The first thing most homeowners want to know when they’re confronted with replacing an HVAC system is, how much is it going to cost? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question. You certainly want the best HVAC system you can afford — one that will save you money on utility bills while enhancing the comfort of your home. You also want assurance that the system you are buying is reliable and will last for many years, with minimal repairs. So what does it cost to get everything you want in a new HVAC system? Here’s some advice to help you determine the cost of the best system for your home within your budget.
The first step in buying a new HVAC system is calculating the cooling and heating load for your home. Loads are, quite simply, how much cooling or heating is needed. Capacity is how much heating or cooling the equipment can provide. To determine your home’s heating or cooling load, a consultant will inspect your home and make notes on the following: square footage, the orientation of the house, R-value of insulation, the types, size and number of windows, areas of surfaces that lose or gain heat, tightness of the home’s envelope, the number of people in the home, duct leakage, appliances, lights and the range and average of temperatures throughout the seasons.
Once the data is compiled, it is fed into the HVAC industry software called Manual J, which calculates heating and cooling loads. Your consultant will also use Manual D to design the duct system and Manual S to determine the capacity of the equipment needed.
A word of advice: don’t accept load calculations based on a “rule of thumb,” or calculated by square footage alone.
The design of your HVAC system will affect your costs. For instance, do you want to replace the air conditioner, without replacing the heating system? If your furnace and air handler are single stage rather than two stage or variable speed, you’ll be limited to choosing an A/C that will match up with the less-efficient single-stage equipment. Replacing both “sides” of the system at the same time is the most efficient way to do an installation, since all components can be matched and achieve maximum performance, but not every homeowner can afford this level of investment.
Most homeowners are looking for greater efficiency when shopping for a new HVAC system. In our region, with its longer, colder winters, a more efficient furnace will obviously save money on heating expenses. However, a more efficient furnace and air handler will probably require installing a more efficient air conditioner, so the homeowner will have to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of each scenario.
Air conditioner efficiency is rated by SEER, or the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, while furnace efficiency is rated by AFUE, or the annual fuel utilization efficiency. Heat pump efficiency is rated by SEER when in cooling mode and HSPF, or the heating seasonal performance factor, when the system is in heating mode. The Department of Energy has set minimum standards for these efficiency ratings, so when you shop you can compare the products you’re looking at with the minimums: SEER 13, AFUE 78 percent (most likely rising to 80 percent this November) and HSPF 7.7.
If you have an old furnace or air conditioner, they are probably far below the current minimum, so whatever you purchase will be considerably more efficient than before. In our region, with our longer, colder winters, it’s worth considering a furnace that can achieve AFUE 90 or more. A more efficient furnace is a worthwhile investment, as you will save money on your utility bills and recoup the extra cost of the equipment over time.
It’s hard to nail down an exact figure for how much an HVAC system will cost until your consultant does the Manual J, S and D calculations. But here are some ballpark figures to help you plan. For a gas furnace and A/C installed in a small home, expect to pay anywhere from $4,000-12,000, depending on the quality of the system. The cost of an HVAC system installed in a larger home could range from $7,000-13,000.
An air source heat pump, which runs on electricity, is an efficient alternative to central air conditioning and to some degree, a forced air furnace. Heat pumps installed in a small home range in cost from $4,900-9,000, depending on brand, efficiency rating and extra features. For a large home, you’ll pay from $6,900-11,100 installed, again, depending on quality.
To learn more about the cost of replacing your HVAC system, contact Air Authority. We offer free consultations and customized solutions to all our Greater Cincinnati customers.