- Efficiency: To measure the efficiency of your unit, you’ll look at the BTU number. This tells you how much cool air the unit can produce and how much electricity it will use. This becomes a balancing act between cooling your home and keeping your utility bills in check. You will need different BTU’s depending on the Zone you live in.
- Zones 1 & 2 (hot): 22-30 Btu/sq. Ft
- Zone 3 (warm): 20-24 Btu/sq. Ft.
- Zone 4 (moderate): 18-22 Btu/sq. Ft.
- Zone 5 (cool): 16-20 Btu/sq. Ft.
- Zone 6 (cold): 14-18 Btu/sq. Ft.
- Zone 7 (very cold): 12-16 Btu/sq. Ft
- Size: The size of your home will determine what size air conditioner and furnace is the best option. A unit that is too small will work too hard, increase your utility bills, and wear out faster. On the other hand, overcompensating with a unit that is too large will overheat/cool your home, causing major temperature swings which can also affect your utility bills and the comfort in your home.
For more information, take a look at our HVAC cost article.
What Size Air Conditioner Does My House Need?
Finding the right size AC unit is like finding the perfect mattress. You have to do research, ask questions, and compare online reviews of several different options. But once you find the perfect one, everything feels great.
Having the correct size unit is critical to your home’s comfort and the durability of the central air system. A unit too big can cause temperature variations and waste energy while a unit that is too small will not be able to sufficiently cool your home.
The size you need is based on the number of BTUs your home requires to remain comfortable. BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, which measures thermal energy. It is the amount of heat required to raise 1 pound of water 1-degree Fahrenheit.
There are two ways to calculate the number of BTUs your home requires. These calculations are the best way to determine the right size unit for you.
Manual J Calculation: This is the most accurate way to calculate the number of BTUs your home needs. It takes many factors into consideration like;
- Square footage
- Climate Zone
- Quality and amount of insulation
This calculation is the most accurate, but it’s also the most complicated. There may be available calculators online, but if you don’t have experience and expertise in the HVAC industry, there is little chance you’ll find a truly accurate answer on your own. Many utility companies offer free energy audits, so call your energy provider to schedule an energy audit.
Climate Method: This method is less accurate than the Manual J Calculation, but can be used by anyone with a calculator. While it’s not as exact as the Manual J method, it still gives you a decent estimation on your home’s BTU needs. All you need to know is where you live and what the weather is like most of the time.
The hotter climate you live in, the more cooling power per square foot of area your HVAC system needs to have.
- Hotter climates need 18 – 30 BTUs per sq. foot
- Cooler climates need 12 – 20 BTUs per sq. foot
For more detailed information about selecting the perfect size unit, read our HVAC sizing article.
Additional Factors That Determine the Perfect Size
Trying to calculate the BTUs, electric rates, hours of use per day, SEER scores, unit level, and ratings can make your head spin. There are a few common-sense factors that need to be considered when selecting the right size unit for your home.
- The age of the home: Older homes do not efficiently hold heat or air conditioning as well as today’s newer homes. If you live in an older home and are considering upgrading your unit, it’s important to check to see if your existing electrical and ductwork components can handle the newer unit.
- Exterior walls and windows: If you have large amounts of windows and walls exposed to sunlight, it can require more heating and cooling energy. If those walls and windows are old, thin, or cracked, it can make it worse. Windows full of natural light makes it easier to heat your home, but harder to cool down. Whereas if cold air is seeping through cracks and windows, during the winter, it makes your furnace work harder than it needs to.
- Weatherproofing: Because of the impact that walls and windows can have on your heating and cooling system, weatherproofing is critical. Sealed doors and windows can help your HVAC system maintain heat and cool air better throughout the year.
- Insulation: Additional or upgraded insulation can also help hold in heat and air conditioning. This can be an upgrade that might be worth looking into any time you’re having trouble with your heat or air conditioning. Insulation can make a huge difference in the comfort of your home with either an old or new HVAC.
