HVAC is an acronym for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. HVAC is a system that heats and cools your home, as the name implies. It also accounts for all the air movement within a building, including transporting air from outside in, and vice versa. A good HVAC system sends the air through a filter and manages humidity levels.
Ventilation in a home is the natural flow of air through the house. An open window letting in the breeze is ventilating the home, removing carbon dioxide, moisture, and odors. Mechanical ventilation pulls air in from a source (most often outside), sends it through a filter, conditions it, and pushes that air into a room. The filter cleans the air, meaning that a good HVAC system will provide you with better air quality within your home or business. Better air quality means healthier lives and has been known to assist asthmatics, allergens, and those sensitive to dust.
To cool the air, an HVAC system will pull air into the ventilation system, then run it through the air conditioner. This is a series of coils filled with refrigerant, which draws heat from the air. An air handler takes the cool air and sends it through the ducts, while any noxious bi-products of the system are blown down a flue. Refrigerant vaporizes and is condensed back into a liquid, as it had begun. This produces heat, which is expelled from the home.
Furnace systems work in a very similar way to air conditioning, though the specifics will vary depending on the type of furnace. Air is pulled in and heated to the desired temperature before being pushed through the ducts into your desired rooms.
On average, a furnace will last 15 years or more before it needs to be replaced. It's very possible for these systems to last much longer, but a variety of factors can go into a furnace’s lifespan. It’s good practice to contact HVAC companies near you to do annual maintenance, which will ensure your system lasts as long as possible and avoid costly repairs.
Your home should have the proper size furnace for the space. If the furnace is too large, it could heat the space too fast, then shut off. Constantly running short cycles increases wear and tear. The opposite is true as well. If your furnace can’t handle the size of your home, it will struggle to maintain the temperature and wear down quicker. A lack of maintenance can cause buildup on the air filters, which lowers air quality, and can force the system to work harder to push air through the system. If fans are imbalanced, this can also affect the system’s lifespan, as can weakening heat exchangers. If your bills are suddenly rising, you’re hearing odd noises, or your furnace is blowing cold air, these are good signs your HVAC system is in need of maintenance.
You can extend your furnace's lifespan by continually checking and replacing your air filters, as well as asking an HVAC contractor to perform routine maintenance, which involves clearing out the buildup on internal components. Your HVAC system will also operate more optimally if your home is sealed.
Not all air conditioning units are built equally. There are a number of options to choose from, and each comes with pros and cons.
The most popular of these units is the portable air conditioner. These are the cheapest, ranging from $200 to $800, but are only designed for one room. You can move them, but they need to push the air outside, so they require a hose. These tend to last five to 10 years.
Window air conditioners are also single-room cooling units, but require installation into a window or wall. These can also cost up to $800, but not all windows can support these units. Like portable ones, they can be noisy. Since they don’t move around and are easier to maintain, they can last anywhere between 10 and 20 years.
Split system air conditioning is different from the above options. It provides a quiet shell inside which pumps out cold air, while a separate shell outside handles the noisy work.
Central air, which would be the AC in HVAC, is the most expensive of these systems, but also the sturdiest. The unit pumps AC through the entire home via ducts. Installing this can cost as high as $10,000, but these systems can last over twenty-five years with proper care.
Another popular option in this vein is the ductless mini-split system, which is great for heating various rooms within a home. They can be installed inexpensively compared to central air. Their components are intricately built due to the complicated nature of the system and are therefore high quality. It can cost between $500 to $5000 for one, but they’ll generally last up to 20 years.
Central air conditioning can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000. The large price range is because a number of factors go into the installation of these units. The main factor will be the capacity of the system. A system’s capacity is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units, which measure the amount of energy needed to cool a pound of water by one degree. On average, your AC needs to output 20 BTU for each square foot of space. A ton of BTUs is 12,000, meaning it can cool 600 square feet of a home.
Central air is measured in size. For a 1.5 ton, you can expect to pay between $2,500 to $4,500. This price increases with the size. A four-ton unit can cost anywhere from $4,200 to $6,200.
Beyond the size, the next major factor will be ducting. Older homes especially lack ducting systems and putting one in requires a high amount of labor. Newer homes tend to have some of this built into them. Local HVAC companies offer evaluations to inspect your home, ascertain potential issues, and will give you solid estimates for what central air may cost.
The type of system you choose also affects the cost. Air conditioning’s seasonal energy efficiency is a rating called SEER. High SEER ratings operate more efficiently, but they can also cost more to install. SEER is calculated by dividing cooling output by the electrical input of a unit during a particular season. Central air is required to meet a SEER threshold which is increasing each year, but these systems do save money on the power bills in the long run.
A new furnace can run anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. There are three main types of furnaces you can purchase that are defined by the fuel it consumes, and each of them has benefits and drawbacks.
Electric furnaces are cheap to install (on average $5,000). They heat coils, which heat the air pushed through them. That air is distributed into your home. While they may be cheap to install, and they’re quite efficient, they do utilize a fair amount of electricity to run.
Natural gas is more expensive to install than electric, especially if you’re looking for a high-efficiency model. A standard model may be 50% less in cost than its high-efficiency competitors. The average price for a natural gas furnace can range from $7,000 to $9,000, though you can find models on both the high and low ends of that spectrum. Natural gas tends to feel warmer than its competitors and can create higher temperatures.
Oil furnaces can cost an average of $9,000 to install. Since they run on oil, they can be expensive to run and are at the mercy of oil markets. They also require regular maintenance, such as changing the oil filter. They can last five to 10 years longer than natural gas and don’t run the risk of creating carbon monoxide or exploding.
Your HVAC company will have to consider other factors in the installation cost, such as the size of the furnace (how much heat it produces), as well as whether your home has the necessary ducting in place. If you’re replacing a furnace, you’ll have to pay to have the original model removed.
You most likely are not allowed to replace your furnace, nor should you. Most states require a technical permit to connect it to the gas lines. Some of the colder countries have made it illegal to install your own HVAC system due to the high-risk factors involved if it's installed incorrectly.
The largest risk to installing your own furnace is a gas leak. Natural gas companies add a scent to natural gas similar to that of rotten eggs, so you can detect it within your home. An unwanted byproduct of a natural gas furnace is carbon monoxide, which can be deadly if improperly vented. It’s estimated over 400 people perish each year due to carbon monoxide in the air.
If you damage the furnace while trying to install it, you’re responsible for the costs to fix it, which won’t be cheap. Improperly wired circuit boards are among the most expensive components in a furnace to repair or replace. As well, if the furnace is set incorrectly, it can damage the pipes within the home or cause excess humidity, which in turn causes its own costly problems. Mishandling the gas could cause a fire, which is one of the leading causes of homes burning down.
If you have plumbing and gas experience, you may qualify to install the furnace yourself. Most cities require a licensed HVAC technician. Considering all the safety hazards that come with installation, it's not a surprise. With so much that can go wrong, it's best to call up a local HVAC company and get some quotes. They’ll ensure your home is safely heated when the snow flies.
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