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Signs It’s Time to Upgrade Your Central A.C.

Homeowners, most of them operating on fixed-budgets with limited wiggle-room, have to make some pretty tough decisions regarding home projects, repairs, and upgrades. These undertakings can cause more indecision when they fall under the banner of what realtors and appraisers dub “invisible upgrades,” such as, new insulation, plumbing, septic tanks, et al. These accoutrements make a home comfortable and habitable, but they operate behind the scenes. HVAC systems fall into this category. These differ from other refurbishments, replacements, or add-ons that will add curb appeal, increase living space, or enhance functionality - a finished basement, a new roof, or new lawn, for example. Homeowners are usually more inclined to splurge on these visible improvements and less likely to spend on unseen, though necessary (and ultimately cost-saving) items such as central air conditioning. However, if it seems as though the local HVAC repairman is coming by the house more frequently than the postman, it’s safe to apply the “penny smart, pound foolish” axiom in this instance - maintenance and repairs are costing more in the long run than a newly installed unit. Here are some signs that indicate it’s high-time to upgrade:

· If your unit is at least 10 years-old. A well-maintained system that undergoes annual inspections and upkeep by a professional technician, along with regular filter changes, should last between 15 and 18 years on average. However, if repairs are increasing in frequency and scope, and/or your energy bills seem disproportionately higher than they should, it may prove cost-feasible to install a new unit. Today’s air conditioners are light-years more efficient than ones manufactured only a decade prior; this means you get much more cooling for each dollar spent on electricity consumption. Considering that HVAC expenses comprise about 45% of each month’s electric bill, this is no small feat. You may even recoup the upgrade expenditure in the form of energy savings within a few years.

· Your current A.C. is inefficient. If your current system has a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 13 or less then you’re potentially losing out on significant monthly savings. Today’s Energy Star certified systems must have a SEER value of at least 14.5. These systems expel loads of hot air using much less electrical input than their predecessors of even five years ago, thus resulting in decreased energy bills.

· Your central air utilizes R-22 refrigerant. This not-very-environmentally-friendly refrigerant is currently being phased-out by the Federal Government. Total production of R-22 will cease by the year 2020. As a result, less R-22 (a.k.a. Freon) is being produced thereby driving up the sale price - and costs are currently skyrocketing. If you have a system that leaks refrigerant, and it runs on Freon, a charge between $500 - $1,000 may be lurking in the near-future. This reason alone could be a major impetus to opt for a new system.

· How does your system fare using the “5,000 Rule”? The age of your unit is a decisive factor when it comes to the repair/replace paradigm. One rule of thumb that professionals employ is called the “5,000 Rule” to determine whether repairing is more viable than completely replacing the current apparatus. This rule is factored by taking the age of the air conditioner and multiplying that number by the cost of repair; if that number exceeds 5,000 replacing the unit is advised. For example: if a 9-year-old unit requires a certain repair costing $550 then repair is recommended over replacing. (9 X 550 = 4,950 < 5,000.)

Taking these signs and symptoms of an air conditioner’s behavior into consideration, don’t simply undergo a costly repair or impulsively purchase a brand new system - if time is a luxury. Do your homework. Consult a trusted HVAC contractor for advice, or get a few opinions from several. Even a home energy audit, which is relatively cheap, can highlight areas in the home that are prone to air leaks, have inadequate insulation, or disabled ductwork, etc. Taking care of things like this can lessen the workload of an HVAC system and increase its lifespan.


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