Is a Bigger Air Conditioner Better?

Is Your Sacramento Valley Air Conditioner underperforming?

There are many reasons why your air conditioner may be underperforming.  Your system could be low on refrigerant, your evaporator coil could be clogged, the filter could be dirty, or the air ducts that lead to each room in your house could be damaged or crushed.  These problems can lead you to think your AC is undersized, and you should get a bigger air conditioner.  Today I want to tell you why getting a bigger AC may not be the best idea.

The Owner’s Hunch

Hi, I’m Greg Fox from Fox Family Heating, Air Conditioning, and Solar.  As the Sacramento area grows outward, new neighborhoods have sprouted up very quickly.  After the haste, many folks I’ve talked to have complained that their air conditioner seems to be undersized.  And sometimes they are right!  Sometimes the HVAC contractor that installed that system didn’t consider that the house has 10-foot ceilings instead of the usual 8-foot ceilings.

Doing the Math

That isn’t the only thing we look at either.  In both older and newer homes, the square footage of the house is important.  The type of windows and doors, the orientation of the house, as well as the impact of any trees that might be covering the house are all also important.  And the insulation levels in the house is also important.  All of these factors are used to figure out the proper size for a home’s AC unit.

Summer Heat

If your home’s air conditioner is undersized, you’ll know it because it will just run, and run, and run, even on 85- and 90-degree days.  That’s warm, but nothing compared to the average of 22 days per year of temperatures soaring to 100 degrees or more here in the Sacramento area.  Most air conditioners these days are designed to be efficient to 95 degrees or less.  Anything hotter than that, and EVERYONE’S air conditioner is going to run non-stop.

Going Bigger

This is typical for a lot of the homes around the Sacramento area.  But some people wonder if a bigger sized system is a good idea.  Here are some factors I would consider when considering the move to a bigger system:

Your air ducts are sized for the sized system you have now.  If you get a bigger system you can really affect the static pressure of the system.  Static pressure is like the blood pressure in your body.  If your heart was too big for your body, it could cause complications with your blood pressure, right?  Well it’s the same with the static pressure of your HVAC system.  The bigger air conditioner and its compressor won’t be able to operate under the same comfortable conditions as it would if it was properly sized.  This will lead to early system failures of your new HVAC system.

Comfort

A bigger system is also not going to feel as comfortable for your house.  Humidity isn’t as big a deal out here in California, but in other areas of the country it is.  Either way, the comfortability factor is compromised when you get a bigger system.

Imagine this.  When you turn on the AC in your car on a hot day, the air comes on full blast until you start to feel nice and cold in there.  Now, turn that AC back off, and its starts to feel muggy and strangely warm too quickly.  The car walls, seats, leather and other things in the car haven’t gotten cool yet.  That’s the same thing you’ll experience in a house with too big of a system.

The thermostat might satisfy at the temperature you’re asking for more quickly, but it kicks right back on quickly too.  This can really mess with the humidity levels in your home because the system hasn’t run long enough for it to do its job, which is to cool your house AND dehumidify the house at the same time.  Ideal humidity levels in our homes here are around 45-55%.  Anything more than that and it really starts to feel sticky in there.

Wear and Tear

Another reason to size it right is because now that your larger system is constantly turning on and off all day on these hotter days, the motors will wear out faster.  The most damaging time for a motor, especially your $2000 compressor, is when all that damaging heat and energy slam into that motor to get it running.  Yes, it levels off once its running but the starting and stopping is what really hurts those expensive motors.

The right sized system runs for longer times but cools your house more effectively by getting your walls, your furniture, the carpet and ceilings cool as well as the occupants in the house.  That’s why getting it right is so important.

Get it Right

If you’re an HVAC technician watching this video, don’t just go into the house and say, “Oh yeah you’ve got a 2.5-ton system in your house, so that’s what we’re going to go back with.”  You MIGHT BE going back with that same size system, but at least know for sure that’s what size your customer needs by doing a proper load calculation of the house and its surroundings.  An HVAC system is one of the most expensive things people buy for their homes.  It would be devastating to buy too small of a system or too large of a system.  You want to really get it just right!

Case in Point

I just went to a family’s house in the Natomas area.  Lots of newer homes have been built in this area.  This home had a 3.5-ton system on a house that I measured out at 2300 square feet.  This 3.5-ton system is too small for this house.  This was a house that had two thermostats, also known as a house with two zones, or a zoned house.  It uses one thermostat upstairs and one downstairs.

Zones

Zoned houses are designed to cool one floor at a time rather than the whole house.  Watch my video on “How to Cool a Two-Story House” for a better strategy on cooling this house, linked at the end of this blog post.  Basically though, I just set the schedule on their thermostat (which had never been set up before) to cool the downstairs living area during the day, and the upstairs sleeping areas starting around 7pm.

These folks were told by another company before mine to just set it to their desired temperature, which was 74 degrees, on both floors and press the HOLD button on the thermostat.  That’s why when I went into their home to give them an estimate for a new system, they were really focused on getting a bigger system; because that 3.5-ton system just could not keep up with that big house all day.  The temperature in the home was climbing throughout the hot days.

