HVAC: REPLACEMENT VS. REPAIR

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When and how to invest in your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. The time to consider upgrades and repairs for your home’s heating and cooling systems is before you need the seasonal comforts they provide─in other words, right now, as summer heat is giving way to the cooler feeling of fall. In general, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) components are durable and the least likely to break down, but basic function can also

When and how to invest in your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The time to consider upgrades and repairs for your home’s heating and cooling systems is before you need the seasonal comforts they provide─in other words, right now, as summer heat is giving way to the cooler feeling of fall.

In general, HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) components are durable and the least likely to break down, but basic function can also be a mask for minor inefficiencies that add up or potentially dangerous situations like the burning of dirty fuel or hazardous gas leaks. Your investment to ensure safety, comfort and efficiency will depend on several factors, so here’s how to weigh replacement and repair of components you’re already at home with.

Considerations for component replacement

The age of your system. The first consideration should be the age of your present system and its critical components. Furnaces, for example, usually provide 20 years of service, and central air conditioning equipment is typically good for 15. Delivery of components does deteriorate over time, however, so if yours is close to it’s life expectancy, replacement day is near.

Review house plans. Also think about the number of years you plan to stay in your home. If you’re about to move to a new one, investment in new equipment isn’t going to be worthwhile, especially if the new owners are likely to make big changes to the home’s footprint or renovate a portion of the structure (instead, the value of new HVAC equipment would be discounted from the sale price by the prospective owner). On the other hand, if you’ll be around for several more years or plan to offer the property as a rental, new HVAC is a wise investment to make.

Invest in energy efficiency. Although it can go up or down on a whim (but usually up), the cost of energy is also a helpful factor to examine if you’re on the fence about replacement. New Energy Star qualified components run far more efficiently than their predecessors, creating reliable comfort that’s easier on your wallet (with a faster payback) and kinder to the environment.

Get audited. A home energy audit can help identify other helpful improvements and opportunities for savings─usually expenses in the “minor” category that have major impact on the effectiveness of new equipment. Think about it: what good is a powerful new furnace if the warmth it creates escapes through leaky ductwork or poorly sealed windows before your family can enjoy it?

Coordinate components. If one component in your system is just about kaput, remember that the replacement has to be compatible with the rest of the scene, or you won’t get the performance and efficiency you’re paying for. Some contractors can do a good job of matching old and new equipment, but positive results from this strategy are rare, so it’s better to fully commit to efficiency with a whole new suite of products to serve your home’s heating and cooling needs.

Repair and maintenance for a system that’s in good shape

· Annual tune-ups. Just like that valuable piece of machinery in your driveway, a heating and cooling system needs annual maintenance to keep on running efficiently. So plan to have a contractor pay pre-season calls (fall for heating, spring for cooling) to address elements in Energy Star’s recommended Maintenance Checklist.

· Filter switch. Filters should be checked every month, with extra-special attention during heavy-use seasons. A dirty filter slows down air flow and wastes energy by making your system work harder, and can also lead to expensive mechanical maintenance or even failure if dirt and dust are allowed to build up. At the very least, change the filters every three months, and select the most sophisticated replacement models available for optimum dust screening.

· Program for savings. By installing a programmable thermostat and setting it to match your away-from-home schedule, you can save around $180 in annual energy costs.

· Seal the deal. Did you know that up to 20 percent of potential comfort escapes through poorly sealed and insulated ductwork? Ducts running through the attic, crawlspace, garage and unheated basement should be first on your maintenance list; use duct sealant (mastic) or metal-backed tape (never duct tape, as it doesn’t have the required staying power) to seal all seams and connections. Follow with an insulation wrap, and repeat the process with ducts that you can access in the heated or cooled parts of the house.

Improve home insulation.
When correctly installed, every type of insulation contributes to comfort and reduces energy bills. Its performance is measured by R-value, the ability to resist heat flow. The higher the value, the stronger the insulating power. R-value requirements vary for different areas of the home, and the climate you live in will determine overall needs. Refer to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Insulation Recommendations for more details.

Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weeklye-newsletter, visit the program’s website.

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