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After the Storm Blows Over: Assessing HVAC Flood Damage



Conventional wisdom by HVAC experts dictates replacing an HVAC system after damage from a flood. But conventional wisdom doesn’t know your situation or budget. The main factor to consider for most people is cost - as in, I really don’t have an extra five to twenty-grand burning a hole in my pocket type of cost. The potentially good news for those affected by the recent floods is there might be federal assistance to make the decision easier. Money or low-interest loans are available to some for damages to their dwelling, including HVAC systems. If you are not sure if your house is in the designated national disaster area, go to www.disasterassistance.gov and enter your address. For those that are covered the answer is easy. Replace. A new system will be more energy-efficient, last longer, require less maintenance and deliver superior air quality and comfort throughout the house. For those who aren’t covered things get a little more complicated. Make sure you are working with an HVAC technician and company that respects your needs, budget, and provides options. To help you find the best solution here are some of the basic considerations and facts: As a rule of thumb, replacing individual parts within an HVAC unit is fine, however replacing some of the major components and not others is a mistake. If you are replacing individual parts, make sure the technician is familiar with the HVAC manufacturer and has access to manufacturer parts. Units are built to work with each other and if, for example, the outside condenser is replaced but the inside blower is not, it could contribute to service problems later on and cause inefficiencies and a higher monthly utility bill. If you have mold or mildew in your system it may not be necessary to rip everything out. UV lights can be installed that are effective in eliminating microbes that can cause mold and mildew. The placement of UV lamps is critical as they are only effective within a couple of inches or so. Make sure the technician you choose has experience detecting mold issues and treating the problem with UV lamps. Consider the age of your system and how much TLC was applied over its lifespan. There are no hard-and-fast rules but in general, the older the system or less maintained the more economic sense it makes to replace. For basic guidance follow the “rule of $5,000.” If the repair cost multiplied by HVAC age (in years) exceeds $5,000 you should go ahead and replace. If it's under, repair. For example, if the repair costs $600 and it's a ten-year-old unit, that equals $6,000, so you should replace provided you have the means. Get at least two opinions and quotes from HVAC contractors. Skill and bias play a role with the recommendation provided. For example, one contractor might have 30 years of experience and is accustomed to working with older units and the confidence to fix things, while another might be less experienced and more likely to default to the replace option. Finding a contractor you can trust is an important topic and we will be dedicating future blog posts to that subject. For now, use this simple guideline: Is the contractor listening to you and providing advice/options, and can he explain the options in simple terms that help you decide? No question is a stupid question and you should feel comfortable expressing your home comfort needs and concerns given your knowledge of your house. Repair or replace is the age-old question in the world of HVAC. To ensure you’re making an informed decision school yourself by reading posts like this one and choosing a competent HVAC contractor with a reputation for putting the homeowner's needs before his own.

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