The Real Costs of Heating and Cooling
The HVAC system in your home is what keeps your heating and cooling working correctly. Before you install or replace one, it’s crucial to know the costs and work involved. There are several types of HVAC units – and even some other heating and cooling options – to consider, and this guide can help you find the right one for you.
The Cost of HVAC Units
HVAC systems aren’t a one-size-fits-all element for your home. There are different brands to choose from that will vary in cost. Here are some of the more common brands and their median prices:
- Amana ($4350): Amana has a gas and electric HVAC package, relying on gas for heat and electric for air conditioning, that is one of its most popular models. Its design even keeps out dust and debris to keep the unit in the best working condition possible.
- American Standard ($4350): American Standard is best known for its incredible efficient systems that can save you significant costs on your heating and cooling bills. Its Gold line offers stainless steel parts that resist corrosion.
- Bryant ($4400): Bryant’s innovative ductless HVAC systems can heat and cool your home and allow for the most flexibility.
- Carrier ($4000): Carrier’s Comfort Series is one of its most popular, allowing up to 5 tons of cooling and a 13 SEER.
- Coleman ($2900): The Coleman Echelon Series is certified ENERGY STAR Most Efficient and may cut energy costs up to 50% over older models.
- Goodman ($2900): Goodman offers some of the most affordable systems on the market. Its newest Dual-Fuel packaged unit has a heavy-duty stainless-steel heat exchanger for efficiency.
- Lennox ($4050): Lennox offers several systems for a variety of budgets, but its Merit series is the most budget-friendly while still designed for efficient and reliable cooling and heating.
- Rheem ($2850): Rheem’s best seller is its Classic series, which has a 13 SEER and a Scroll compressor that keeps the unit quieter than other models with reciprocating compressors.
- Trane ($4050): One of Trane’s best features for its HVAC systems is that their looks match their performance, seamlessly blending in with your home. Specific Trane units can also connect to the Nexia home system for complete smart controls.
- York ($4000): York’s Affinity system is one of the most popular for residential buildings, with advanced technology that creates ultimate comfort with little energy.
Most HVAC systems hover in the range of $4000 to $4400, but some can be as high as $5000 or more and as low as $1900. Although performance should be your number one priority, it’s also important to know how much to expect to pay so that you can find one that fits within your budget.
The Cost of HVAC Labor
Remember that, when installing an HVAC system, the system itself is only one cost involved. Another important – and, perhaps, most significant – cost is the labor it takes to install it.
Some of the factors that may affect your HVAC’s labor costs include:
- The size of your home
- The age and construction of your home
- How complicated the project will be
- Existing ductwork quality
- Your local regulations
- Indoor air quality you desire
- Type of materials and system you chose
Only a qualified HVAC technician can give you an accurate quote based on these factors. The technician will need to tour your home and take some notes so that he can provide a quote. However, you should always budget a little more than the quoted cost to account for anything unexpected during installation.
Although labor costs can vary greatly, you should expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 per hour for your HVAC technician’s labor.
Typical Rebates and Warranties
You may be eligible for rebates from the government, your state, or your locality for the HVAC system you installed, especially if it’s an incredibly energy-efficient model.
You can check out the federal tax credits for HVAC systems here. Check with your local utility department for any potential tax credits or rebates for your installation, and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency for state-specific rebates.
Your HVAC components’ manufacturer may also have rebates available for your system. Rheem, for example, has a Rebate Center that lists all current discounts for its products.
Another important factor when finding the right HVAC system is its warranty. Warranties can make the difference between a system that eats up your savings on maintenance and repairs and a system that saves you money over time.
For most systems, you’ll need to register with the manufacturer to become eligible for a warranty. Usually, you’ll have up to three months to fill out the registration but try to do it as soon as possible so you don’t forget.
Warranties typically cover things like:
- Heat exchangers
- Internal components
However, you won’t have warranty coverage on some matters relating to your HVAC system, like labor costs for repairs and maintenance, filters and fuses, non-manufacturer parts you bought and replaced, parts that don’t affect the system’s performance, and any problems that stem from you or a non-certified person attempting to repair the system.
