Even the best heating and cooling system can waste energy. For example, clogged filters, dirty thermostats, sooty flues, leaky ductwork, and unlubricated fan motors can collectively reduce heating and cooling efficiency by up to 25 percent.
A heating and cooling specialist should check your air conditioner at least twice a year. While some HVAC maintenance tasks are simple, others require a trained pro.
Here’s what you need to know about HVAC maintenance, whether you plan to handle it yourself or hire a professional technician.
Routine HVAC Maintenance
A heat pump only needs a yearly service call by an HVAC technician. The technician will:
- Check the belts, and replace them if needed.
- Check and replace the filters.
- Oil any moving parts.
- Inspect the wiring.
A gas-fired, forced-air heating system has simple requirements, too. You need to change the furnace filter every month or two during heating season, and oil the circulating fan once a year.
Call in a pro every other year to check the:
- Heat exchanger
- Adjust the burner
An oil-fired boiler requires annual maintenance by an HVAC pro to:
- Clean the flue
- Change the fuel filter
- Clean and adjust the fuel jets
Air conditioning units are a little less maintenance intensive. At the beginning and end of each cooling season, you should:
- Clean or replace the air filters
- Vacuum out the unit
- Lubricate the motor
- Have the refrigerant pressure checked, if the unit isn’t cooling properly
For the best results, arrange for service calls before the start of heating or cooling season. You’ll get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling the appointment.
What to Look for When Hiring a HVAC Company
When you’re hiring a professional, look for HVAC companies that design, install and service the type of system you have. Full-service companies also tend to be up to date on the latest advancements in the field.
Besides checking for liability insurance and workers’ compensation policies, also ask for recommendations. In addition, check with neighbors, friends and family who have used the company over several years.
Ask these questions:
- How well did the system run under the company’s care?
- Did the technicians leave the working area clean?
- How quickly did the contractor respond to emergencies?
- Were the service people punctual when you called with a problem?
A quality provider will have an emergency number that’s staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and enough technicians to respond when the weather is awful and calls pile up.
Buying a New HVAC System
Heating and cooling equipment should last at least 15 to 20 years. If your system is older than this, you might want to have its condition assessed.
Replacing HVAC equipment is a major expense, but modern systems operate much more efficiently than the older units they replace.
Most HVAC contractors specialize in designing and installing the systems of a few manufacturers, so no one shop is going to carry every major brand.
But before you worry about the equipment, you need to find contractors in your area that are knowledgeable and service-oriented.
First, ask neighbors, friends and family what companies they hired to replace a furnace or air-conditioning system. Then, if they were happy with the installation, ask their contractor to talk to you about heating or cooling your house.
You should meet with at least two contractors, and hire someone who installs products from at least two manufacturers.
Don’t forget to consider your service company, if you have one. And remember: while its technicians do have a good understanding of the conditions in your home, you’re under no obligation to hire the same firm for the new system,
When picking a contractor, remember that sizing an HVAC unit by matching it to the home and existing ducting requires skill and experience. A poor design typically results in a system that doesn’t deliver a consistent temperature from room to room. It also costs more to operate.
But it can be even more serious than that. In very tight houses served by ductwork, poor design can lead to backdrafting, a dangerous situation where flue gases are sucked back into the house.
Most HVAC shops are small, so the owner should be involved with the system design and either participate actively in the installation or inspect it when it’s done. You don’t want your system designed by a salesman with no field experience.
Any contractor you’re considering also should offer these products and services:
This process estimates the BTU capacity needed to heat or cool your home. The calculation should include:
- The amount and type of insulation in the walls, attic and floors.
- The type, number, and location of windows and doors.
This data is combined with your regional climatic conditions to determine the size unit you need. Software has made these calculations relatively easy. HVAC technicians who don’t perform them often specify oversize equipment to be safe. That’s dollars out of your pocket now and each time you get an utility bill.
When sizing an HVAC unit, a good contractor will advise you of energy upgrades, such as adding another layer of insulation to the attic. These may allow you to buy a smaller HVAC unit. Although it may not be cost effective to buy the most energy efficient unit on the market, there are minimums you should shoot for. Here’s what a contractor should offer:
- An AC unit (if below five tons) with a 14 SEER or higher.