Each zone was only about 1300 square feet.  But they had 12-foot ceilings, 20-year-old vinyl, south facing windows, a south facing wall that is getting hammered by the sun all day, AND those walls are a part of the main living room downstairs and the master bedroom upstairs.  They can literally feel the heat radiating through their walls into those rooms. And they typically have some activity during the day upstairs, especially around the afternoon hours.

All this was taken into consideration as I advised them that the size of their system could be reduced by a half a ton, but considering everything about the house, the 3.5 ton would be just fine.

In Summary

Getting a larger AC than you need might sound appealing, but it’s torture on your new system.  It probably won’t last as long as it’s supposed to, and you’ll be buying a new system sooner than you should.

I hope this blog post has helped you understand the importance of not getting an oversized air conditioner for your home.  If you have any opinions on this topic, please feel free to comment below.  We really appreciate your input!

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post!

When Should a Technician Recommend a Leak Search on my HVAC System?

how does an hvac unit work

Every spring and early summer we get what’s called the “first wave” of worried homeowners and rental tenants who realize there is something wrong with their AC system. Sometimes it’s a mechanical part like a capacitor or a motor, but other times it’s a refrigerant issue. This week we’re going to talk about refrigerant leaks, what the laws are and moral obligations you and your technician may have when it comes to refilling your HVAC system with refrigerant year after year.

As a technician who goes to hundreds of homes every summer in the hot Sacramento valley, I go out on these calls all time. Sometimes customers will call into the office and tell us another company told them they have to get a new system because they’re not allowed to fix older systems anymore. Other excuses I hear is, they don’t make R-22 anymore so there is no refrigerant to add back into their system. Unsuspecting homeowners will believe these technicians and fall for their unethical tactics. Other homeowners will call Fox Family Heating, Air Conditioning and Solar where we will offer a free second opinion to come out and verify a leak that supposedly exists and give them proper solutions to remedy the leaky system.
Let’s talk about the obligations we as decent human beings have to this great planet we live on. The government regulates and monitors our usage and consumption of refrigerant in this country. In other parts of the world, not so much! It’s crazy to think of the irresponsibility technicians in other parts of the world have when it comes to just pouring pounds and pounds of damaging refrigerant to earth’s ozone layer. You see, the refrigerant in our older systems now is R-22, a mix of chemicals that contains chlorine which degrades the ozone layer quickly if it were to get out into the open. The systems in our homes hold anywhere from 3 to 20 lbs. of refrigerant. Just two lbs. of refrigerant leaking into the atmosphere causes as much environmental damage as a van driving 10,000 miles down the road. The damaging result is global warming and accelerated environmental weather extremes.

You know the stories. You’ve seen it on TV. Al Gore told you this crazy weather is because of an accumulation of damaging practices we have as humans to this giant world. Refrigerant loss from our home HVAC systems don’t even have a definite requirement yet as to when we HAVE to perform a repair on the leak. The government right now, just says if the system holds over 50 lbs of refrigerant, then we have to fix the leak. Not only do we have to fix the leak on those systems but we have to come back and verify that leak is taken care of bi-annually until the EPA requirements for follow-up are satisfied. We as technicians are now responsible for logging any refrigerant coming in and out of any given system, not just commercial and industrial machines, but residential too.

how does an hvac unit work
When I get out on these calls with low refrigerant suspected, I will attach my gauges to the air conditioner outside and fire it up. The system will start but doesn’t sound normal. A light clanking noise quickly repeating itself in its own rhythm. After a few minutes of running, the gauges show me there is indeed very little refrigerant left in the system.

What does this mean? The HVAC system is separated into three lines for your refrigerant to stay in. The evaporator coil at your furnace, the condenser coil on the outside unit, and the copper line set that runs between the two coils. When the system was installed, these three sections were brazed together by the technician out at your house.

During the call, and at the very least, a technician should volunteer to visually go around and check all the brazed points in your lines. There are at least two points at the evaporator coil and two at the outdoor condenser coil that the installing technicians brazed together to complete your HVAC system’s refrigerant lines. The technician should be looking for oil around these connections. Why? Because the refrigerant in the system carries oil with it to lubricate the components inside the system, like the compressor. This means if the furnace and evaporator coil are up in the attic, the technician needs to get their ladder out and go up there to do this visual check. While they are up there, they should check the P-trap for oil in the condensate lines. A good technician knows that the majority of leaks happen at the evaporator coil or the condenser coil and very rarely at the line set that runs in between the two. If the evaporator coil is leaking badly enough, oil will drop down into the evaporator coil drain pan that the water usually goes down into. It then starts its way down the condensate drain line until the oil fills up in the P-trap. These are very easy checks the technician should include on the original diagnosis charge.

If they don’t see anything there and are sure they have checked all the easier points of access to the refrigerant lines at the evaporator coil, the tech should check the outdoor coil looking inside the top off the unit and all around it looking for darker stains of oil. Also, are the schrader cores where the gauges attach too loose or not sitting correctly within the service valve? If the tech is satisfied the leaks are not there, then he/she should start an investigation of sorts.

