Three C’s of AC Replacement vs. Repair: Cost, Comfort, Convenience
Should I Repair or Replace my Air Conditioning System?
When deciding whether to repair or replace your AC system, there are really three things you need to consider:
1. Which is the most Cost-Effective route?
2. What is my family’s Comfort level?
3. What are my Convenience needs?
At some point in the life of an AC system, repair costs outweigh the long-term cost savings of replacement, and it depends upon the unique circumstances of each homeowner as to when that tipping point is designated.
But Cost, though a huge consideration, is not the only one; Comfort and Convenience can be the deciding factors if you are trying to avoid the time and headaches associated with routine repairs on older equipment, or if you have family members in your household who cannot tolerate stretches without comfortable conditioned air.
1. COST CONSIDERATIONS
At some point replacing your AC system will be more effective in the long run, and there are several factors to consider when pulling the trigger to replace. The experienced Comfort Advisors at Anthony Plumbing, Heating & Cooling are best equipped to help homeowners through this decision-making process, and homeowners are encouraged to take advantage of the free consultations we provide.
There are two instance, however, when replacement is almost always recommended:
when your system uses R-22 refrigerant
when your system is 15 years or older
If Your AC System Uses R-22, Plan your Replacement Strategy Now
If your cooling system uses the refrigerant known as R-22 and you’ve had to add refrigerant recently, then it is time to replace. Refrigerant doesn’t get used up – the only time you have to add refrigerant is if you have a leak. And if you have a leak, you will have to add more and more refrigerant each year.
Also, the price of R-22 is climbing every year. R-22 refrigerant contains chlorine, which eats away the ozone layer when leaked into the atmosphere. Because of this, R-22, also known as HCFC-22, will be illegal to produce starting in 2020, and the only way to acquire it will be through recycled or stockpiled supplies which will be prohibitively expensive to purchase.
The last AC systems using R-22 were manufactured in 2010. So if your AC system is one of these, it is already old enough to consider replacement. Refrigerant leaks likely happen to systems as they age. Refrigerant circulates under high pressure and therefore wears down the inside of the tubing. Because AC systems last only 10-15 years on average, it is time for your R-22 unit to be replaced, especially if it is leaking refrigerant.
How Do I Know if My AC System uses R-22?
Steve Burbridge, owner of Anthony, Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, recommends homeowners have an HVAC technician inspect their system to determine what kind of refrigerant it uses. Age of the system is one determinant – no R-22 units were manufactured after 2010. But systems using R-410A, the ozone-friendly refrigerant, have been manufactured since 1996, so just because your unit is old it doesn’t mean that it uses R-22.
It is occasionally possible to determine what type of refrigerant your system uses by locating its manufacturer’s data plate. These are labels found either on the side of the condenser (outside unit) or air handler (inside unit). Some manufacturers make it easier for you by putting a separate sticker on the condenser with the refrigerant spelled out in tall letters; R-410A also goes by the name Puron®, which is the name Carrier uses.
Can I Wait One More Year?
If you want to wait it out one more year and try to save money by pumping R-22 into your old unit until it is no longer available, you may end up spending a lot more next year than you save this year, as the cost of R-22 is increasing significantly every year until the 2020 phase out.
Waiting will also put you in the same boat as all of the others who are waiting until the last minute, and prices go up when demand is high. And even if you are lucky enough to get a reasonably priced replacement system, the wait for available technicians to install it might be long. And the last thing you want to do is be faced with weeks without air conditioning during the summer heat.
What if I Can’t Afford to Replace Right Now?
Replacing a central AC system can cost several thousands of dollars, more than many of us have saved up. This is where financing comes in. Fortunately, there is financing available for just about any credit score. The one bright side to incurring an extra monthly expense is the reduction in energy costs that you will receive when a new system is doing the cooling. New cooling systems outperform old ones significantly, no matter what their Energy Star rating is. Click here for financing options at Anthony Plumbing, Heating & Cooling.
Can I Get Away with Purchasing a Lower Cost AC System?
The cost of AC systems depends upon cooling capacity and SEER rating. The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) measures how much cooling a system puts out for each unit of energy it consumes. In theory, the higher the SEER rating, the more efficiently the system operates. But paying for a higher SEER rating does not necessarily mean that you will incur enough reduction in energy costs to make up for the higher price.
Size matters – if an HVAC company says you can get away with the same size system as you currently have, be skeptical. If you just purchased your home, don’t assume the AC system installed is necessarily the best size for your home. Size requirements can change when changes to your home are made as well, such as additions, insulation changes, and asphalt roof shingles.
If your cooling system is too small it will run constantly and not lower the temperature to your desired set point. Alternatively, if you install one that is too big, it will turn on and off constantly, and not dehumidify the home. This makes the home feel like a cave – cool and damp. It is most cost-effective to purchase a unit that is the correct size for your home.
Homeowners should use the assistance of well-trained experts like those at Anthony Plumbing, Heating & Cooling in order to choose the most cost-effective AC system over the long run.
If Your AC System is More than 10 Years Old, Consider a More Efficient Model
Cooling systems wear out just like any other household appliance. A well-maintained AC system will last 10-15 years, according to the National Association of Home Builders. If your system is older than 15 years, replacement is recommended. But even if it is only 10 years old, replacing can save you money and peace of mind over waiting for it to fail over the next 5 years.
It is important to know that even AC units younger than 10 years old can fail if they have not been maintained properly over their lifespan. Steve Burbridge, owner of Anthony Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, recommends having your cooling system tuned-up by a professional HVAC technician annually to keep your system in good working order. The technician can inspect the unit’s components, identify and fix any issues, and clean the indoor and outdoor coils. This will increase a system’s efficiency as well. If you have just purchased your home, try to obtain maintenance records, as they will inform you on the system’s potential either to fail soon, or last another several years.