- A high-efficiency, natural gas heater with an AFUE of around 90 percent.
- A fuel-oil burner with an AFUE of around 85 percent.
- A heat pump with an 14 SEER and 8.2 HSPF.
Use a programmable or setback thermostat (around $40), which contains a timer, to regulate all HVAC systems.
A quality HVAC contractor will show you payback calculations for the various units he offers. These calculations should give you estimates of seasonal operating costs.
Variables the contractor will use in his calculations should include:
- Your regional heating or cooling load.
- The heating or cooling capacity of the units you are considering.
- The cost of various types of energy to allow you to compare the costs of electric, gas, and oil.
Once you receive itemized estimates, compare the costs, and do some research on equipment. Start by visiting the U.S. Department of Energy and Consumer Reports websites, or contact your utility company for comparative lists.
Look at operating efficiency and costs as well as consumer-rated reliability. Then compare your knowledge of the contractors involved and make your decision.
Hot & Cold Tech Speak
Confused by HVAC lingo? Believe it or not, it’s meant to make understanding and buying the equipment easier! These terms allow you to compare apples to apples among units in the same fuel category.
Here are some common terms that you should know:
Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio
The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio rates how many British thermal units an air conditioning unit will remove for each watt of electricity consumed.
The higher the SEER, the less you spend on operating costs. Federal law mandates a minimum SEER of 13 for all new air conditioning units.
An air conditioning ton equals 12,000 BTUs per hour. So, a three-ton air conditioner can remove about 36,000 BTUs of heat per hour from your home.
Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency
The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency estimates how much heat a unit delivers for every dollar spent on fuel. The higher the AFUE, the lower your heating bills.
Some important lingo in HVAC you need to know is COMMISION.
Ask if the service tech is getting commision on the parts you are buying and if the price can be reduced. Not all companies do it but ask when you call.
Another rule of thumb to estimate tonnage needed is 1 cfm
(cubic feet per min) of air per square foot and 400 cfm per ton of AC -so 1200 sq ft house needs about 3 tons of air.
Of course the tighter and more insulated the house the lower the tonnage.
Over sizeing the unit can be worse than too small.
If the unit short cycles because its too large then the humidity is not removed and the house would be cool but clammy.
Hi SEER rated units are only as good as the house they are installed in.
You can put chrome rims on a Pinto but its still and old rusted car.
Pay the extra money on insulation if your budget is tight-the unit will pay back sooner.
i have a 1993 trane XL80 PROPANE SPLITUNIT
SLAB FLOOR 1600 HEADED SPACE LIVE IN LUMBERTON
NORTH CAROLINA PROPANE IS $165 have gas stove
hot water heater gas dryer gas bill about $325
winter months light bill be $148 monthly that
a bill about $475 a month in the winter
thanking ABOUT CHANGING to a REEM OR RUUD HEAT PUMP WHAT DO YOU THANK NEED SOME HELP ON THIS THOUGH ANY HELP WOULD BE GREAT FULLY
DON’T KNOW WHAT THE PRICE OF GAS WILL BE NEXT
WINTER WAS 83CENTS BACK IN 1993
I am looking for a source to speak to HVAC preparations for winter for our Risk Reporter for Camps and Conference Centers publication. It goes out to about 2,000 camps across the nation. I thought Danny would be an excellent source if he’s available either by phone or if I could e-mail him my questions.
In your DVD about HVAC you said that you would compare various brands of furnaces on your website. I can’t find
I am replacing my AC,about 11 yrs old builder quality, so is my furnace. I have an estimate for installing a Duel System in combo with my old furnace. I am hesitant to do this it is a Trane estimate Hybird System; Trane XR13…if I put in a new furnace they will install XR80.
I am not sure I will have efficeny in my heating bills with this furnace..even though he tells me it will be better than the old furnace. I am not sure about this duel system as far as freezing temps, if it will defrost outside properly and another concern is will I get sufficent heat tempertures with that mid-range unit. The Dealer says it is a mid-range? Any feedback will be appreciated.
I need a new heating unit but can’t decide what brand to get. They are to many bad reviews an all units. so how do you know what brand to buy?
