Everything You Need to Know Before Replacing Your AC Unit
Neighbors A/C strives to help consumers make informed decisions regarding their HVAC needs. That’s why we have used our 40+ years of combined industry knowledge to put together this comprehensive guide for you. We will help you make the right choice, save energy and money.
Choosing the right HVAC contractor
With so few barriers to entry, the HVAC industry has become inundated with self-prophesied “experts” and it can be difficult to find a trustworthy contractor who offers quality work that you can rely on. Before you allow any HVAC contractor to step foot in your home, follow these simple guidelines outlined below.
Is your HVAC contractor…
- Licensed and insured?
- Have the proper certification, training and knowledge to install, repair or service your unit?
- Up-to-date on the newest developments in equipment, technology, and efficiency standards?
- A one-man show or a reputable company that has the support base to provide you with excellent service when you need it?
- An FPL Participating Independent Contractor?
- Registered with the Better Business Bureau?
When should I replace my air conditioning unit?
There are certain signs that signal when you should replace your air conditioning system:
- Is your AC unit older than 10 years?
The average expected lifetime of an AC unit depends on several factors but is usually around 10-15 years. However, even if your air conditioner seems to be running fine, if it is 10 years or older, you can save up to 40% on your monthly cooling costs, by upgrading to a newer, more efficient unit.
- Does your unit require frequent or expensive repairs?
The warranty on your equipment only lasts for up to 10 years (sometimes 12 depending on the brand). If your unit breaks after this mark, you will have to pay for those costly repairs out of your own pocket. Depending on the amount of the repair and condition of your unit, it may be wiser, and cheaper, to replace the unit altogether.
- Is your monthly utility bill too high?
The components in your air conditioning system, such as the coil and compressor, become corroded as time progresses. This causes a decrease in efficiency of your unit as it must now work harder and for longer in order to maintain your desired comfort level. This ultimately translates into higher energy usage and thus, a higher electric bill.
- Does your unit run for too long during cooling cycles? Is your AC unit too noisy? Are certain parts of your home warmer or less comfortable than others? Is your home too humid?
These problems may be indicative of inadequate or inefficient equipment.
It may be time to replace your unit if you answered yes to any of these questions. While leaky ducts, poorly installed units, and undersized duct work may also cause some of these problems, you should contact Neighbors A/C so that one of our trained professionals can come out and assess the problem for you. Our estimates for AC installs are free of charge.
How long should my AC unit last?
How long your AC unit lasts depends on 4 main factors:
- The quality of the unit installed
Contrary to popular belief, not all air conditioners are created equal. Your unit’s SEER efficiency rating indicates how much energy will be exerted to cool your home. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit. Also be sure to check out our most recommended and trusted AC systems.
- The quality of the contractor’s installation work
You should always use a qualified and licensed HVAC contractor to get the job done right the first time around. There are many problems that can arise from poorly installed equipment. Improper refrigerant charging will decrease your unit’s efficiency and cause the system to frequently freeze, costing you in unnecessary repairs and higher electric bills. In addition, improper unit sizing can affect your unit’s runtime, operating costs, and dehumidification process. Check out these tips on choosing the right HVAC contractor. The most costly problem associated with improper installation, aside from complete system failure, is leaky ducts. When your newly installed air handler is not properly connected to your home’s duct system, air flow is dramatically diminished. This causes your air conditioner to work harder and for longer to make up for this decreased air flow. By some estimates, poorly sealed ducts can reduce your AC unit’s efficiency by as much as 15% – talk about a higher electric bill! Neighbors A/C offers a comprehensive 20 Point Service Check that can detect whether you have any of these problems.
- How many hours the unit spends running throughout the year
You wouldn’t expect a Florida air conditioning system that is constantly running to last as long as one in Wisconsin, which may only run for a couple of months out of the year. In fact, an AC unit in the cool climate of Wisconsin runs for an average of 500 hours per year. This pales in comparison to an air conditioner in the hot and humid climate of South Florida which averages more than 2800 hours per year!
- How well the unit was maintained
Preventative maintenance and regular filter changes are the best things you can do for your HVAC system. This will maximize your unit’s efficiency, extend its lifespan, and require fewer repairs. In other words, preventative maintenance agreements are a money saver!
Determining the right AC unit
You only replace your air conditioning unit once every decade so you want to ensure that you’re making wise decisions now that won’t cost you later down the road. This starts with choosing the right HVAC contractor. Unlike other companies, we don’t just replace what the last guy put there. A good contractor understands that every home is unique and each customer has their own desired comfort level. This is why Neighbors A/C uses a comprehensive formula that takes into account a variety of factors regarding your home situation. We couple this to listening to your needs so that we can tailor a personalized installation service that will leave you 100% satisfied.
What is heat load?