- Existing ventilation and ductwork: Be sure to have any pre-existing ductwork inspected to ensure that it can handle the new HVAC installation.
Pros and Cons of Gas and Electric Furnaces
You have decided it is time to replace your heater. You have done a bit of research and have a pretty good idea what size you need. Now you need to pick between gas and electric.
Gas and electric both use large blower fans to move heated air throughout your home. However, the way they generate heat, the size, cost, and efficiency of both systems are different. There are pros and cons to both, and it will all come down personal preference and what is the best option for your needs.
Gas Furnace: A gas furnace uses natural gas to ignite a burner and turn on a blower inside the unit. This creates hot air that is pumped throughout the house.
Pros of a Gas Furnace:
- A gas furnace can heat up to higher temperatures than electricity
- Typically, a gas furnace will heat up faster because the burner is instantly hot. Whereas electricity takes some time to heat up.
- A gas furnace pairs nicely with both an air conditioner and a heat pump to provide year-round heating and cooling
- During the coldest times of winter, gas furnaces use less energy than other fuel sources.
- The average lifespan of a gas furnace is the 16-20 year range. This can be extended with proper maintenance and care.
Cons of a Gas Furnace
- Requires natural gas lines. If your home doesn’t have natural gas lines already, it can be expensive and perhaps impossible to have them installed, depending on where you live and the construction of your house.
- A gas furnace always requires a carbon monoxide detector to be installed.
- Because gas furnaces heat up so quickly, they can leave hot and cold spots in your house.
- Typically, a gas furnace is more expensive than electricity over time, but that may vary based on where you live.
- A gas furnace may have a shorter lifespan than electricity.
Electric Furnace: An electric furnace uses a series of heating coils to warm up hot air and distribute it throughout the house.
Pros of an Electric Furnace
- Because they do not use natural gas, electric furnaces do not produce carbon dioxide.
- Typically, an electric furnace is more affordable than gas in the long run.
- An electric furnace is smaller in size, which gives you more placement options in your home without taking up a lot of space.
- Because there is no combustion chamber, burner, or gas, there is inherently less risk involved with an electric furnace.
- If maintained well, it can be more durable than gas furnaces.
Cons of an Electric Furnace
- While they are efficient, an electric furnace can have higher running costs than a natural gas furnace.
- Depending on where you live in the country, an electric furnace may have to strain to heat homes adequately.
- An electric furnace takes more time to turn on and heat the area.
- The average lifespan of electric furnaces is 15 years, but like with most things, with proper care and maintenance, its life can be extended.
What is a Heat Pump?
Heat pumps are growing in popularity and for good reason. A heat pump, as part of a central heating and cooling system, uses the outside air to both heat a home in winter and cool it in summer.
They can be used in addition to a typical central heating and cooling system, or as a complete alternative. They are energy efficient and use natural methods to heat and cool your home. This provides you with less expensive utility bills and extends the life of your HVAC system.
How it Works:
A heat pump is like a heat transport system. It moves warm air from one place to another, depending on where it’s needed (or not needed). When it’s cold outside, the heat pump uses the outside heat and transfers it inside. When it’s warm outside, it reverses and removes heat from the home to pump it outside.
A heat pump consists of two parts. There is an indoor unit called an air handler and an outdoor unit that looks similar to a central air conditioner, but referred to as a heat pump. A compressor circulates refrigerant that absorbs and releases heat as it travels between the indoor and outdoor units.
A heat pump system is significantly more expensive than a standard air conditioner, but it doesn’t increase your utility bills month after month. Typically, they are best for moderate climates, where the outside temperature is fairly comfortable year-round. They work well when a supplemental heating source may be needed for occasional lower temperatures, but they do not work as efficiently in really cold climates.
How it Works with your Existing HVAC System
Combining a heat pump with your existing furnace is called a hybrid system. The heat pump is used first and foremost. When the temperature drops below freezing, there’s not enough heat in the air to sufficiently heat the home with the pump alone. This is when the backup electric or gas furnace kicks in to provide warm air.
