How to Know When Your HVAC Equipment Needs Replacement

Repair or replace? With HVAC equipment, there are some clear guidelines for making the right decision on this investment.

The decision to repair or replace major household equipment, such as HVAC equipment and appliances, used to be much simpler.

It went something like this:

  • “How much to repair the equipment vs. replace?”
  • “How long do we expect the repair will last before more work is necessary?”
  • “Okay, great - thank you. Decision made.”

The value calculation was much simpler. If the cost of a repair was low enough and the projected lifespan resulting from the repair was long enough, we could easily determine that it made sense to have the repair made. That calculation has become increasingly complicated over time by modern advances in things such as energy efficiency of newer equipment, the convenience of “smart” devices, and other factors. We have assembled a list below to help you arrive at your own conclusions about whether or not you should be looking to get a few more years from your HVAC equipment.

When to Replace Air Conditioners

The need for air conditioning is an inescapable part of home ownership for many of us. If the outside weather gets unusually cold, we can always throw on a sweater until it passes, but if temperatures become unbearably hot, for many of us there’s no other escape.

“How much does it cost to replace a central air conditioning unit?” is one of those questions like, “how long is a piece of string?” There are a number of variables particular to that decision and they differ as much as people’s living situations do. For now, we’ll focus on how to know when it’s time to make the decision to replace.

  1. You are in a loop of constant repairs. Here’s a situation where it likely makes sense to start over with something brand new. The exception to this rule is if the repairs are failing due to competence issues with the technician. Consider this your friendly reminder that all HVAC equipment should only be serviced by licensed technicians.
  2. Your home is more humid than usual. Often equipment will fail in subtle rather than acute ways. One of the ways this shows up is that there are subtle reductions in the way the unit evenly cools your home. At minimum, this should trigger a service call.
  3. The cost of parts exceeds 33% of the cost of a new unit. While there is no fixed formula that ensures the right decision, this rule of thumb stolen from the car business is a good benchmark. There are no guarantees that repairs will prolong the life of the entire piece of equipment.
  4. The unit is more than 10 years old. As we mentioned in the opening paragraph, newer equipment (especially combined with new windows or window replacement on a home) is often multiple times more energy efficient than equipment that is a decade or more older. If you are unsure, or think your equipment meets newer energy standards, be sure to confirm with your licensed technician.
  5. Your energy bills are rising significantly. Check with your service provider: have they raised prices? If you’re having trouble understanding a sudden spike in your electrical bill, the first place to look is at the highest-drawing equipment in your home, HVAC equipment being the top of that list.

When to Replace a Furnace

Depending on the climate you live in, furnace upkeep is a crucial area for a homeowner to be as proactive as possible. If you’re not sure what we mean, ask anyone who lives in the north who has had a furnace fail during a cold snap about their experience.

“How long does a furnace last?” is another question like the air conditioner one above. Think of it like your car: how long does your car last if you maintain it properly vs. if you just take it for granted, fail to change the oil, fail to rotate the tires and so on. The life of all HVAC equipment can be prolonged with regular maintenance from a licensed technician, but as with air conditioners, there comes a time to go out with the old and in with the new. Here’s how to know when that time has come:

  1. Dirty air. If you’ve been diligent about changing your filters and you know you’ve had your ductwork cleaned fairly recently, especially after any projects that involved drywall replacement or lots of sawdust, you may have a problem. A furnace should not be blowing dust into your home and once you’ve eliminated other factors, there is a chance that a malfunction with your furnace is the root of the problem.
  2. It’s old. The age of your furnace can be a little higher than that of your A/C before you’re likely to experience total failure, but anything older than 15-20 years, you should be looking to replace the unit.
  3. The pilot light burns yellow. If you are experiencing this, it is important that you have this looked at by a licensed technician as soon as possible. A yellow-burning pilot light can indicate the presence of a carbon monoxide leak with the unit, a potentially deadly failure.
  4. There is soot around the vents. As with the first point, assuming you’ve practiced good maintenance of filters and ducts, the presence of soot is an indication that there is excessive carbon dioxide present in the system. As with point number 3, consult a technician immediately.
  5. Strange or unusual noises. Often times noises can be mitigated with a timely repair from a licensed technician, but these must not be ignored. Ignoring a furnace with its motor imbalanced, where the belts are stressed, fans need lubrication or any number of easy to resolve issues can have a compounding effect that could lead to a complete breakdown of the unit.

Good maintenance habits and a bit of careful attention from you, the homeowner, will do wonders to ensure that you get years of value out of your HVAC equipment. If you’ve reached the point where you think it’s time for heating and cooling replacement, we can have one of our licensed professionals take a look at your project and we’d be happy to help. Feel free to reach out any time.

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