I need a new air conditioner/heat pump system 2 1/2 ton. My square footage on the house is 1340 square foot. Which brand is better to buy for energy savings and quality including other brands that were not offered to me. A technician wanted to put in a Carrier for $4,700. Another technician gave a quote of $3,850 for a Lennox heat pump system 13 seer with R410-0 or a Goodman 2 1/2 ton 13 seer heat pump system R410-0 for $4,125. My neighbor has a Rudd(Rheem). Are their other brands besides these that would be best for me. I Live in Theodore, al.
1)What is your opinion on installing outside air in a residential system?
2)How did you come up with the average life of an HVAC being 15yrs to 20yrs?
3)My house is 2100sqft. Are you saying I need a 5 ton plus unit?
1) What is your opinion on installing outside Amana brand APH13M R-410A refrigerant in a residential system?
2) How did you determine the average life of an HVAC could be 15 yrs to 20 yrs? I was told the unit I am looking at is around a 10 yr warranty.
3) My house is 1200 sq ft. now but, I am thinking a 2 1/2 ton or 3 ton unit for us, due to an addition of new room in 2 years total home will be 2000 sq ft total then. I would only need duct work added to the new part but they would fix it to make it easily added on then.
What good quality 2 1/2 ton central air and heating unit do you recommend. I live on the water in a condo. Thank you!
I have a 1700 sq ft ranch home on a crawl in mid Ky. My HVAC unit is a Lennox heat pump. The outdoor unit is directly under the master bedroom window. I have trouble sleeping anyway but each cycle wakes me up.More so when its cold outside. The unit is 8 years old.I have had to have service 2 times in the past year. 1 Blower motor 2 a TXV valve…Transfer valve. I would like to move the unit from under my window in the rear of the house to the side up near the front on the side of the garage. Is a replacement the way to go or paying to move the unit as it sits? This unit seems to be very loud. Looking for a good nights sleep. Trying to compare the cost of moving this unit to replacing to a new one in a different location?
My Cozy gas ceiling vented heater was manufactured in 2002 and was leaking dangerous (4.) amounts of carbon monoxide. I had a carbon monoxide alarm which did not go off. The tenants complained about something…I think it was the smell. A plumber measured the outflow of carbon monoxide and turned off the heater. He said it was the fault of the heating unit. This is too dangerous. What do you recommend? Does Cozy have a responsibility? And how can I safeguard against this in the future? My HVAC man had examined the unit one month earlier before he turned on the heating unit for the fall season.
JUST BOUGHT A 2 TON REEM AIR FOR OUR MOBILE WE JUST BOUGHT. THEY HAD IT IN SO FAST THAT I NEVER HAD CHANCE TO CHECK PRICES. THEY CHARGED 4,450.00 AFTER CALLING AROUND THE GOING PRICE WAS 3,000 I HAVE CALLED HOME DEPOT ON THIS AN HOPFULLY THEY WIIL HELP ME. WHAT TO DO?????
Converting from evaporative cooler to “refrigerated” air and understand I’ll need to buy a new furnace to be compatible with the AC unit. Home is 1500 sq ft. 13 windows, patio door, front door, 10 vents — wondering if there is a good time of year to do this installation. Haven’t started calling HVAC pros — scared of the pricing. I live in Albuquerque, NM.
I live in a 1000 /1100 sq ft house in Muscle Shoals, AL. Almost a year ago lighting struck my old unit. I can’t tell u the Name of it it was so old it was a good one, wish I had it back, light bill stayed with in reason. But now I’m living a night mare. Ever since my bill went up I am either freezing or hot as crazy and to find out he put in a heat pump. I wanted just a reguler straight unit split, any thing but not a heat pump, and it’s already quit working it got patched til the part could be changed out never done it’s still broke if I could get a new unit. So if anybody can or will help me I would be grateful I only live on 740.00 – Disibilty a month . Thanks
Man all I get is a different story from every contractor that comes out. My 4 ton Rheem 13 seer heat pump failed (10 yrs. old). This is a split system, dual fuel. So one guy says “yeah these things are only good for ten to eleven years. I replaced the compressor last year for $2,000. Now there is a leak in one of the capillary tubes. Repair of that tube failed after 2 weeks. Most of the techs are saying “they typically do not repair the capillary tubes”. They are all willing to give me a quote though. Ranging from $9,000.00 down to $1,200.00 for a used unit. I can’t get a straight answer from anyone. I ask about what exactly needs to be replaced and everyone has a different answer. I feel like i just walked on to a used car lot in Vegas. Is there no way to get a straight answer? I took a look on line and I can buy a complete system, including 2 stage 4 ton 16 seer heat pump, coil and variable speed fan for less than $4,000.00 but know one wants to install it. Is there no integrity or honesty left? There is a difference between earning an honest wage and flat out ripping your customers off. I have had five HVAC company’s out and not one of them gave me a straight answer!
