If your home air conditioning system is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing it. Here's why:
~ The newer air conditioning systems are usually 30 per cent more efficient than mid-90's models, thus reducing operating costs (SEER rating, usually 13 or higher)
~ Newer systems use environmentally friendly R-410a refrigerant rather than the older R-22 Freon refrigerant
~ Systems manufactured since 2000 have higher reliability than earlier systems
The average homeowner may see the need for a newer air conditioning system, but he / she may feel at a disadvantage when dealing with contractors. That feeling is understandable, since air conditioning terminology is complex, and contractors use a hard sell approach once on your property. You can stay ahead of them, however, by following just a few steps.
First, note that air conditioning systems normally consist of only four sub-systems: the outdoor compressor, the indoor evaporator, the air handler (blower), and the thermostat. The compressor and evaporator are often referred to as "coils," and they are always replaced as a matched set. Your existing furnace has a blower system that will work well with the indoor evaporator, as long as the furnace and evaporator are co-located.
Second, you can request written estimates from a dozen or so contractors without having them visit your house and take up your time. Just prepare a "Request for Estimate" and mail it to the contractors (check the Yellow Pages for addresses). The Request for Estimate should include the following:
~ Your full name, address, and phone number
~ The make, model and serial number of the outdoor compressor
~ The make, model and serial number of the indoor evaporator
~ The measurements (LxWxH) of the evaporator box
~ A statement that you acknowledge mail estimates are preliminary only, and that a final contract will not be signed until the contractor makes an on-site inspection
Of the dozen requests you put in the mail, five or six will not be answered, usually because the contractors insist on a home inspection before providing estimates. Others, however, will respond promptly, thus giving you a chance to compare costs.
I recently had 25-year-old compressor and evaporator units replaced at my home in Northern Virginia, and I used the process above to determine which replacement system was the most cost-effective. I specified I wanted a 13 seer, 3-ton unit. Here are the results:
$ 5,294, manufacturer "T"
$ 4,005 manufacturer "T"
$ 3,840, manufacturer "T"
$ 3,590, manufacturer "T" with senior citizen discount
$ 3,210, manufacturer "C"
$ 1,975, manufacturer "G"
(the remaining six contractors did not reply)
I chose the "G" system, of course. Also, I determined that the internal working parts used in "C" and "G" were identical – in fact they came off the same assembly line. The "G" system is sometimes referred to as "contractor grade," but it works perfectly and is quiet – only 74 db noise rating. Also, it comes with a 10-year warranty.
So if you have an old home air conditioning system, consider replacing it now, before it breaks down. If you get your new system in the spring or the fall you will get prompt service; However, if you wait until mid-summer, you may have to wait days or weeks for a new unit.