Rising Energy Bills are a Red Flag that Your AC Could be Failing
Before you blame global warming for your rising energy costs, consider whether your high energy bills could be the result of a faulty, failing or inefficient AC system. An AC system that is working inefficiently will run more frequently, using up more electricity while not adequately cooling your home. Once an AC system reaches this point, its chance of failing completely increases rapidly.
Many utility companies provide comparison charts of how your bill has changed year over year. They also provide an average temperature for each day of the month, information that can help you identify whether higher utility costs are associated with outdoor temperature or something else.
Repeat Breakdowns – Another Indicator to Cut Your Losses and Replace
Whether your AC system has reached the end of its lifespan or not, having multiple serious repair jobs in a row could indicate it is close. Recall that systems last only as long as they’re maintained well, and some simply don’t last as long as others. If you’ve already fixed one issue and more are popping up, it might be best to cut your losses and replace.
Older AC systems will also have more aesthetic issues. “Rust is a major problem, along with being noisier than newer models,” says Steve Burbridge, owner of Anthony Plumbing, Heating & Cooling. “People with AC units that are near windows or backyard patios could benefit from the newer and quieter AC units built today.”
Climbing R-410A Refrigerant Costs – Bad News for Those with Leaking AC Systems
If you thought R-22 was the only refrigerant with a rapidly increasing price, think again. The price of R410-A has doubled in the last year, and price is expected to keep increasing. If your system has a refrigerant leak, your needle has just moved toward the replacement side of the decision making equation.
As stated above, leaks don’t go away, they get worse over time. And since the cost of refrigerant is ever-climbing, keep in mind that you will be paying a lost more next year than you paid this year to keep your system cooling. Not only will the refrigerant price be higher, but the amount you need will be greater due the leak getting bigger.
There are a few reasons for the rapidly increasing refrigerant prices. One is a tariff on Chinese imports imposed in 2017; most refrigerant is manufactured in China. Another reason is a worldwide shortage of R-125 that occurred in 2017, a key ingredient in the manufacturing of R-410A and other refrigerants. And prices for refrigerant naturally raise in hotter weather due to increased demand, so homeowners that needed refrigerant added to their systems during the summer of 2018 were shocked to find the price increased significantly.
Although it doesn’t look like R-410A AC systems will be discontinuing anytime soon, it does look like the cost of R-410A will continue to increase, making replacement a more affordable option in comparison.
2. COMFORT CONSIDERATIONS
For some families, no amount of cost savings is worth putting their family at risk of being without adequate air conditioning. For homeowners with pets, children, or adults who are elderly, pregnant or have health issues, it doesn’t make sense to save a few bucks and hope your AC system will last another year with no major repair downtime.
Heat Can Harm Kids, Pets, Pregnant Women and Elderly
The temperature inside your home rises at an alarming rate when your cooling system stops working. It is no secret how miserable it is to be inside a 90-degree home, but to some it can be dangerous.
Pregnant women are understandably susceptible to overheating during pregnancy, but it is worth noting that the unborn child is at a higher risk of experiencing low weight and birth defects when subjected to extreme heat. Individuals with breathing problems and heart conditions experience a great deal of distress when subjected to heated air, especially when coupled with humidity.
The younger the child and the older the adult, the more susceptible they are to heat stroke and heat exhaustion and dehydration. These populations, like pets, cannot always discern or verbalize their discomfort until it is too late.
3. CONVENIENCE CONSIDERATIONS
Rather than take time off work and move all of your pets and family members to a hotel while your AC is down, or worry about them being home alone while you are away at work during an AC system failure, replacing your cooling system will do more than save money, it will save worry as well.
Even if you are a healthy adult who can easily “take the heat,” chances are you live a busy life and cannot afford to take a day off work to deal with a “hot house.” Nor are you willing to return from a long, tiring vacation ready to jump back into a busy work week and come home to an unpleasant sauna.
AC Systems Only Break Down in the Heat
As obvious as this sounds, this is worth remembering, because it is easy to forget how critical air conditioning is to your life during the cooler months. Whether your cooling system quits working because a simple repair is needed or because it has reached the end of its lifespan, NO time is a good time to be without air conditioning during a heat wave.
It is important to remember that HVAC technicians are their busiest during heat waves as well, so you might be facing more than the usual 24-48 hours without cooling if you have to wait for technicians to become available during the busy season.
Plan Your Replacement in Advance
By scheduling your AC replacement well in advance, you can plan your installation for a time when it is convenient for you. Some replacements can even be completed over the weekend if planned well enough ahead.
It is often best to purchase a new cooling system during the off season, when demand is less and installation technicians have more time. Look for AC clearance sales and have financing paperwork completed for when the perfect deal arises. Don’t make a heatwave-related AC emergency dictate the cost and timing of your AC replacement. Also, a complete system includes a furnace or air handler that moves the cooled air, so furnace replacement should be considered anytime cooling systems are replaced.
4. One More “C”… CALL if you Have Questions!
For more information on how to recognize when your cooling system needs replacing, contact Anthony Plumbing, Heating & Cooling in the Kansas City metro area. We have Comfort Advisors willing to share their wealth of experience and expertise with you for free. We will make the Repair vs. Replace decision-making process a breeze, and make the AC replacement process a happy one – GUARANTEED. Call us 24/7 at A-N-T-H-O-N-Y (268-4669) KS or MO.