Replacing Your HVAC System: Here’s 10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy

If you sense signs that your HVAC system is struggling, it might be time to replace or upgrade it to a more efficient version.  The Department of Energy recommends that you replace your HVAC system every 10 to 15 years. After approximately 10 years, the significant components may show signs of wear that might affect its efficiency.

Replacing your HVAC system, though, requires careful research to help you make the correct decision. This article is here to help, as we’ll take you through the 10 most essential questions you should ask before buying a replacement HVAC system.

What is My Budget?

You should always start with the money you have available to replace your HVAC system because your budget determines what system you can afford. This can make for difficult decisions: if the upgraded system you want will cost more than you have reserved to pay for it, you will have to either settle for something less suitable, wait so that you can save up for the more expensive option, or seek out financing options.

To Finance or Not?

A reliable HVAC system will set you back somewhere in the region of $2,000 to $15,000 depending on your home’s size and the system you want. Many homeowners take the option of financing this home improvement because it helps them spread the costs and they can get the money instantly, which means a quicker install.

If you do choose to finance, there are four ways you can do this:

Home equity loan
  • Lower rates than personal loans
  • Tax-deductible interest
  • Expensive closing costs
  • Interest is payable on the lump sum amount
Personal loan
  • Instant decision
  • Fast access to the money
  • Unsecured: your home is safe
  • Shorter repayment terms
  • More expensive
  • Strict repayment schedules
Credit card
  • Flexible repayment terms
  • Long term repayment options
  • No need to be approved for the money
  • Instant cash
  • Higher rates
  • Affect credit score if the card is maxed out
  • The debt grows if not paid off quickly
Manufacturer finance options
  • More likely to be approved
  • Instant decision
  • Book install as part of the package
  • Convenient as you don’t have to shop around
  • High rates
  • Fixed date to repay
  • Rates increase the longer the loan is outstanding

What is the Best Time to Replace My HVAC System?

Once you’ve figured out your budget and payment plan, you should then determine the best time to proceed with work. Most experts recommend that you replace your system in the colder months for two reasons. The first is that you don’t want to replace it in searing heat, because that is precisely when you want your HVAC to be operational.

Second, most installers and manufacturers have a summer rush, so the chance of available bookings in the winter increases. They might also offer purchase incentives in these slower winter months, which could save you money.

What if There are Changes to My Home Occupancy?

If you know that there will be changes to the occupancy of your home – perhaps a new baby on the way or a frail family member moving in who is suffering from illness – it might be wise to consider a system that can cater to these new inhabitants. The whole idea of an efficient system is that it should make all the occupants in your home feel comfortable, so plan accordingly for an HVAC system that will keep everybody happy.

What if I Have Specific Local Conditions to Manage?

Some states are hotter than others: Alaska, for example, does not have the same weather patterns as southern California or central Texas. In warmer states the focus should be on the air conditioning aspect of your HVAC system, while in colder locations it will be the heating element that focuses attention.

Consider also if you live in an industrialized area where the air pollution is among the worst in the United States. In these locations, the ventilation function of the system will be as important as air conditioning.  

What Size HVAC Do I Need?

When it comes to getting the right size HVAC system for your home, this is where you need the advice of the experts: talk to local installers and get them to visit your home to discuss your wants and needs. Call in the professionals, let them survey your home, let them quiz you on what you want, and let them measure the square footage to get an accurate scale of the HVAC system that suits your needs.

If you are having a new system installed to replace your older one, you’ll have a reasonably good idea of the size of your existing HVAC and will know if it meets your requirements or not. Don’t be sucked in by the myth that bigger is better, because if your home is too small for the system you install it will affect how efficiently the HVAC operates as well as increasing your energy bills. On the flip side, a system that is too small will never reach the optimum temperature and then might wear out quickly because it might simply keep working to try to maintain a set temperature.  

Do I Need New HVAC Equipment?

It is possible that a repair can be done on some of the older equipment as a way of saving you money, but an industry professional can make an assessment of the equipment you currently have to decide the best way to move forward.

It may be that, because of its age, the old system is no longer compatible with the new one, and if that’s the case, get the inside and the outside installed at the same time for convenience, compatibility, and to meet efficiency standards. You should also get a maintenance agreement to prolong the life of your HVAC and to increase the chance that when you come to replace the next one, parts of the old system might be useable.

What Type of System Do I Need?

The system you choose should depend on several aspects: what the climate is like in your region, the type of system you prefer, whether you live in an urban area, and what the professionals recommend to suit your needs. There are also environmental implications related to the system you choose.

So what are the options?

Standard split system
  • Most common system in use
  • Comes as a furnace and air con system
  • An air handler and heat pump option
  • A furnace and a heat pump option
  • Most affordable option
  • Requires ductwork installation
  • Major task if retrofitting
Ductless system
  • Ideal for offices and spaces without ducting in place
  • High efficiency
  • Each unit can be regulated for better control
  • Not effective in cold climates
  • Reduced range of options compared to standard split systems
Packaged system
  • Great for homes without basements
  • Comes in 3 options including hybrid
  • Quieter inside the home
  • Less efficient
  • Reduced options compared to standard split systems
  • Prone to breakdown as all the components are open to the elements
Geothermal system
  • Good for the environment
  • 4 times more efficient than traditional systems
  • Reduced energy costs and usage
  • 4 times the cost of standard systems

You may find that your location restricts your choices. If you live in a built-up area, for example, the chances of you having a geothermal system are limited due to the ground disruption this causes in sinking the pipes into the earth to tap into the geothermal changes of the planet. Likewise, you are more likely to benefit from a ductless system if you live in an apartment block. If you live in a house, you might not want to go through the pain of retrofitting a split system that requires ducting installation.

How Do I Find The Right Contractor?

Replacing your HVAC system is definitely a job for hired professionals. But finding a reliable company to complete you reinstall is half the battle. Ask family and friends, use social media to get recommendations, and visit the firms in your area to get a feel for them. Often, it comes down to gut-feeling as to whether you can work with a company or not. There are some websites, however, that can help you make the right choice:

You should also visit The Contractor’s License Reference site to check the specific requirements of your state and to see if your chosen contractor is licensed.

You also need to do your research to see if the company you want to employ specializes in the HVAC system you want. It wouldn’t be a good idea to hire an installer that only deals with standard split systems if they have no experience installing the latest geothermal HVAC system you want.

You should also see copies of their Licensed Contractor Surety Bond, to protect you against any financial irregularities or unfair practices, and check that they have Workers Compensation Insurance in place, should anyone have an accident on your property. The last thing you would want is for the liability to rest on your shoulders.

Final Thoughts

There are many things to consider when thinking of getting a HVAC reinstall: the budget, the climate, the local area, and the state regulations, but mostly it comes down to research, listening to others, taking advice from the professionals, and knowing what you want. In the end though, the decision is yours, so use these questions as a safeguard to ensure that you’re buying the best model.

Further Reading