They call it ‘the Valley of the Sun’ for a reason!
Phoenix is simply unlivable without proper air conditioning. With extreme temperatures, it makes your AC work very, very hard! Even the best systems eventually work themselves to death, and need to be replaced.
Even if your AC is still ‘working’, it might be underperforming, failing to keep your home cool in the worst part of the afternoon, or costing you a fortune compared to a newer, more efficient model.
We have been working on air conditioning in the Valley since 1974, and we know how to get you just what you need for less than you think.
Let’s go over some insightful information to help you decide if a new AC unit is right for you.
Should you replace your HVAC unit or just repair it?
This question can’t be answered with a “one size fits all” response. The real answer is: It depends. One thing is for certain, if you haven’t received a second opinion evaluation, make certain to do so before you commit to buying your unit. If you already have an estimate from an AC contractor and would like R & R to provide a free second opinion estimate, give us a call at 480-900-2178 to schedule.
First, Get a Comprehensive AC Evaluation
Obtain a truly comprehensive evaluation before you buy a new HVAC unit. An evaluation by a certified expert will allow them to provide you with insight to help you make the best purchasing decision for your home. This evaluation will not only explain all of the costs associated with removing your old AC, it will explain which type of AC system is best suited to your home, your family and your needs, as well as exactly why we feel this is the right unit for you.
Why the best upgrade for you might technically be a ‘downgrade’
We’ve been supplying, installing and repairing ACs in the Valley for more than 40 years, and over that time we’ve seen a lot of changes in the way homes are constructed and attitudes towards energy efficiency in general.
Older homes, especially ones that have not had a recent re-fit, are often inadequately insulated. Many older homes are drafty, the windows rarely shut tightly, and they have poor energy efficiency. It’s challenges like this that resulted in difficulties heating and cooling the home properly.
Modern homes (as well as older homes that have had new roofs, new windows, new insulation and general modernization) are much tighter ships. Double-glazed windows alone can reduce the energy cost of cooling a home dramatically. The whole package can see some homes needing half as much cooling as they used to.
Yet, sometimes, they don’t cost half as much to cool.
This is a common problem if you are running an older model air conditioner, or if you upgraded to one of the same cooling capacity after making your home more energy efficient. Having a huge beast of an air conditioner isn’t necessary anymore. Of course, your thermostat can adapt. It turns the AC on just long enough to get the temperature back down, then turns it off again.
However, that is the heart of the problem. It is terribly inefficient to run an oversized AC for a few minutes at a time. It’s like comparing the stop-and-start mileage your car gets in the city to getting out on the highway for a few hours. Using a huge AC to cool a modern or recently refitted home in fits and spurts costs much, much more energy than it would if you simply got a smaller AC, preferably a highly-efficient modern version that can run effectively at less than full power.
It will run all day long, sure, but that will actually cost you a lot less money.
This is one of the reasons we encourage people to get a comprehensive HVAC evaluation. Many people simply buy a unit that has the same capacity as their old one. Although a new oversized AC will cost less to run than an old oversized AC, you’d still be throwing money away, and using more power than you need to, to be comfortable.
Choosing a winning strategy: How to make sure you end up happy with your new AC
Your air conditioner might be the single most expensive thing you buy for your home in the near future. Follow these steps to make sure it’s not an expensive disappointment!
Whether you are choosing what type of system to install in a newly built or refurbished home, or simply replacing a tired, failing system in your current home, you are going to be living with your choice for the next 10-15 years or longer. The right choice will keep you comfortable all year round, no matter what kind of heat the Valley tries to throw at you. Better still, it can do so while improving the air quality inside your home and lowering your electric bills substantially compared to older models.
In order to realize that, though, you need to remember these points:
1. Go with a contractor you can trust.
Of course, here at R&R we can help, but no matter who you choose, choose based on reputation, years in the industry, and trust. Do not choose a contractor based on price alone. A “good deal” is usually different than “cheapest price.” Look past the price and really ascertain what the company is providing to you.
You see, HVAC is a complicated field. Unless you work in it yourself, it’s hard for a homeowner to really appreciate all the details. Unfortunately, that means that an unscrupulous contractor could easily take advantage of you, and either sell you an inferior product or service, overcharge you mercilessly, or both.
- Pick a contractor using recommendation from friends and family, if any have had AC work done in the last 5 years or so. In Phoenix, you probably have plenty to choose from.
- Avoid contractors who contact you over the phone, or selling door-to-door, unless you can verify their quality independently.
- Consider how long the contractor has worked in the area. 5+ years is about the minimum to be considered ‘experienced’. Of course, everyone has to start somewhere, but a well-established contractor is more likely to still be around to honor their guarantees in 5 years’ time.
- Make sure they are registered with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. You can verify their license number at azroc.gov. Look under ‘contractor info & searches’.
