The trees are budding, the grass is poking through the ground, and the warm weather will be here before you know it. While this is good news for most, you might be dreading the warm days ahead if your air conditioning system barely made it through last summer. If your unit is held together by paper clips and is barely producing cool air, it’s time to start thinking about replacing it before the seasonal rush.
Making the right decision about a new air conditioning system takes time and research to make sure you get both the right price and the right system for your needs. If you wait until that first 80 degree day to get started, you’ll pay more and might wind up making a mistake if you have to decide quickly.
Why should you replace your heating system when the air conditioner’s broken?
The very first thing to consider when you’re replacing your air conditioner is whether to replace your heating system at the same time. If your heat still works fine, it may seem like an unnecessary expense to replace both systems together. But the fact is, your heating and cooling systems work together to control the comfort of your space. And if you replace one without replacing the other, your comfort may be compromised and it will cost you more in the long run.
Heating and air conditioning systems need to be a matched pair
Even if you have two systems, an air conditioner for cooling and a furnace for heat, those two systems probably share an air handler or blower that moves the air from both systems through your space. In a typical split-system air conditioner, there’s an outside unit (which may be on your roof or in an mechanical room) that compresses the refrigerant gas and releases the heat that’s removed from your indoor air. Then there’s the indoor unit or evaporator that absorbs the heat from your indoor air. The indoor unit typically shares the air handler with your heating system for efficiency.
If you have this situation and you want to replace your air conditioner only, that means replacing the outdoor unit without changing the indoor unit that works with it. Professionals call that a “mismatched system” and it can cause you all kinds of headaches.
Problems with mismatched systems
When you have a mismatched air conditioning system, you’ve got a newer, more efficient outdoor unit and an older, slower and less efficient indoor unit. Here are just some of the problems that result from this arrangement:
- You won’t get the lower energy bills you’re expecting. When your indoor unit can’t keep up with the outdoor unit, the system lags and any gains in efficiency are eliminated.
- You’ll experience more breakdowns. The new air conditioning unit strains the old system, causing stress on the system and parts to wear faster. This is especially true if your new system is not designed for the same load as the old one.
- Comfort is still compromised. With a new unit, you’ll be expecting better comfort. But since the evaporator and air handler can’t keep up with the demands of the new outdoor unit, your space may not be consistently comfortable. You’ll experience temperature swings and hot and cold spots. Related Article: Office Temperature Fluctuations Turning Your Cubicle into a War Zone?
- Possible voided warranty. Manufacturers understand what can go wrong with a mismatched system, and may not provide a warranty for this type of installation.
Save on installation
When you’re considering the costs of replacing both systems versus one at a time, remember to factor in the installation costs. Installing a new air conditioner as part of a mismatched system is a much more complicated process than replacing both systems together. What does that mean for you? You’ll pay more in the long run with two separate installs that are complex and time consuming, as opposed to one simpler procedure.
Related Article: 5 Common HVAC Installation Mistakes and How They Cost You.
An opportunity for a better system design
When you replace your heating and air conditioning systems at the same time, you have the opportunity to replace with a combined heating and cooling system that can offer even more energy efficiency, improved comfort, and simpler maintenance. There are many choices for these types of systems depending on your heating and cooling needs, your location and your infrastructure. Some options include:
- Packaged rooftop units (for low rise buildings) that combine all components in one unit.
- Heat pump systems that can provide both heating and cooling to save energy costs.
- Variable flow refrigerant (VRF) systems that not only provide both heating and cooling, but can even provide both at the same time for different areas within the space. They can also provide customized cooling to different zones for the most consistent temperature and humidity control.
When you’re in the market for a new air conditioning system, it’s also a good time to think about choosing the right provider to take care of your new equipment. Choosing an installer that also services what they sell means you’ll get impartial advice from a company that’s intimately familiar with the reliability of all the major brands and system types.
If you think it’s time to switch air conditioning companies, but unsure about how to proceed, grab a copy of our free guide: Contract Confidence: Transitioning to a New HVAC Service Provider.