What Are the Benefits of a Heat Pump?
A heat pump can significantly increase the lifespan of your furnace because the majority of the time, the heat pump will do the heavy lifting. The furnace will only kick in in colder temperatures when you really need the power to heat your home. Throughout the year, you’ll enjoy lower energy bills because the heat pump uses less electricity than your current air conditioner. A heat pump also uses significantly less energy than a typical HVAC system, providing your home a greener option for heating and cooling.
Still not sure whether gas or electric is the way to go? For more information to help you make a decision, check out our electric vs. gas furnace article.
Where to Install Your HVAC System in Your Home
When you purchase an all-in-one system, it comes as a package unit. Essentially, it looks like a giant unit and two large duct pipes. So where do you put it and how do you install it? Consider the airflow in your home. The best location for HVAC performance is wherever you can optimize airflow.
- In the crawlspace: Many single level homes have their heat and air conditioning system located in a crawl space underneath their house. This may be a decent place to store your unit, except when it’s ignored. It is difficult to get to for installation, inspection and repairs, so it’s often left forgotten and neglected. It’s also a bad location because it’s exposed to the elements.
- In the attic: HVAC systems in vented attic usually underperform, especially in the summer. It’s nearly impossible to cool down the upstairs when the cooling unit is in the attic. Attics are also typically not well insulated. In the summertime, attics that are not well insulated and vented can have an airflow with at least a ten-degree temperature difference than a system that is in a basement or closet that is well insulated. This drastically changes the performance of your unit. If your system is already in your attic, but is not performing well, then insulating and sealing your attic can greatly improve its performance.
- In the basement: Typically, the best place for your heat and air conditioning system is in a basement that is well insulated and safe from the outside elements. If you don’t have a basement, then a closet or an attic that is also well insulated will work great.
Benefits of Buying a New AC Unit from a Wholesaler
We understand that you can buy a new central air system anywhere. But when you buy a new system from Hassle Free HVAC, you can take advantage of many benefits that you won’t find anywhere else.
- No Hassle– Skip the irritating process of getting three different quotes from three different contractors, and trying to figure out which is the most accurate one and which one is trying to take advantage of you. We give you an upfront cost with an honest price every single time.
- Lower prices– Because we can cut out the middleman, we can offer you a lower price than anywhere else. Retailers must mark up the prices after they buy it from the wholesaler in order to make a profit. By purchasing wholesale, you get the real price right from the beginning.
- Better buying process– We make it easy to research and purchase your new system while relaxing on the couch. Once you’ve made your selection, one of our Comfort Consultants will schedule an appointment to access your home and determine if you bought the right one before it is installed. This way, you can buy with confidence and without the high-pressure sales.
- Installation Experts – On installation day, our professional installers will walk you through everything they will do. After the install, you have standard warranties so you can rest easy knowing the work was done right.
- Customer Service– As experts in the industry, we are here to help you make the best decision for your home and family. You have access to expert advice and guidance from licensed and experienced consultants with 20+ years of industry experience. Our network is here to guide you through the entire process to make the best decision.
It’s Time to Buy!
If you notice a string of repairs, an inefficient unit, or increase in your utility bills, you’re probably ready for an upgraded HVAC system. By understanding exactly what goes into the cost of your unit, you can balance the cost and savings of performance, efficiency, quality, and size.
Choosing the size of your unit can be tricky to avoid overpaying or under-delivering, but we can help with that too. We will do a thorough measurement of your home and ductwork to determine what size HVAC unit will work best in your home.
While some areas are almost exclusively gas furnaces, other parts of the country rely on electric. Making that choice can impact your monthly utility bills, so it’s important to consider what is the best option for you. If you’re looking for an energy efficient option that works well in your area, let us help you discover the world of heat pumps and see how it can go to work for you.
When it’s time to install, our experts will make sure you have the right unit in the right location to provide ongoing comfort for your home. Visit our system selector to find the perfect new AC unit for you and your family today!