- Ask prospective contractors for a few recent customers as references, and follow them up. Did they do a good job? Did they come back to resolve anything that wasn’t right? Would you use them again? Are your electric bills actually lower?
- See if there are any complaints against the contractor at the Better Business Bureau.
2. Compare three quotes. Choose the one you trust.
Although the lowest bid is rarely the best, it might be, and you could be getting a great deal from a true professional. Just make sure that’s really the case. If you choose the lowest estimate, make sure this bidder is someone with plans to survey or analyze your actual cooling needs, and offers a great guarantee.
3. Once you know you have a good contractor, listen closely to their advice.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but many clients resist the advice of the experts they went through so much trouble to find. Of course, it is your home and your choice, but if you have to choose between advice you read online (yes, even this advice) or the recommendation about what brand to use from your cousin in Wisconsin, and the opinion of a professional who works in your actual area, it may be best to go with the local contractor’s opinion.
If the contractor doesn’t seem to be offering advice, just ask. If they don’t have any opinions at all, maybe you need a different contractor!
4. Choose an AC that suits your home well
Make sure the contractor takes your local microclimate, your existing ductwork and power systems, and everything else into consideration when they recommend an air conditioner.
- You might need new or rebalanced ducts to make the best use of your new AC. Make sure to ask about this.
- If a contractor suggests a brand or specific unit without inspecting your ducts, your air handler and your external unit, they don’t have enough information to give good advice.
- If they suggest a specific unit over the phone without coming out to your house, go with someone else.
5. Don’t just buy the biggest or most powerful unit they have!
For years, Arizonans have been using AC units that are too big for their homes in an attempt to make sure they have the cooling capacity they need, no matter what. We call this ‘over-tonning’, and it is probably costing you a lot of money if you (or the people you bought your home from) did it.
- The cooling power of an AC unit is rated in ‘tons’ of refrigeration.
This originally represented how much space 1 ton of ice could cool as it melted over 24 hours. Most home AC units in Arizona have between 2-5 tons of power, depending on the size of the home and other factors.
- It was once the standard to use 1 ton of refrigeration for every 400 square feet of a home.
This was a good standard when it was developed, back before double glazed windows and better insulation in general. These days, however, you need more like 1 ton per 500 square feet of floor space, sometimes less – especially for a high-end new home.
- Piling on more tonnage will not resolve warm areas in your home, especially if there are cold areas as well.
This is more of a duct issue. You might need re-sealing or balancing as well as a new AC. Only a thorough survey can tell for sure.
- An out-sized AC costs more to run
It simply costs more to run a large AC off-and-on all day than to run a smaller one more continuously.
- Oversized ACs do not dehumidify properly
That start-and-stop operation means your air becomes too humid. It can feel ‘clammy’ and can even encourage the growth of mold and fungus in some homes.
- You need a heat-load calculation to determine your actual tonnage requirements.
Your contractor really should perform one of these as part of their evaluation. It factors in home size, insulation (‘r value’), window size, number and type, the facing of your house, shade trees, the number of people who live in the home, and their individual temperature preferences.
6. Should you have your ductwork replaced or improved?
A lot of Arizona homes lose a fair proportion of their HVAC power through leaky ducts. By some studies, you could be losing as much as 1/3 of the energy you spend heating and cooling your home through poor ductwork.
Over the years, most ducts become caked with thik dust, mold, and less pleasant substances. Even just having them professionally cleaned – which will be much easier and less expensive to do while your AC is being replaced – can improve their airflow and even the quality of the air moving through them. Many allergy sufferers report lessened symptoms after a duct cleaning.
Resealing is another option that allows you to cut the amount of wasted cooling without replacing your ducts. This is a long-term solution that keeps all of your cold air going where it needs to, and not cooling unused attics and similar spaces.
Rebalancing is another way to improve existing ductwork. If you have certain rooms that are always warmer or colder than others, you probably have poorly balanced ducts. Simply closing the louvers doesn’t work, you need to have the entire system balanced to provide steady, even airflow to every area of the home.
No matter how expensive your AC unit is, if your ducts are leaky, poorly sealed, filthy and badly balanced, you won’t get the levels of comfort you deserve. Getting them re-fitted, resealed or re-routed could make your whole system work better, and cost less to run.
7. Seriously consider changing your entire HVAC system at once, not just your outside condenser/compressor unit.
If you keep your existing furnace and air handler, you probably won’t be as happy with the performance, efficiency or comfort of your new AC. Even if you don’t change the ductwork, you should usually change out the air handler and furnace.
8. Know what a unit’s SEER rating is, and look for Energy Star certification.
The EPA certifies ‘energy star’ products as being at least 20% more efficient than the minimum standards set by the federal government. In air conditioning terms, that means a SEER rating of 13 or higher.