“Is there a history of leaking with this system?” is a question the technician should ask. The homeowner has some obligation to tell the truth here. If the owner deceives the tech, then we’re really not getting anywhere are we? I can say there have been very few owners that I didn’t believe when they told me, “No, never any leaks before,” or “Well we just moved in here two months ago.” At this point RIGHT HERE a technician should offer a strategy to the homeowner to help determine if it’s a leak and if so what will we do to try to find the hole and repair the system so it doesn’t leak anymore.
Our technicians at Fox Family ask if there is a history of leaking for this HVAC system because it helps us establish a base point for the rate in which this system is leaking. We want to know if there has been refrigerant added to this system before, and if so, when?

The main reason why I wrote this blog. If this is the first time the system has been “topped-off” to get you cooling again, then we should get you cooling and use this as a starting point to determine if this system is leaking and if so, how much and how often?

If the refrigerant was admittedly, “topped-off” last year, then I think it is a good time to introduce the idea of looking for the leak. This is mentioned whole heartedly in the best interest of the planet and its survival. We want to avoid being unethical here now that we know the system is being topped off every so often to maintain it’s cool air. R-22 has chlorine and R410 still has massive global warming potential. We need to stop that from getting out to the ozone! If we can find the leak then we can get the system back to factory specs.

When I want to introduce the leak search, I tell my customer, let’s get you back cooling today so your family is comfortable. The we should go ahead and start the leak search process which includes us going to the different parts of the AC system with our electronic sniffer looking for the leak. The majority of the time I can find the leak with this method. That cost $X amount and is good for the first hour of searching for the leak. If we can’t find the leak after the first hour, we bump it up a level to $X amount. This level of leak search includes us adding a fluorescent dye to the system so we can let it circulate in the system for a couple of weeks (while you are still staying cool). Then we come back out and look for the dye. If there is indeed a hole somewhere in that copper or aluminum line, the oil and the dye inside the lines will spew out of the hole and splash onto anything around it like the aluminum fins on the coil or the condensate drain pan and into the P-trap. We’ll take the dye kit which comes with some yellow glasses and a UV flashlight. When we shine the light onto the dye which has come out of the leak and we have our yellow glasses on we can plainly see the leak is coming from there. We shouldn’t stop looking though! Just because there is one leak doesn’t mean there aren’t two or more holes.

If the leak is in the fins of the evaporator or condenser coil, we can’t get in there to fix the leak without compromising the standards of the manufacturer. It’s possible yes but, the possibility of the repair causing a restriction or other repair if the brazing compound didn’t settle properly on the under side of the repair spot. Also, the copper or aluminum is a lot thinner on the coils than the copper line set that runs in between. This means when the leak is in the evaporator or condenser coil, and it’s not on a u-bend or other easily accessible spot, we’ll recommend you getting another coil from the manufacturer. We’ll get it ordered and replaced for you in no time.

No matter where the leak is, the money you have paid for the leak search will go toward the cost of repair. Some of these repairs can be upwards of $2000 to replace parts, so it’s nice to know we can find the leak, and then put that money towards the cost of repair.

Our clients always appreciate knowing exactly what to expect during the leak search process. Simply explaining the repair in common terms that aren’t too “techie” for the customer are also appreciated. A leak search is not always needed just because you went out to a house for the first time and it has a leak. There is proper way of establishing knowledge and data about this particular unit. Starting at that first time out there and getting the customer cool is the most important thing. Next year if we have to add refrigerant again, then we should establish a plan for finding the leak. It’s our moral obligation as techs and as homeowners to find the leak and repair it. If there is a history of leaking refrigerant from your system, it’s on you as homeowners to let us know. I realize it’s going to cost some money to make the repair, but once it’s fixed, you won’t have to keep paying for refrigerant that just keeps getting more and more expensive every year.

Thanks for checking out this blog on leak search recommendations. If you are a homeowner and are concerned that what the other technician said doesn’t match I’m saying here, you might want to call a trusted HVAC company that will set you straight and actually give you options other than “You need to replace your system!”

How Long Can I Wait to Have My HVAC System Repaired?

Keep Your AC Running the Rest of the Summer

Today on the VLOG (Video Blog) I talk about what happens when you make quick-fix or band-aid repairs on your HVAC system.  If your system is operational but you know it needs a repair but you just don’t want to spend the cash, what can you do?

something else to consider, if your furnace or home air conditioner is more than 8-10 years old, and you are not having regular maintenance performed on it once or twice a year, you could be in for multiple repairs in the years to come. I share the details of what is under warranty and what is not.

We appreciate you tuning in and welcome your LIKES, COMMENTs or SHARES!

310.4 Electrical Connections and AC Disconnects

Installing According to Code is the Sign of a Real Professional

So many times when you’re out in the field you’ll encounter a technician, a supervisor or inspector who will cite building codes as their authority for proper installation of an HVAC system.  Installing a subpanel, wiring up a disconnect, or running PVC pipe in the attic correctly is just one of the many responsibilities of an HVAC technician.

Whether you pull permits or not on your job, a company’s worth is based on the quality of its workmanship.  And if that work fails in a few years, it most likely wasn’t installed according to code.

So often you will notice the code referring us back to the manufacturer and how they want it installed.  Referring to the installation guide and following along with the steps in the book will take any and all guesswork out of what you’re supposed to do next.  This is the sign of a real professional in their trade.
I’m not here to claim I know, or could even possibly interpret all the codes correctly, but what I would like to do is open up some conversation about the building codes and your opinion about what we are talking about this particular day.