In fact, the manufacturer may void your warranty entirely if you or someone else causes damage to the system or if the damage is caused by a failure to maintain your HVAC elements properly.
The average HVAC warranty lasts between 5 and 10 years, but some offer 20 years of coverage. It’s a good idea, when possible, to opt for a system that provides the most extended coverage to give your system more insurance.
Understanding How HVAC Works
Although HVAC systems from different manufacturers all vary slightly, there are many components that are necessary to make them work. Most HVAC systems have the following elements in common:
- Air conditioner: This unit is what will cool your air and usually requires electricity for power.
- Furnace or heater: A furnace or heater is what you’ll use in colder months to warm your home. These can be either gas or electricity-powered, but it’s more common to see gas furnaces in modern systems.
- Thermostat: The thermostat is what controls your temperature in your home. You might have only one, but it’s preferable to have at least one on every floor for more even heating and cooling.
- Ductwork: Your home’s ducting is where your air will travel to heat and cool your home, escaping through the vents at the end of the ducts. Some newer systems now offer ductless installations for more flexible options.
- Blower: The blowers are in the ductwork to help move cool and warm air through ducts efficiently.
There are also some premium elements that you might consider in your installation:
- Central humidifier: Heating and cooling can affect the humidity level in your home. Humidifiers and dehumidifiers can help the problem, but you might be able to combat it more efficiently with a central humidifier installation, which can control the humidity in your home through your HVAC system.
- Electronic air cleaner: Those with allergies might benefit from an electric air cleaner installation, which can maximize the filtration of your system.
- Energy recovery ventilator: Bring fresh air into your home through your HVAC system with an energy recovery ventilator, which helps prevent bacteria in the air from getting trapped inside your home.
An air conditioner uses a refrigerant that moves through a compressor. The compressor’s coils contain the refrigerant. When warm air blows over those coils, the refrigerant absorbs it. It then gets pushed by a fan through the ducts and vents in your home.
Once the cooling cycle is complete, the refrigerant moves back into the coils to start the cycle again.
Heating your home with an HVAC system can happen with a split unit or a packaged unit. A split unit separates the heater from the air conditioner, while a packaged unit contains both the air conditioner and heating units.
Heaters work similarly to air conditioning in that cool air absorbs the hot air a heater creates. The fan then blows the air through the ducts and vents. An exhaust flue then moves toxic gases out of the home.
The packaged HVAC units that we mentioned are typically installed on a roof. This makes them a bit challenging to install because they can be incredibly heavy. A certified technician must be able to tell where the best place is to mount the unit where it can be adequately supported by the roof.
A technician will also need to install drain pipes to prevent mold and corrosion from condensation and coolant.
Split units don’t need to go on a roof. Technicians usually install them in a shady location, like near the back of your home, so that direct sunlight won’t prevent them from being as efficient as possible. The heat exchanger must have a concrete platform in place for installation.
HVAC units come in a variety of sizes that can be confusing if you’re not sure what their differences are or what you need. A unit that’s too large may be costlier than you need, but one that’s too small may not heat and cool your home efficiently.
Fortunately, it’s easy to do a simple calculation to get a fairly accurate estimate of the size you’ll need. First, find out the square footage of your home. Then, multiply that by 20. A 1200 square foot home would need about 24,000 BTUs of cooling from your HVAC unit.
Installing an HVAC System
Before installing ductwork, your HVAC technician will have to map your home to create a plan for your ducts and vents. He’ll need to consider things like piping, furniture placement, and the types of vents you want (wall or floor).
Sometimes, your existing ductwork will be just fine. However, if your ducts are old or not installed correctly, then the technician may have to redo the full ducting system to create one that will work with your new installation.