Remember, the higher the rating, the greater the efficiency, but also the higher the initial cost. Most homes will have a ‘sweet spot’ (where the efficiency pays for the increased price within a few years) of around SEER 15. But we can help you be much more specific after a home survey.
What do I need to know about Freon (R22) and the EPA phase-out?
By now, almost everyone has heard of the EPA’s phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons and similar chemicals that were so disruptive to the ozone layer. However, there is a lot about this that many people still don’t understand. If you’re in the market for a new air conditioning system, this is something you need to know about.
First off, it’s not phasing out ‘Freon’ – not really.
Freon is not a chemical, it is a trademark. The Chemours Company used the name Freon for an entire line of ‘halocarbons’ for use in the cooling and refrigeration industry, or to pressurize aerosol cans. ‘Freon could refer to the chemicals R-503, R-502, R-22, R-13B1 and R12. Only R22 is a chlorofluorocarbon.
The EPA specifically calls for CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) to be phased out. However, that phase-out has been slowed, and many older systems still use R22, and it is still available for purchase.
Note that as the demand for the product falls, the price of R22 is nearly twice what it was at its cheapest. Still, that isn’t enough to substantially affect the cost of maintaining your AC.
What do you need to do about the R22 phase-out?
Really, you aren’t too restricted unless you need to replace your central AC.
- You could keep your older, R22-based system running with occasional tune-ups and even coolant recharging as it needs it, for the foreseeable future. Over time, the cost of the R22 coolant is expected to rise, so it won’t work ‘forever’, but no AC will run ‘forever’ anyway. In time, you’ll need to replace it.
Until then, though, you CAN keep using your R22 AC.
- You can switch out you old, harmful R22 coolant to a new HCF-free coolant which works almost as well. There are several options on the market right now that were designed specifically to replace R22 in older ACs. We can help you assess whether any of these are right for you.
- If you’re buying a new HVAC or central air conditioning unit, you can’t really get an R22 unit anymore. The good news is that advances in technology meant that new ACs actually run better than the R22 units they are replacing. Better cooling capacity, new features, smarter operation and better efficiency. And, of course, they don’t destroy the Ozone layer, which was the whole point in the first place.
The fact that the new systems cost less to buy than the old ones, and use substantially less power to operate is just an added bonus.
What do I need to know before I choose a central air conditioning system?
Of course, we can give you more specific advice after performing a full evaluation, but in general:
What you need from an air conditioner
You need an AC that will be efficient, quiet and reliable. Anything less will probably leave you unsatisfied. Luckily, there are some amazing units available these days that can cool a home faster and more efficiently than anything they had on the market 40 years ago, and at much lower prices (after adjusting for inflation!).
We can help you choose the perfect model for you and your home, and help keep it in tip-top shape for years, or even decades.
How do I pick the right size?
The best way is to get a comprehensive evaluation of your home’s cooling needs done. That will take your home’s size and layout, your windows and insulation, and even the extent of shade you benefit from into account. Anything less is little better than an educated guess.
What types of AC are the most efficient?
The simple answer is that the most efficient units have the highest SEER ratings. A unit’s SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) might be as low as 13 or higher than 20. If you’re comparing apples to apples, if that is higher, it is more efficient.
However, you can’t really compare apples to apples all the time. A newer unit will almost always be more efficient than a much older one – a 10 year old unit might cost 60% more to run than a newer one, factoring in power consumption alone.
Furthermore, there are many different types of AC – central, mini-split, heat pumps… each one suits different homes and applications better, so you can’t just compare numbers.
That’s where our 40 years of experience with homes in the Phoenix area comes in. We can help you choose a unit that will be both efficient and effective for you.
How long should my new AC last?
Again, that depends a lot on the type, make and mode you choose. Generally, though, almost all well-made AC systems on the market today can be expected to run for a good 15 years if they are regularly serviced and properly maintained.
If they are never or poorly serviced and maintained, you should only expect even the best units to last 10 years.
R&R does offer an extended service plan which, conveniently, costs a lot less than replacing your AC twice as often. We’d love to tell you more about it!
Will I be able to get filters at my local hardware store?
Well, again, that depends. Some filter types and sizes are very common, and you can pick up replacements nearly anywhere. Others are less common in the area, or have fallen out of favor, and aren’t commonly stocked.
Of course, we can order almost any kind of filter for you, directly from the manufacturer. This will ensure you get the right fit, and the most efficient operation.
One note – many systems have, or can be fitted with cleanable, re-usable air filters. Many of these are just as effective, but merely need to be rinsed off once a month rather than replaced. If you’d like to order an electrostatic, washable filter for your AC unit, just call and ask.
If you would like to schedule a complimentary HVAC survey which will provide you with an estimate of cost, recommended unit, and options; give us a call. We love to help!