Electrical Connections at the Condenser

Today I want to talk about installing a service disconnect at the condenser.  I will look at one of the first points made in the California Mechanical Code and it stands out from the International Mechanical Code which just advises following the NEC when it comes to this.  But as an installer, I’ve wondered whether or not to put a disconnect here.  Let’s take a look at what 310.4 says about Electrical Connections.

First, “equipment regulated by this code requiring electrical connections of more than 50 volts shall have a positive means of disconnect adjacent to and in sight from the equipment served.”  This just means a furnace would need a 120-volt pigtail as its positive means of disconnecting voltage from the furnace.  When you unplug the furnace, no voltage can reach the furnace.  A 30-amp or 60-amp service disconnect is installed on the 240-volt circuit to the AC outside as its positive means of disconnect.

Here’s a question for you.  Let’s say we’re installing the AC unit.  Usually, the disconnect is right next to the condenser so the service tech can access the unit safely.  Must we always have a disconnect next to the AC to remove power from the unit?  The answer is no.  If the main electrical panel is within sight of the condenser, that can serve as the means of positive disconnect for the unit.  The double pole breaker inside the main electrical panel is that means of disconnect.  This has come up a few times for us when teaching new technicians.

Dedicated Outlets

Next, “a 120 Volt receptacle should be located within 25 feet of the equipment for service and maintenance purposes.  The receptacle need not be located on the same level as the equipment.” 

So, because we service our equipment with pumps and motors that require electricity, an outlet needs to be within reach of a 25 ft. extension cord.
As specified later in the codebook, in the case of a package unit installed on a roof, a dedicated outlet at the unit must be installed in certain jurisdictions.  Here in Yolo County, right next to Sacramento County, we must install 120 weatherproof outlets at the package unit on the roof we’re servicing in order to meet that city’s more stringent adaption of the code.  This allows us to use our vacuum pumps and recovery machines up on the roof.

Exposed Thermostat Wiring

The third part of this code requires that “low voltage wiring of 50 volts or less… shall be installed in a manner to prevent physical damage.”   This is kind of a pet peeve of mine.  It bothers me to see thermostat wire running to the AC with its brown sheathing exposed to the sun’s UV rays.  Even the slightest bump of a dried out thermostat wire against the AC is enough to strip the wire and expose it to an electrical short.  One-half-inch conduit should be run with the thermostat wire to protect it from damage.  It really doesn’t take any extra time to install this flexible non-metal conduit right into the condenser.  Some techs just don’t think about it, because they weren’t taught that way.  It’s all good.  Once again, just starting a conversation about this.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts about this section of the code that talks about electrical connections?  Do you always put a disconnect next to the AC even though it’s in sight of the main electrical panel?  Please leave your thoughts below.

Thanks for weighing in, and stay tuned for next week’s blog topic!

Don’t miss our YouTube video on this topic:

11 Red Flags When Buying a New HVAC System

11 Red Flags When Buying a New HVAC System

Can you see the 11 red flags when buying a new HVAC system for your Home? 

Making this expensive purchase is tough enough with all of the hurried salespeople and misinformation out there on the internet.  Today I wanted to highlight what you should watch for with these 11 red flags when buying a new HVAC system.

