Knowing when to replace your HVAC system is essential for maintaining a comfortable and energy-efficient home. Aging heating and cooling system units often lose efficiency, resulting in frequent breakdowns and high repair costs for homeowners.

Understanding the key factors that indicate it’s time for a replacement of an old unit can save you from unexpected expenses and provide optimal performance. In this article, I provide a comprehensive guide to help you decide whether to repair or replace your HVAC system, along with important considerations for purchasing a new unit.

A home warranty from one of the best providers can help save with some of those costs. For HVAC, I recommend reading our First American Home Warranty review, our Choice Home Warranty review, and our American Home Shield review.

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Repair or Replace HVAC?

Many homeowners struggle with the question of whether to repair their old unit or invest in a new unit. HVAC systems such as air conditioning systems and heat pumps tend to break down more frequently as they age, often losing efficiency after 10 years. If your HVAC system is over a decade old, you should start planning for significant repairs or even consider replacing the older unit.

Older systems not only become less reliable but also cost more to operate due to decreased efficiency. Investing in a new, energy-efficient HVAC system can save you money on repairs and on reduced energy bills.

Replacement of your air conditioner is likely not immediately necessary, however, advanced planning is a good idea. New HVAC systems are expensive, ranging from $6,000–$8,500 for an installation without ductwork included. Adding ductwork, which is needed in about 10%–15% of HVAC system replacements, increases the cost to between $9,000 and $12,500. The lifespan of a newer unit is 10–15 years with proper maintenance and care.

Take steps to prepare for a new system by developing a habit of regularly maintaining and caring for your current HVAC system. This practice will extend the life of the cooling and heating system you currently own. It will also help prolong the life of any new system you install in the future. Prepare for replacement costs by being proactive and saving money to invest in a new unit when the time comes.

If you notice any of the following, it’s time to call in a professional. They can run a diagnostic test on your system to determine if continued repair costs make sense or if replacement is the best option.

  • Increasing energy bills — A spike in your energy usage — beyond a typical seasonal adjustment — could indicate an issue with your HVAC system. If you’ve been in your home for more than a year, compare your utility bills to see if you consistently exceed your previous year’s energy costs. A new unit will provide significant energy savings for most homeowners
  • Humidity problems — If your house is too dry in the winter or too humid in the summer, there may be a problem with your HVAC unit’s ductwork. Some homeowners prefer to tackle these repairs themselves — though costly and time-intensive. If experiencing this issue, I recommend installation and replacement of ductwork by a professional HVAC company.
  • Uneven temperatures—It is common for two-story homes to experience temperature fluctuations with a one-zone system. You should have concerns if a wide variance in temperature occurs between rooms — even on the same level — or between floors. This might indicate there’s something wrong with your system. Call a service technician to help diagnose whether this is a simple issue like a thermostat recalibration or a more complicated issue like leaking ductwork.
  • Frequent repairs — Experiencing multiple repairs to your HVAC system in a year indicates a failing system. Examples of such issues include a water leak from your AC unit or a freon leak. It might make more sense to purchase a new system and absorb the short-term replacement cost than to continue to pay out of pocket for frequent, expensive repairs.

I recommend biannual maintenance checks of your system — once in the spring before summer and once in the fall before winter. Proper maintenance, even in the absence of known issues, is crucial for optimal functionality and extending the lifespan of your system.

If Your HVAC System Isn’t Working

If your system isn’t functioning and your troubleshooting cant resolve the issue, it’s time to call an HVAC technician. Rely on recommendations from friends or family in your area to identify professional HVAC service companies—then call and interview each company that you’re considering prior to setting an appointment. Anticipate an initial service visit fee ranging from $59 to $179, with additional charges for immediate repairs if required.

Here are important maintenance checks a technician should do during a service visit:

  • Run a diagnostic test of your system
  • Inspect or clean the air filter
  • Calibrate and inspect the thermostat
  • Check Freon levels
  • Test system safety mechanisms
  • Inspect the heat exchanger and clean burners
  • Check the condensate drains and pumps
  • Inspect duct system
  • Check and clean the humidifier
  • Assess the flue piping
  • Examine and clean the coils
  • Verify the electrical components
  • Check zoning controls
  • Evaluate the motor and compressor amp draws
  • Apply motor oil if necessary

Concerns with certain components are typically minor, and the technician will likely resolve them at minimal cost. For others, however, significant costs could apply. Ask the technician to provide an itemized estimate for any recommended repairs or HVAC replacement. This will help you determine whether you want to proceed with repairs or consider a replacement of the unit.