I hired a company to repair a Trane. They said it was he compressor and gave a quote for $1500 installed it and it quit working within three days. He wants to charge an additional $700 to do something else I just got his invoice. Do I have to pay for the whole failed job or is there arbitration?
I am sorry to hear about the poor experiences here. An HVAC contractor should be honest about the repairs needed as well as the cost of repairs, no matter the outcome. It is always good to look at a company’s reviews and do a cost comparison when it comes to resources needs to perform the job. This is a really good article and I enjoyed reading it.
Is it true that a heat pump and furnace MUST be the same brand? Had a Bryant furnace installed in January; have
American Standard heat pump (still under manufacturer’s warranty since it’s only four years). Heat pump electric panel was “fried” and the furnace contractor said it must be completely replaced, not repaired. Had a second contractor come out and was told they could repair it for around $1,500, and that warranty would cover SOME of the work. Then three days later, the service manager said that although I’ve made a down payment for repair, that the unit MUST be an American Standard or it will not work. Am I getting ripped off, or should I seek a third opinion? I need to know because there’s a difference in $6,500 for a new heat pump when the original quote was only $1,575 to repair. Please let me know your opinion, before winter comes. Thanks!
I just purchased a 2 1/2 ton, 14 SEER Train heat pump. The day after installation, the thermostat was flashing w/a “service” notice. I had to leave a message with installer. Left another message the next day, but did not get a call back until Monday saying they could not be out until Thursday. In the meantime, the circuit breaker threw two times. They replaced the thermostat but the new one had the same message. They said it is because my circuit breaker is only 40 amps and should be 50 amps because there are two heat strips on the unit and they pull around 44-45 amps causing the breaker to throw. They disconnected one of the tapes. The service msg was still on.They came back this week to install a different thremostat. When they did, they said they found a loose wire, and when they fixed it the service went away. If the unit was designed for 2 heat strips will it not create a problem for the unit or affect it’s efficiency with one disconnected? I also read on the internet a thrown circuit itself can damage a unit. I just spend over $4300.00 and want to make sure I’m getting a unit that is operating as it was designed. It sounds like I’m getting the run around. I’m a 69 year old lady who just wants to get what she pays for. My last Train was 17 years old and would have only needed a $700 repair on the heater with the same electric panel. Oh, I asked if I should have a 50amp breaker installed and they said no need to.
My husband and I have been having some problems with our unit lately and don’t quite know what to do. He likes to try and fix everything himself, but to be honest, it never really works out. I think calling in the professionals is the best option for making sure that everything is running properly.
I think that it is important to learn terms that help you describe issues with the contractor better. If you know your hvac system well. it is easier to get the problems diagnosed. I really think that it is important to be able to describe what is going on with your hvac system to the contractor.
Unfortunately there are a lot of techs that are unqualified out there doing hvac work. I’ve been in this industry for 23 years. And you do not have to have all components be the same brand for a hvac system to work .actually probably over 50% of the systems are mismatched brands running homes in America.
Thanks for the post. I have MS and the heat makes me feel like garbage. For me it is important that I have my heater and AC unit working properly. I really appreciate you posting about the maintenance schedule. This will be really helpful. I didn’t even know what a heat pump was, and i don’t even know the last time I had it serviced. I’ll have to schedule an appointment.
I would love to be able to see the payback calculations for various units. Seeing the benefits and negatives for each machine would help me so much in picking the system that would profit my family the most. Having the ability to really double check between the two systems would really benefit me in my buying choices.