  1. Get the Right Size System – If a company comes out to give you an estimate on a new system but doesn’t take the right measurements, how do they know they are installing the right size system for you? If a company comes out to your home and sees that your current system is a 3 ton 60,000 btu split system, and they just want to throw another one in that’s the same size, without measuring your actual conditioned square footage, taking consideration for your window infiltration, attic insulation levels, the orientation of the home, and other influences like shade trees that may have recently been removed, I would see that as a red flag.
  2. Buy the Right Technology for your Situation – There are three types of technology when it comes to how an HVAC system works. Single-stage, Two-Stage, and Variable Speed technology.  Which one is right for your Home?  Discuss this with your technician.  If you tell them what you want, and they tell you what they offer, you two will come up with the right system for your home.  The point is, don’t let someone tell you which technology you need to get.  If you aren’t involved in the process, that’s a red flag.
  3. Choose the Right Brand of Air Conditioning System for Your Home – I have written blogs on which brands are the best in the business. Some brands have bad reputations because they are the cheapest brands that homebuilders can find.  They find these cheap brands so they can win the bidding process for the job.  So, now that there are a bunch of these same less expensive systems in the neighborhood when they all start breaking down, they maintain the brand’s bad reputation.  On the other side, the most costly systems may not be right for your rental or vacation home.  Just make sure you’re clued in to any salesmen trying to sell you’re the most expensive equipment out there. That’s a red flag for me.  Check out my blog on this and let that help you make an informed decision on which brand to go with.
  4. Check References and ReviewsChoose the Right Contractor to Install Your New System – Not even the most expensive system in the industry will work right for you if it’s not installed correctly. Manufacturers build the equipment, and contractors install the equipment.  If your contractor just throws your new system in and doesn’t consider the finer points of installation practices, you’ll suffer in the long run, which brings me to my next point.
  5. Check References and Reviews – If your contractor doesn’t have any reviews online, that’s a big red flag. They may not be licensed.  They may not even be a real business.  Sure, you can have some guy who drives around in a pickup truck put your new HVAC system in, but what happens when you need that person to service your equipment if it breaks down? You may never see that guy again! That’s why if he doesn’t have any reviews online, that’s a red flag.
  6. Using the Big Companies in Town – If the company you choose has 50 to 150 employees or more, you might be paying too much for your system. Who’s going to pay for all of those $100,000 salaries for the managers of those businesses? You are. That’s why going with the big guys in town is a red flag to me, too.  Find out more about the company you are considering by asking how many employees that company has.
  7. Licensing, Bonding, Insurance, and Sales Agreements – I think it’s fair to ask your potential contractor if they are adequately insured. What happens if they install it unsafely and the condensate drainage backs up, causing water damage to your ceiling? It’s a huge red flag if your contractor doesn’t have the proper insurance to cover your home in case of installer error.
  8. Contracts Should be in Place – I also think it’s a red flag if your potential contractor doesn’t have you sign an official contract. Did you know contracts in California are about 13 pages long?  If you’re not seeing this when you go to sign, that might be a red flag.  The contract may not have everything written out clearly for everyone to agree to.  The California State License Board has a pretty strict standard for what size font needs to be used.  Attorneys for these companies will want to make the finishing touches on these documents.  Does your contractor have a business attorney?  That’s something you might want to consider.  Legitimate businesses do things the right way and don’t cut corners administratively.
  9. DContracts Should be in Place when Buying a New HVACoes Your Contractor Pull Permits? – Big jobs that involve modifying the gas lines, high voltage, or structure of the house should have a permit pulled. You, as the homeowner, can pull the permit, but I would wonder why a contractor wouldn’t just pull the permit themselves.  After all, they are the professionals at this, right?  If your contractor requires you to pull the permit, I would consider that a red flag.
  10. Maintenance Plans – Some companies want to throw your system in, take your money, never to be seen again. I would like someone to take care of my system after the installation.  Modern high-efficiency systems need a little more care than earlier systems. That’s why having a maintenance agreement in place with your installer is a solid plan.  If they don’t offer you something like that, I would see that as a red flag.
  11. Warranties on New HVAC Systems – New systems come with a ten-year parts warranty. That means if any part of the system breaks down within the first ten years, you won’t have to pay for the part itself.  You will, however, have to pay for the labor for the contractor to do that work for you.  Pay close attention to the labor warranty on your new install.   A measly two-year labor warranty isn’t offering much because new systems don’t usually break within the first two years. It’s usually five, seven, ten years down the road.  If your labor warranty isn’t offered to be extended to five or ten years, assuming you let them do the required maintenance on the system, I would consider that a red flag.

As someone in the field for a long time, I think it’s important to share with you the 11 red flags when buying a new HVAC system that I see other companies do to their customers.  Hopefully, you’ll consider these bits of information, and it helps you with some questions you have when buying your next HVAC system.

Can I Replace the Outside Air Conditioner without Changing My Furnace?

Can I replace my AC without the furnace?

 

When it’s time to replace your air conditioner, many people ask ‘can I replace my AC without the furnace?’

Can I replace just my air conditioning unit? You can. However, there are rebates available in some areas that reward folks for changing out their AC unit. In those situations, those folks will be required to change out their furnace with their air conditioning system at the same time.

 

How You Get Heat

 

There are three main parts of your central air conditioning system, indoor and outdoor. In the heating season, you have a gas flame that typically that heats a metal box. Inside that same indoor unit is a blower motor that sends air across the hot metal box, which travels through the ductwork to warm air into your rooms. And that’s how you get heat.

Can I replace my furnace without replacing my air conditioner?

How You Get Air Conditioning

In the air conditioner season, that hot metal box is still there physically; it’s just not being heated up and no flame is on at all. Your AC units’ job is to draw the heat from inside your home and replace it with cool air. The A/C compressor starts up and runs the refrigerant through the outdoor AC condenser coil which connects to the evaporator coil near your HVAC system, inside the house. The outdoor unit is a hot coil, removing heat inside the house while the inside coil is a cold coil. The blower inside the furnace sends air past the cold evaporator coil, through the ductwork, and into the home. This is a short explanation of how your home stays cool in the summertime.

Replacing Just Your Outside AC Unit

Back to the question of replacing just your air conditioning units. Now that you know there are three individual units to your central air system — the furnace, the indoor unit evaporator coil, and the outdoor coils — you should know that any one of those components can be changed out, one at a time.

You may have a house where the AC unit is newer than the indoor furnace, especially if you live in parts of the country where your condensing unit works twice as hard as your heating. In this case, it would make the most sense to replace your AC, bypassing furnace replacement.

Can I Replace the Outdoor AC Without the Furnace?

There are some situations where you can even get away with just changing the outdoor unit for a fraction of the cost of a whole new system! It all depends on the type of refrigerant that your unit uses.

If you currently have a unit that has refrigerant R410a or a unit with R22, you can replace just the outside unit with a similar one. For R22 units, check out Coleman’s EVCON 407c units that come empty of refrigerant but are ready to be charged with 407c, which is an excellent replacement for R22. Technically, you could add R22 to it, but that refrigerant type is quite a bit more expensive and less environmentally friendly if a future leak occurred.

Likewise, R410a systems allow you to replace just the outdoor AC unit with an R410a outdoor unit.