Smart thermostats can be costly, but they can also help you control the heating and cooling throughout your home more accurately. Some smart thermostats even let you control other things in your home, like door locks and lights, via a smart system
There are several types of thermostats to consider for your new HVAC system, including dials, programmable, and smart thermostats. Dialed thermostats are the simplest and most budget-friendly, but they also aren’t the most accurate or efficient.
Programmable thermostats are more efficient than others because you can adjust them according to seasons or the days and times of the week you’re home or out of the home.
Smart thermostats can be costly, but they can also help you control the heating and cooling throughout your home more accurately. Some smart thermostats even let you control other things in your home, like door locks and lights, via a smart system.
The installation cost and complexity will vary depending on the type of thermostat you want for your home.
Repairing and Replacing an HVAC System
Repairing an HVAC system can be a quick fix to a complex project, depending on what the problem is. It’s usually more cost-effective to repair a unit instead of replacing it, but a large repair could potentially cost you more over time than replacing the system for a more cost and energy-efficient model.
If your home is old and its HVAC system hasn’t had an upgrade in decades, then you might be leaning more toward a replacement.
First, you’ll need to consider what your current system does and how big it is. If you don’t plan to add to your home and the unit meets the BTU test we did earlier for its size, then you should stick to a similar size when upgrading.
Remember that, depending on where you live and the age of your home, you may experience some heating and cooling leaks or loss. For example, many older homes don’t have proper installation or energy-efficient windows to hold heat and cool air in. In that case, you’ll want to estimate an additional 10 to 20 BTUs per square foot of your home.
While an energy-efficient 2000 square foot home might only require 40,000 BTUs, a not as efficient home of the same size in a warm climate area may need closer to 80,000 BTUs.
You should also consider things like your home’s wall material, draftiness of doors and windows, how much sunlight your home gets, landscaping that blocks wind from your home, and anything else that can have an impact on your unit’s efficiency. An experienced technician can give you helpful pointers in this area.
If your home experiences very different temperatures in specific areas or levels, you might benefit from also having a whole-house zoning system installed. This system can help you control the temperatures in each room or zone to make your home more energy-efficient.
An entirely new HVAC replacement isn’t usually necessary in more modern homes with dependable systems in place. Sometimes, a few repairs are all you need to get your system working like new again. Here are some of the common electrical parts that might warrant repairs and how you can tell if it’s time to fix them:
- Fuses: Fuses can stop working for a number of reasons, most commonly after a power outage or power surge. Sometimes, when another component fails and begins to work in overdrive, it can cause a fuse to overpower and fail. Fuses are one of the first things to check if your HVAC system stops working correctly and can be one of the simplest
- Compressor: The compressor helps pump refrigerant through the air conditioning unit and is the component that you hear running outside when your air conditioner turns on. A loud, abnormal sound coming from the unit is a sign that it’s beginning to fail.
- Capacitors: Capacitors help start your HVAC motor but can weaken after a while. There are usually no warning signs that capacitors start to fail. Instead, once they fail, your motor will just stop working.
- Fan motors: Your HVAC system has both indoor and outdoor fans. The indoor fans blow air through the ducts and the outdoor fan moves air in the A/C condenser. Both fans can get dust and dirt buildup that can eventually cause the fan to stop running and the motor to burn out. You might hear some loud noises from them when they start to fail. If so, you should try to get them repaired as soon as possible because broken ones can cause other components to stop working correctly.
- Relay: Relays are switches that activate the components of your HVAC system. They’re electrical, so their failure is most often caused by faulty electrical signals. When one stops working, the element it triggers will also stop working.
- Circuit board: The circuit board is in the furnace and controls just about everything in your heater. Vibrations, dirt, and debris can cause the circuit board to stop functioning correctly, which can cause the furnace to stop working altogether.
The following components are also parts of an HVAC system that sometimes need to be fixed, but they deal more with piping than electricity:
- Coils: Indoor and outdoor coils are what transfer the heat to turn it into cold and warm air. Coils can get debris build up over time which causes them to stop working efficiently. You might notice lower heat or cooling performance from your unit.
