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!

HVAC Zoning: What You Should Know Before Retrofitting Your Home

 

Are you dissatisfied with the level of comfort provided by the HVAC system in your Sacramento home or business premises? Let’s review some helpful information to determine if HVAC zoning will fix your problem.

What Is HVAC Zoning?

HVAC zoning refers to the creation of different sections/zones within a building so that the settings of the HVAC system can be customized for each of those zones. For example, you can divide your home into three zones. You can use different heating or cooling settings in different zones even if one HVAC system serves the entire building.

Think about zoning as the installation of different light switches for each room in the home. You don’t have to switch on the lights in the entire house because you want to read late at night. Similarly, you don’t have to lower the temperature of the entire house just because your bedroom is too hot for your liking.

What Are the Required Zoning Components?

The zone control panel.

This is the “brain” of the entire zoned HVAC system. This control panel receives the requests made by the different thermostats and triggers the execution of those requests.

For example, the thermostat in the kitchen may call for extra cooling while someone is cooking. The zone control panel receives that request and widens the damper to the kitchen so more conditioned air is directed to the area. The zone control panel is like a choir director who ensures that everything is working seamlessly.

Thermostats.

You will need as many thermostats as there are zones in the building. The thermostat in a given space allows the occupants of that space to select their desired temperature settings.

Zone Dampers.

Think of zone dampers as “valves” which regulate the flow of conditioned air and heating into a zone/room. The damper executes the instructions sent by the zone control panel after getting information from the thermostat in a given zone/room. For example, the damper will close and reduce the flow of conditioned air if the room/zone has reached the desired temperature.

The dampers can be placed inside the ducts (in-line dampers) or they can be placed on the air registers. In-line dampers are usually preferred in case a new HVAC system is being installed. The dampers are usually placed on the air registers during retrofit applications in which access to the ductwork is difficult or expensive.

Bypass damper.

A bypass damper is a special kind of damper that releases excess pressure in the HVAC system. This happens when most zones have signaled (through the thermostat) that no heating or cooling is currently needed. The conditioned air of the HVAC system would overstrain the remaining zones which still require heating or cooling. The bypass damper deals with that excess pressure/conditioned air by channeling it to the return air register or directing it to a common section of the building, such as a hallway.

Is HVAC Zoning Recommended for All Sacramento Buildings?

HVAC zone control isn’t a requirement for all buildings even if every building can attain benefits from this upgrade. The situations below represent examples of those who would reap the greatest benefits from HVAC zoning.

Buildings with extensions.

HVAC zoning can be helpful if an extension, such as an additional bedroom or finished basement, was added and has unique heating, cooling, and air conditioning requirements. For example, a room added above the garage may be hotter than other bedrooms in a home. Zoning addresses the unique needs of such an extra room.

Multiple levels.

Buildings with multiple levels need HVAC zoning since each of those levels is unlikely to have the same HVAC needs. For instance, the ground floor may be cooler than the upper floor during the summer.

Different occupancy levels.

Buildings with sections that are rarely used can benefit from HVAC zoning. This is because the areas which aren’t used a lot can have their air conditioning turned off. Rooms with lots of occupants can also have their HVAC settings adjusted.  This will address the needs of that larger number of people who may feel hotter than those who are in a room with fewer occupants.

Single-level homes may not require zoning unless a Sacramento HVAC professional inspects the building and recommends that zoning is necessary.

How Is HVAC Zoning Done?

The way in which HVAC zoning is done in Sacramento depends on two key factors. First, what zoning system have you selected? Secondly, when is the zoning being done?

HVAC zoning can be done by installing different HVAC systems for the different “zones” created in the building. Zoning can also be done by redesigning an existing system so that different rooms/zones can be controlled independently from other zones. Ductless air conditioning systems can also be used to zone a building.

Project Timing

The timing of the project also impacts on how it can be done. For example, a new building can have the zones designed prior to the selection of an HVAC system. In such a case, the ductwork will be installed with the zones in mind. However, retrofit situations may dictate that the least intrusive method. Such as installing dampers on air registers instead of inside ducts. Your heating and air conditioning professional in Sacramento can assess your specific situation and advise on how zoning should be done.

HVAC zoning can deliver numerous benefits, such as increased equipment life and lower energy bills, to homeowners in Sacramento. Discuss your needs with an HVAC replacement technician so that the best approach can be designed to zone the system in your home.

FAQs about Replacing HVAC Systems

FAQs about replacing HVAC systems

How long should it take to decide which system or contractor I want?

If it’s an emergency you may decide still to think about it. Some people even go as far as nursing it with one of these mobile floor AC units. But when it’s 100 plus degrees outside and 92 inside, anything helps right? Absolutely!  Let’s review some FAQs about replacing HVAC systems and what you might consider.

Seriously though, you will need to pony up at some point for the sake of your health and comfort, and your family’s health and comfort. Contractors in California are required to give you a “3-day right to cancel.” It’s a little paragraph on the contract you sign acknowledging this right. Then the equipment can start to be installed on the fourth day after you sign the contract. You can waive that “Right to Cancel” if it’s an emergency and the system needs to be replaced right away for something like an elderly person or infant’s health. Whatever it is, the State says in order to waive the right to cancel, it has to be for an urgent reason. Can you imagine coming home from the hospital with your newborn and your compressor blew on your 20-year-old AC?

Do your research before replacing an HVAC system

If it’s not really an emergency you can take your time and really file through the right type of equipment for you and which contractor you want to hire. Systems come in all ranges. From the lower grade systems to the notable and trustworthy HVAC systems. Do your research and know what you really want in a system. You’re only going to have to make this purchase once or twice in your lifetime, so it’s not something most people really think about on an average day. HVAC contractors do think about this every day, but don’t believe everything you hear from these guys because it can be smoke and mirrors. You want to know the equipment model number and maybe do some research on the equipment. You can literally type in the model number in the search bar and find great information. Search about Trane, American Standard, Ruud, Rheem, Lennox, Carrier, Goodman, York, DayNight, Bryant, Payne, etc. Every brand out there is going to say they have the best home comfort system in the world, but can they prove it. Consumer Reports Magazine still puts out ratings for each brand every year. Consistently, Trane and American Standard are the brands at the top of the list.

HVAC system costs

Equipment alone can range anywhere from $6500 to $20,000. Depending on who you buy from and which SEER rating and technology you are looking for. We offer four different levels of systems. Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. This translates to 14, 16, 18, and 20 SEER systems. Basically, for a little more money you’re getting a more efficient system. Think of it like MPG on a car. The more efficient they are on the gas mileage, the more desirable they are. The higher the SEER rating, the higher efficiency they have to operate it, translating to lower utility bills.

The technology is unbelievable right now. We are seeing equipment that can hold the temperature of your house within a ½ degree all day long no matter the temperature outside. With these high-end variable speed systems, with Wi-Fi technology for your cell phone accessibility and communicating thermostats with the furnace and AC is really just amazing right now!

Fox Family Heating and Air Systems

Most people see our four options for systems and pick something in the middle. They see 14, 16, 18, and 20 SEER systems and typically pick the 16 or 18 SEER systems. Very rarely, do I see people choosing the 14 SEER system.

If you have the opportunity and it’s not a major emergency, take your time with these kinds of purchases. Find the right contractor for you, with good warranties, good thermostats, and other safety features for the system. For instance, a condensate safety switch, a compressor start kit, and a compressor sound blanket. This is a value purchase you’re not going to want to skimp on. If you have any questions about your new HVAC system please feel free to call me, Greg Fox at Fox Family Heating and Air Conditioning. I promise to give you great value for your next HVAC project.