R22 System Issues

If you’re having issues with your R22 system and you want to upgrade it to an R410a system, I’d highly recommend you change the indoor cold evaporator coil with the outdoor unit. Metering devices, capacity, and the copper itself will create more repairs in the future. We guarantee replacing your R22 system will save you money in the long term; the cost of this new system will pay for itself in cost-savings over time.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace An Outside AC Unit?

Many factors determine the cost of replacing air conditioners. The size of the unit, energy efficiency referred to as the SEER rating, the brand you choose, and the level of performance (single-stage or variable) will all factor into the cost of your unit. According to a recent review, the average cost of an outdoor unit in America is $4,575. However, it can certainly cost more than $7,500 to replace just the outside unit.

HVAC Rebates

Local municipalities and utility companies want you to have high-efficiency systems. Because of this, they may want you to replace all three components. They want to see a “matching” system that has a blower motor designed explicitly for the other parts of the system. Updated blower motors increase the efficiency of the entire system. You’ll see this with a higher SEER rating, which is what the rebates are trying to promote. They usually want the outdoor AC and the furnace manufacturer to be the same, while the cold evaporator coil has some flexibility there.

Yes, You Can!

I hope this has helped you understand that you absolutely can replace just your air conditioner without replacing your AC system. Keep rebates and efficiency in mind when making any decisions on replacing just the AC unit.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the blog next time.

Air Source Heat Pump Basics

Air Source Heat Pump Basics

Heat pumps and air conditioners are very similar. I want to share my experience with heat pumps and how they operate to give you cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.

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How Much Does New Air Conditioning Cost in 2020?

new air conditioning cost in 2020

This spring, a lot of people began wondering, “how much does a new central air conditioning system cost?”

Every January, a nice letter crosses my desk from the manufacturers of all the HVAC systems we use.  They let me know the cost of their equipment will be rising again in 2020.  The cost of new air conditioning systems has been increasing by a few hundred dollars every year.  This is a reliable fact, and there is no chance of those prices going down for obvious reasons.  Let’s review some of the factors affecting new air conditioning costs in 2020.

When it comes to replacing your air conditioning system, people seem to be driven by one of three things:  low prices, good value, or top-of-the-line gear.  When it comes to the overall price range for a new air conditioning system, you should factor in a few things.

AC Upgrades

It’s a lot like buying a new car.  Some people will get the most basic thing that will get them to work, or they’ll seek out the nicer but middle-of-the-road car they’re proud to own, and it’s very reliable.  Others will look for the latest and newest smart car on the market.  In much the same way, the price for a new central air conditioning system in 2020 will run anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000 depending on which contractor you use.  When you bought your new car, you probably got some upgrades.  The seat warmers and self-park feature were a must!  You can get a similar variety of upgrades when choosing your new air conditioning system too, and it doesn’t have to be anything overly lavish, either.

Efficiency Ratings

In 2020, your first consideration when purchasing a new HVAC system should be the efficiency rating.   Finding a company that will give you three or four options, not just one, for your new air conditioner, is important.  You’re limiting yourself if you don’t.

In 2020 you should see options from 14 SEER up to 25 SEER. This SEER rating is like miles per gallon in your car.  That’s a great way to think about it.  The higher the SEER rating, the better and more efficient the equipment will be.  If you chose the 14 SEER or the 25 SEER, you can expect either system to last about 15-25 years.  “Anything after 20 years,” I tell people, “and you’re on borrowed time.”  And that’s fine too because 20 years from now, you’ll probably want that next generation of central air conditioning systems for your home.

A 14 SEER system will cost you anywhere between $7,000 and $16,000 in California, depending on where you live and which contractor you choose.  But a lot of that has to do with the type of installation you want for your new central air conditioning system.  Some people are DIY’ers who thrive on the challenge of replacing their home appliances themselves.  Changing an HVAC system is hard work, but it can be done.

Upgrades

The most popular upgrades after choosing your efficiency are:

  • Dividing your home into two or more “zones”
  • Smart thermostats
  • Wireless thermostats
  • Contactor containment (SureSwitch contactors)
  • Compressor start assist kits
  • Condensate flood switches
  • Air quality products
  • Virtual assistants / smart speakers (Amazon’s Alexa)
  • Insulation blown into attics
  • Whole house fans
  • Surge protectors for furnaces or air conditioners
  • Thicker air filters
  • Ductless mini-splits
  • Compressor sound blankets
  • New higher insulated ductwork

If you ask most people why they get upgrades on their newly purchased vehicle, they’ll say it’s about getting what they want the first time, so they don’t have any regrets down the road.  There’s a lot to be said for that when the time comes to buy a new central air conditioning system.

I suggest finding a contractor that not only offers you the new air conditioning system but many of these upgrades as well.  It’s not uncommon for a company to throw in the upgrades in the price.

An upgrade like a compressor start kit will add years of life to your system without you even knowing it.  This device cuts down the start-up time of a compressor, which increases the lifespan of your AC system by years! Wouldn’t you rather just have that on your system from the start rather than having a technician sell you that part later on down the road?  Of course, some upgrades are too costly to be “thrown in for free,” but little things like that add a lot of value to the cost of a new air conditioning system.