Although a system will run and a lot of times run just fine’ I would recommend a matched system for several reasons. If you mismatch the furnace with the condensing unit and evap coil then you may not get the efficiency the condensor is rated for. Another issue is that a properly matched system will move the correct amount of air and give you the best comfort for your home. Remember comfort is far more than just temperature.
In a nutshell no it is not required to have a matched system. However by law the contractor must ensure that minimum efficiency standards are met and with a mismatched system that takes some extra work.
i got Bryant PA3Z-b unit in Feb.2014 it work fine but this morning my unit blowing out cool air not hot air why?
I have a DX-AHU with a TXV. How does it control the compressor of the condenser?
What brands of a/c units are best in the Houston Texas area, need to replace both furnace and a/c
Using licensed, bonded and insured professionals is the key, especially for service after the install. You’re just asking for trouble otherwise. Do your homework beforehand!
I had a 4 ton unit American standard installed on my home 17 years ago. For all this time my electric bill is very and kWh usage. I now find out it was installed wrong. The supply and return is 1/2 what it should be. The duct going into the roof is 25×25 should be 25×50. For the side by side vents. So all this time my are has been restricted. Now what cat I do? Requestor of contractors here in Arizona told me after two years to bad?????
I can’t stress this enough: DO MAINTENANCE! It will save you so much more down the road. My mom who lives by herself has neglected asking anyone to check her systems for years. Last month, the air conditioner broke and summer is slowly cooking everyone around here. People will end up paying anything to avoid being roasted in their homes, but just do yearly maintenance and you’ll come out ahead.
Thank you for the interesting article, but I largely disagree. For example, there are very few signs of a good contractor. In addition, that a good contractor should leave the workplace clean, respond quickly to urgent calls and be punctual, there are many other signs that need to be paid attention. First, you need to know what other contractors know about this contractor. If there are already enough reviews about him, then among the contractors one can find the one about which they respond best. Ask your friends, maybe they’ll tell you a good contractor. Secondly, pay attention to how the contractor quickly names the price for services. If he does it quickly, without making a complete problem research – then it can deceive you with the price. Thirdly, if you did not find a contractor from your friends – visit the sites with reviews.
In winder, heating system is the main expenditure that we all have to expense in Atlanta. There are many source for keeping your home and office warm like furnace, boiler or heat pump.
I like the tip you gave to check if an air conditioning contractor will clean up the mess they have made while cleaning your home, so you can be sure that you will not need to do any extra work. My air conditioning cut out last night, so I need to find a contractor to fix it as soon as possible. I will be sure look for a contractor who will not leave a mess.
Thanks for talking about how HVAC professionals usually specialize in certain manufacturers of HVAC systems. That is important for us to take into account because we want a specific brand to be installed in our home, so we will have to find a professional who specializes in this brand so that they could do it for us. I really hope there are a lot of options in this area because we need it installed before winter sets in in just a few weeks.
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very informative and helpful post. Thanks for sharing.
Glad it helped, Cart!
Thanks for the tips on knowing what to look for when hiring an HVAC company. My A/C doesn’t seem to be cooling and its almost summer so it’s important to get it fixed as soon as possible. I’ll ask my husband to schedule an appointment with the air conditioning repair company.
I appreciate the tips on how to deal with an HVAC professional. My heating system has recently been having a lot of problems that I need to get fixed soon. I will keep these tips in mind when I hire an HVAC contractor.
I’ve been wanting to have a heat pump to be installed in my home. Therefore I’ve decided to start looking for an HVAC contractor that can install it. It’s great to know that a heat pump system will only be needed to be checked yearly by an HVAC technician, which means it will only require minimal maintenance.
Thanks for reminding me that I also have to lubricate the motor on top of regularly replacing the filter as part of proper maintenance for an AC unit. Ever since a tree in my yard was felled last year, my house has gotten SIGNIFICANTLY hotter, and I have YET to see how hot it can really get this summer. As such, I’m starting to think about getting an AC installed before the summer heat peaks!!!
I’ve been wanting to have a heat pump to be installed in my home. Therefore I’ve decided to start looking for an HVAC contractor that can install it. It’s great to know that a heat pump system will only be needed to be checked yearly by an HVAC technician.