  • Investment cost — Rather than continuing to make costly repairs, HVAC replacement might make sense. When replacing an old system, you immediately benefit from increased energy efficiency, which can lead to reduced monthly utility bills.
  • System efficiency — Annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) measures efficiency. This rating is always listed as a percentage and is a calculation of how efficient the appliance is in converting energy to heat throughout a typical year in your house. Call an experienced technician to measure the AFUE of your unit to help determine if a replacement is advisable. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends an AFUE of 90% or higher. Therefore, any rating below this mark may cause consideration for replacing with a more efficient unit.
  • Utility rebates — Some utility companies provide incentives to upgrade to more energy-efficient systems. If you’re trying to decide if you should repair or replace your unit, look up available rebate programs. A rebate helps offset the upfront cost of installing a new system.
  • Your budget — Replacing a major appliance is never convenient. In some cases, a short-term repair may be the only affordable option. If this is the case, it’s important to start planning for a full replacement now.

The decision to repair or replace your HVAC system is yours. Understanding the factors and the risks will help you make the right choice.

New System Considerations

If you’ve determined you need a new heat pump or furnace, these are vital factors to consider when selecting a unit:

  • Geography — Colder regions typically require more heat — a more energy-efficient yet higher-priced furnace likely makes more sense in Colorado than in Florida as the long-term savings in a colder climate will offset the upfront price differential.
  • Current system — Based on your current system, it may be easier and cost-effective to purchase a new model of the same type of system. You may want an upgrade from your old system. If you’re considering adding air conditioning to your home, a heat pump is a good option to consider.
  • Power type — Research your options before purchasing a new furnace. A variety of options are available. Choose from a gas furnace, electric furnace, oil furnace, heat pump, or boiler.
  • Tax creditsTax credits can save you up to 30% of the cost of newer, more efficient systems. Look for ENERGY STAR options when replacing your heater.

These are the critical factors to consider when selecting a new air conditioning unit:

  • Geography — Based on where you live, the humidity, average temperature, and climate will affect what type of system you get.
  • Existing unit — If you don’t currently have ductwork in your home, save on installation costs by purchasing an appliance that doesn’t require ductwork, like a portable AC unit or ductless mini-split.
  • Energy efficiency — By upgrading to a more energy-efficient system — like an ENERGY STAR—rated appliance — you can save more on cooling costs.
  • Size of home and unit — Larger homes greater than 1,000 square feet may increase efficiency with central air conditioning. For smaller homes, multiple portable AC units for HVAC zoning could be a more affordable option.

Read also: Ways to clean your Air duct

DIY or Hire HVAC
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DIY or Hire?

HVAC systems are often one of the most-used appliances in your home. Even simple repairs to an HVAC system could have dire consequences if performed incorrectly. In addition to costly repairs down the line for faulty or improperly installed equipment, your HVAC system can leak carbon monoxide or other deadly toxins into your home. For this reason, HVAC units have to meet building codes and professionals are required to adhere to strict installation guidelines. I recommend a service technician for maintenance, major repairs, duct work, and system replacements.

Beyond safety considerations, HVAC professionals can purchase units directly from manufacturers and install your unit quickly following proper protocols. This saves time and money. Hire a qualified HVAC technician to service, repair, and replace your HVAC system.

HVAC replacement, regardless of system type, should be completed by a certified professional. Some tasks you can handle yourself are changing air filers every one to six months and troubleshooting your system.

When Should You Replace Your System?

During summer and winter, HVAC professionals experience high demand for services and equipment. If you anticipate replacing your system but are not in a rush, consider scheduling the replacement for fall. Contractors are typically more available during this time, as they transition between cooling and heating seasons. This allows you to select the best system for your home with their assistance and provides ample time for research and finding the best deals. Additionally, lower demand during this season may result in lower prices.

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Reviewed for accuracy, cost data, industry best practices, and expert advice by Laurie Engle.
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Alora Bopray

Staff Writer

Alora Bopray is a digital content producer for the home warranty, HVAC, and plumbing categories at Today's Homeowner. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of St. Scholastica and her master's degree from the University of Denver. Before becoming a writer for Today's Homeowner, Alora wrote as a freelance writer for dozens of home improvement clients and informed homeowners about the solar industry as a writer for EcoWatch. When she's not writing, Alora can be found planning her next DIY home improvement project or plotting her next novel.

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Laurie Engle

Expert Writer & Reviewer

Laurie Engle is a freelance writer who provides insights to homeowners on topics such as the home warranty industry, relocation issues, and real estate trends. As a licensed Realtor since 2001 Laurie has acquired extensive expertise in dealing with home warranty companies and navigating the intricacies of the real estate market. In addition to her commitment to helping clients with their home buying and selling needs, she maintains a sharp awareness of market dynamics, including property values, interest rates, and local regulations.

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