DIY HVAC Installation

Some people thrive on the chance to replace their own appliances.  There’s nothing wrong with that!  Installing HVAC is not rocket science, but there are some licenses and certifications required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to safely handle the refrigerant that goes into a new HVAC system.  Some people will buy their system online for as low as $2,000 – $12,000.  You can now buy systems and have them delivered to your door.  The purchaser installs the system according to the installation manual, and when it comes to the refrigerant lines, they’ll have a technician come in to do the rest.  One word of warning:  manufacturers do not like to warranty their products when an unlicensed technician installs them.

Air Conditioning Cost for 2020: Price-Only Shoppers – The Most Basic Systems

Some people who can’t or don’t want to install their own system will reach out to a contractor, or some guy on Johns List where they’ll pay someone to install the system.  I know of HVAC contractors and other handymen in California who can get a basic 14 SEER system into your house for as low as $7,000, maybe even less.  Have you ever heard that another company with more employees and a bigger shop will sell a similar system for $16,000?  In 2020 that can happen.

Value-Driven Customers Usually Pick in the Middle

When you have three or four options, the middle options will be where most buyers make their purchase.  They’re looking for something good for their home, but maybe not the absolute best on the market technology-wise.  These “middle options” were the top options years ago.  The technology has been perfected and mainstreamed into quality homes everywhere.  You will find these air conditioning systems in the price range of $10,000 to $20,000, depending on which contractor you choose.

Best of the Best Air Conditioners

Elite customers are looking for the latest in technology and will tolerate the bumps in the road that can come with such technology.  They prefer systems that are whisper quiet and run at ultra-low amps, making their electric bills much lower!  The technology in 2020 that continues to make a splash is the inverter technology of compressors offered in new air conditioners.  Someday these will be mainstream.  But for now, they come at the premium price of $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the contractor.

Depending on Your HVAC Contractor

Will they be there when it counts, down the road?  That’s a big question when it comes to the warranties on your new air conditioning system.  Those warranties won’t matter if they aren’t around to make it right for you.  These companies charge too little to keep a legitimate company going for long.

It’s a game we as contractors always have to play to earn your business. If we price too high, you won’t take us seriously; if we price too low, it only entices the price shoppers.  When you hear me say a 16 SEER system could be between $10,000 and $20,000, it’s best to find a contractor whose price lands in the middle of those two.  Your best value will fall in this range.  That’s why it’s important to get different quotes when you get your new air conditioning system.  You’ll learn that the price for the same 16 SEER system will be somewhere between that ten and 20-thousand-dollar mark.

Good luck with your upcoming purchase decision.  There are some great products you can add to your system to enhance its value for many years.  When it comes to new air conditioning cost in 2020, choose your contractor wisely. Choose someone who is going to be there down the road; someone who has good reviews online.  It really is all about customer service.  HVAC companies should be trying to take care of you not only for the day of the install but after the install.  Maintenance and preventive cleanings are essential.

Thanks so much, and we’ll see you on the next blog!

Don’t miss our videos on these related topics: 

Do I Have to Replace my Ductwork When I Get a New Air Conditioner?

HVAC system ductwork

Ductwork problems don’t always require replacements. Your licensed HVAC contractor can perform tests to help determine the condition of your home’s system.

If your current HVAC system is getting old or isn’t working anymore, you’re likely getting estimates for a new system from local companies like Fox Family Heating and Air.  It’s wise to get a few quotes from different companies around town.  Just be careful.  My industry can be a little scandalous when it comes to salespeople telling you what needs to be done for your new system to work correctly.  For example, you may be told to replace your ductwork.

During a new AC installation call, I’ll often ask how the air distribution is around their house.  I’m asking if there are any hot or cold spots in the house.  Are there any bedrooms, offices, or living areas that they would like to get more air.  I would say about 80% of the people I ask say they’re just fine with the airflow they have.  All the rooms seem to be balanced, just fine.

Some people will say they have a problem room and would like it to get better comfort.  In an effort to rack up the price of your new HVAC system, salespeople may be focused on their own commission checks.  They will recommend you spend the extra $5000 to 10,000 to change your ductwork to solve the problem.  Is that really necessary?  I say no, not every time.  Here’s why.

HVAC Ductwork Repair

Ducts can be repaired individually.  You don’t have to replace every duct in your house to get better air to one or two rooms.  Those rooms can have more airflow delivered to those rooms by increasing the size of the duct leading to the room.  Another way to get more air to a room is to relocate the duct on the supply plenum to a spot that is more advantageous for getting air there.  Typically the end of the plenum.

You can fine-tune this process by cutting in manual dampers that can be adjusted to decrease the amount of air going to one side of the house so that it can be diverted elsewhere in your home.  I still recommend a professional do this.  Messing around with the ducts is similar to shutting down registers in your home in order to get more air to another side of the house.  This airflow disruption can cause high static pressure.  This can affect the more expensive mechanical parts of your air conditioning system.  The aerodynamics of the delivery system is essential to the longevity of the system.  That’s all I’m saying, so unless you know how to check static pressure in the ductwork, repairs like this should probably be left to the pros.