In determining the right AC unit for your comfort needs, we first calculate your home’s heat load in BTU (British Thermal Unit) using a variety of factors. A BTU is equivalent to 1055 Joules of thermal energy, or the amount of energy needed to cool or heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. The output of your air conditioning must be able to surpass this heat load to even begin cooling your home. Here are some of the factors we take into account:
- Number of residents in household
- Sq. footage of your home and windows
- Direction of house that has the most glass
- Window, wall and ceiling insulation ratings
- Ceiling height
- Lighting and appliance use
We then use this calculated heat load to determine what size unit your home requires, whether it be a 2 ton, 2.5, 5, etc.
What is a ton in AC terms?
The power of air conditioning units is described in terms of “tons of refrigeration”. A ton is equivalent to 12,000 BTUs per hour.
Why is a correctly sized AC unit important?
Your air conditioning system is not only responsible for cooling the air circulating throughout your home, but also removing moisture and humidity. An oversized unit will cool your home too fast and shut off prematurely, not allowing ample time for excess moisture to be removed from your air. This will leave your home stuffy and humid despite the cool temperature – yuck!
What is an air conditioning SEER rating?
Once we have determined the correct size unit to install in your home, we will then decide on what SEER rating your unit should have. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. This efficiency rating will be largely determined by your household budget and comfort needs.
Simply put, the higher the SEER efficiency rating of your AC system, the less energy it will consume. This translates to a lower monthly utility bill and a lower impact on the environment.
More specifically, a SEER rating is the ratio between an AC unit’s seasonal cooling output, and the required energy input to produce that output. In other words, SEER refers to how much cooling an AC system produces for each unit of energy it consumes. In the U.S., we measure cooling output in British Thermal Units (BTUs), and electrical energy input in watt-hours (W·h). A 10-SEER unit should produce 10 BTUs/ W·h after being properly installed.
What is EER and how is it related to SEER?
The Energy Efficiency Ratio, or EER, is very similar to SEER as both terms refer to the ratio of cooling output (in BTU) to electrical input (W·h). The difference is that the EER efficiency is measured at one set operating condition for the AC unit, usually 95°F for the outside temp and 80°F for the inside return air temp with a humidity of 50%. In comparison, the SEER rating aims to more accurately reflect overall system efficiency on a seasonal basis by using a range of outside temperatures. However, in a constant climate like South Florida’s, where it’s hot year-round, the EER is a more realistic measurement of a unit’s energy efficiency.
What SEER efficiency rating do I need?
In an effort to protect the environment and conserve our natural resources, the United States Federal government mandated that all new central air conditioning equipment have at least a 13-SEER rating as of January 2006.
However, in light of new energy conservation standards set forth by the Department of Energy, residential split-system central air conditioners installed in the southeastern U.S. will need to be at least 14-SEER beginning January 1, 2015.
When deciding on what SEER rating is right for you, keep in mind that the efficiency of an air conditioning unit naturally decreases by an average of 3% each year, and sometimes by as much as 5% depending on maintenance and annual run-time. This means that after just 2 years, a 13-SEER unit will be running at the efficiency level of a 12-SEER and after 10 years it will be performing as a 9-SEER unit! By this time, your AC system would have been running at efficiency levels far below the Federal mandate level, for many years – yikes!
For the above reasons, we recommend installing an AC unit with at least a 16-SEER rating due to the hot South Florida climate. More importantly, a 16-SEER unit will allow you to take advantage of larger FPL rebates and federal tax credits at the time of installation. These benefits literally amount to hundreds of dollars off your final unit price before you even take into account the savings on annual operating costs – this is not a sales pitch!
Savings breakdown and cost analysis
Installing a more efficient unit may work out to be more expensive initially, but it will save you money in the long run. More importantly, going with a higher SEER rating means you won’t have to replace your unit as early as you would a lower rated one. As an added benefit, going with a high-efficiency air conditioner will leave behind a smaller ecological footprint – who doesn’t care about preserving our environment?
With FPL’s energy savings guide you can compare annual cooling costs for different SEER ratings. They also provide a cost analysis worksheet so you can see how much you’ll actually spend over the lifespan of various units. It’s simple and easy!
Compatibility between air handler and condenser SEER ratings
If you have a split system air conditioning unit you need to be aware that both the air handler and condenser must have the same SEER ratings. This will ensure that your HVAC system is performing at its maximum efficiency. If you are planning on replacing just one system component (e.g. air handler or condenser), beware that you may not receive the full advertised SEER efficiency for the unit even if it is properly matched with its complimentary component.
For example, if you decide to only replace your old air handler with a new 14-SEER, you may not receive the full benefits of a 14-SEER unit even if it is properly matched with your original 14-SEER condenser. This is due to the gradual loss of efficiency as a piece of equipment ages. Depending on how old the condenser is, it may be wiser to replace the unit altogether. In doing so, you will have the peace of mind that you are receiving the full SEER efficiency that you paid for. Contact Neighbors A/C so that we can help you make the right decision regarding this issue.
R410A vs. R22 refrigerant
Older model AC units use R22 Freon as their refrigerant which has been found to be damaging to the environment. For this reason, newer, high efficiency units are designed for the ozone-safe R410A refrigerant. All of Neighbor A/C’s technicians are EPA and R410A certified.