- Drain lines: Drain lines can suffer from buildup, causing them to block and not allow liquid to drain. Most HVAC experts recommend clearing your drain lines annually to prevent this from happening.
- Refrigerant metering device: This device regulates how much refrigerant moves through your air conditioner, so when it malfunctions, your air conditioner’s compressor will likely underperform. If not caught early enough, your compressor could stop working altogether.
- Reversing valve: A reversing valve lets your HVAC system shift from heating to cooling and vice versa. They have a filter that can get clogged over time and may prevent the system from making the switch.
Importance of Maintaining Your AC System
Any HVAC system is only as effective as your dedication to maintaining it. Your system isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it piece of your home. It requires care and proper maintenance to keep it working in top shape.
If you don’t routinely change filters or check the system, your heating and cooling will suffer. When components can’t run correctly, they’ll overwork themselves to make up for it, eventually causing them to stop running.
You should commit to doing the following maintenance tasks to keep your HVAC running smoothly:
- Clear debris and dirt from outdoor components once per month
- Replace your filter as often as your manufacturer recommends
- Inspect the fan blades to ensure that they spin correctly and aren’t broken
- Clean the blades every year before the cooling season starts
- Remove dust from the coils of your heating unit at least once a year
- Place shade over your compressor to shield it from the sun and keep it covered in cold months
- Prevent anything from growing near the compressor, including grass, trees, and flowers
SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. You’ll find this rating on HVAC units to describe how much cooling your air conditioning unit gives out compared to how much energy it uses. The higher the number, the better, because it shows that your cooling unit is efficient.
The energy savings you’ll have from a unit with a higher SEER will fluctuate depending on your area’s climate. But, you can generally expect to cut your costs by 30-50% when you upgrade from a 13 SEER to a 20 SEER system.
Energy Star Certification
You’ll also notice an Energy Star Certification for an efficient HVAC system, just like you see on your appliances. This certification proves that the manufacturer made the system more environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient by meeting the standards for Energy Star Certification and guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Your home may also be Energy Star Certified, and your HVAC system will play an essential role in that certification. In addition to a professional checking your home’s water and insulation efficiency, he will also check your HVAC’s efficiency by looking at ductwork, insulation, components, and more.
One of the most important things to consider before upgrading or installing a new HVAC system is your home’s current insulation. Without proper insulation installed, your HVAC’s heating and cooling will escape through the walls of your home, rendering it less efficient than it could be. Insulation should, therefore, be something you consider upgrading before you start your HVAC project.
Some of the more common forms of insulation are:
- Batt and roll, which is made from anything from fiberglass to wool
- Foam board, which is standard insulation for interior walls
- Loose fill, which you’ll see mostly in new construction; you can spray this insulation into walls before covering with sheetrock
- Sprayed foam insulation, which works best in odd-shaped areas or hard-to-reach areas
- Structural insulated panels, which are likely the most energy-efficient because they are walls with insulation built into them
Other Heating and Cooling Options and Costs
HVAC isn’t the only type of heating and cooling system around, even if it is most common. You should always consider other options because one may be a better solution for you and your home. Here are a few favorite alternatives to an HVAC system:
- Radiant heat: Some areas don’t require a lot of heating because they don’t get a lot of cold weather. In this case, portable radiant heaters might do the trick to keep a house warm when the sun goes down. Depending on how many rooms you need to heat, you might spend between $2000 and $4000 on radiant heaters.
- Baseboard heaters: Baseboard heaters can be a good option for small homes or apartments where installing ducts and vents isn’t an option. You may only spend up to $1000 installing these to warm your space.
- Window air conditioners: Again, some areas may not have many sweltering days during the year, so window air conditioners could save a lot of money on an expensive cooling system. You can expect to pay an average of $100 to $300 for each unit, depending on their size and BTUs they put out.
- Geothermal: This system uses heat from under the ground to heat and cool your home. This is one of the eco-friendliest systems, but it can also cost $6000 or more for the system alone, not including labor.