HVAC Ductwork Inspection

Your supply air ducts connect to your forced air unit.  The forced air unit is either in the closet, garage, attic, or in the package unit on the roof.  The air from that unit is sent into a big box called a supply plenum.  Attached to that supply plenum are several ducts that lead to each room of your house.  Here’s how to tell if those ducts are in good shape or not:

  • The ducts are strapped properly or lying on the floor of the attic.
  • Those ducts are straight, not bent or kinked, restricting airflow.
  • The duct’s vapor lining on the outside of the duct is not torn or melted.
  • Good to decent insulation, which maintains the temperature of the air as it heads towards the room that duct leads to.

There’s not a lot more you can ask from your ducts.  If they’re adequately strapped, meaning each duct is straight or has long sweeping bends (no kinks) that lead to where they need to go, and they have metal or vinyl straps that secure them in place, that’s a good sign.  Another thing that you’d like to see for your ductwork is that the vapor lining, which is yellow, pink, grey, black, or silver, is in good shape.

HVAC Ductwork Standards

Ductwork has an R-value to insulate your ducts to a set standard.  30 to 50 years ago, those standards were not as high as they are today.  So, ductwork has evolved in performance through the following stages:

  • The yellow and pink is actually insulation. They may or may not have a clear wrapping around them. This wrapping is the vapor lining.  If you have this setup, the ductwork may be original to the house, as it’s not too common to install them this way anymore.  You can expect this ductwork to be 30 to 50 years old.  It has an R-Value of two (R-2).  Not the best in the world, but I’ve seen people keep it because it works just fine, and I support them on that decision.
  • Grey ductwork typically has an R-Value of four (R-4). Once again, not the freshest ductwork we see out in the field, but if the ducts still meet those guidelines from above, people have chosen to keep that ductwork a little longer.
  • Black and silver ducts can have an R-Value of either R-6 or R-8. R-6 has been around for the last 25 years or so.  R-8 is the newest standard and has the thickest layer of insulation surrounding the inner lining.

HVAC Ductless Lifespan

I tell people your ductwork’s life averages about 30 years.  Some people replace them every time they get a new system, but most of the people I sell equipment to, don’t.  That’s because it’s impractical to do so.  Yes, the higher R-value of the ductwork, the better performance you’ll have.  The ductwork will hold the hot or cold air it’s delivering inside it better.  That translates to cooler or warmer air to your rooms, depending on which season it is.  Your decision is whether you want to spend the extra money to change your ductwork out every time you change your HVAC system.  Hopefully, I have armed with some useful knowledge going into your next project.  Good luck!

5 Factors Affecting the Cost of Buying and Installing a Sacramento HVAC Unit

professionalism in the workplace

Many people who face replacing an HVAC unit in Sacramento want to know just how much that project will cost them before they commit to that system’s replacement. Often times air conditioner replacement is not planned, it’s more of a sudden purchase in the heat of summer. So, even if you don’t plan on replacing anytime soon, this blog is still a great read. This article discusses some of the factors of the cost of buying and installing a Sacramento HVAC unit.

The Size of Your Home

An AC unit should be selected based on its suitability. Bigger homes will require bigger AC units because those bigger homes will have more air that needs to be conditioned. The bigger air conditioning units usually cost more to buy and install. You should, therefore, expect to spend more on purchasing an AC unit if you have moved to a bigger home. If your home’s Air conditioner is more than a decade old, the current AC may be undersized for your home. Often times with replacement you need to have your contractor look at the overall design of the ductwork (as detailed below) and the size and location of the unit for maximum efficiency.

The HVAC Equipment Brand Preferred

The purchase price of your new air conditioning unit will also be affected by the brand you opt for. Think about this price in relation to what would happen if you were to buy a car. A Porsche is likely to be more expensive than a Toyota even though they’re both cars.

Some brands of air conditioning units are reputed to be more reliable than others are. Such dependable brands may be more expensive than the little-known brands. It may be wiser for you to talk to a (Sacramento) heating and air technician for advice about the best brands to consider so that you widen your options and find something within your budget.

Your Home’s Complexity

The complexity of your home will also impact the cost of installing that new air conditioning system. For example, a home in which spray-on insulation was used makes it tougher on the installers since they will have to cut through the insulations. Similarly, historical homes take more time since the home is fragile.

The Sacramento HVAC installer will visit your home and survey it before estimating how much the installation project is likely to cost.

The Extra Features Selected

The specific features that you want your new HVAC system to have can affect the total cost of the system. For instance, individuals who wish to have multiple zones will have to pay for more hardware (zone dampers and thermostats, for example) than another homeowner who doesn’t want to have air conditioning zones in the home.

However, you should not shy away from getting some of the extra features. If those features will increase the comfort level and result in lower long-term maintenance costs it is worth it. The higher upfront cost will be justified by the lower ongoing costs that you incur if you have the latest additional features on the market.

The Condition of the Ductwork

It would be wasteful to acquire an efficient AC unit and then link it to defective ductwork. In fact, many jurisdictions have mandatory inspections in case a new AC unit is being installed.

Any leaks and worn ductwork components will increase the installation cost. Since those issues will have to be attended to before the new air conditioning unit is commissioned for use in your home.

An air conditioning unit should be selected based on the location and home where that unit will be installed. Never undertake such a task on your own. Hire an air conditioning replacement professional like Fox Family Heating and Air and let us recommend the best unit for your needs.