Heating & Air Conditioning System Installation 101
Replacing your old heating and cooling system with a new, energy-efficient heating and cooling system is a challenging decision for most homeowners. Heating and cooling can account for nearly half of the energy used in your home. You want to maximize your comfort, but you don’t want to pay through the nose. The right system may cost more upfront, but save money and reduce utility bills over time. The wrong system may need constant repair, under perform or die before its time. So much to consider!
When it’s time to install a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, make an educated decision with the help of these simple suggestions:
Find the Right HVAC Contractor
Getting the right contractor is key to getting a quality installation. Make sure the contractor you choose has at least several years of experience and can provide references. Make sure that the contractor is licensed and insured. Be sure to ask for a written contract of all work in advance. And always choose a contractor’s whose service and installation technicians are certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE). NATE is an industry-supported certification for heating and air conditioning technicians. NATE-certified HVAC technicians have met the nation’s highest standards for HVAC training and knowledge.
Here are some additional things your heating and air conditioning contractor should do BEFORE you sign a contract:
- Measure existing ductwork to be sure it can handle the increased air flow of a new system
- Do a complete Load Calculation that will take into consideration window and vent locations as well as existing hot or cold areas of your home.
- Discuss with you any indoor air quality issues such as allergies, humidity levels in your home and any additional features you would like in your new home comfort system.
- Present you with several system options, not just one.
- Give you a written guarantee that your new heating and air conditioning system will perform as promised.
Bottom line: all heating and air conditioning contractors are not alike. In the end, it’s the contractor who will make the biggest difference in how the installation or replacement goes.
Properly Size Your Heating and Air Conditioning System
When installing or replacing heating and air conditioning cooling equipment, bigger isn’t always better and one-size does not fit all. Oversized HVAC equipment will cost more up front, consume more energy, provide inadequate cooling and humidification, and ultimately, need to be replaced prematurely. And don’t assume your current heating and air conditioning system is the right size either; today’s HVAC equipment is more efficient than those 10 years or older and your original system may have been sized improperly. Efficiency, not size is what you’re after. Ask your HVAC contractor to thoroughly measure your home and calculate the “size” of the system using Manual J, or an equivalent industry-acceptable calculation tool.
Proper Installation is Crucial
One of the biggest factors in getting the best performance out of your new heating or air conditioning system depends on how well it is installed. Shoddy installation accounts for over half of the HVAC service calls and most customer dissatisfaction during the first year of operation. At a minimum, make sure your HVAC installation technician performs the following:
- Installs equipment in easily accessible areas for easy maintenance.
- Tests for adequate airflow and verifies that the cooling system has been charged with the correct amount of refrigerant.
- Conducts a combustion safety test after ducts are sealed to be sure all gas or oil-burning appliances are working properly.
- Replaces indoor and outdoor coils for maximum efficiency.
Sealing and Insulation
Central air conditioners, heat pumps, and furnaces rely on a system of ducts to circulate air throughout your home. Heated and cooled air can easily escape through gaps between duct joints. Ask your contractor to seal and insulate ducts throughout your home; this can improve your heating and cooling system’s efficiency by up to 20 percent!
Heating and Air Conditioning System Maintenance
Your contractor should be available to do annual check-ups and tune-ups of your heating and cooling system to help prevent future problems and keep your system in fine working order. If your contractor offers a Service Partner Plan or other kind of maintenance contract, sign up for it! It will keep you on a schedule of regular and proper maintenance, save you money over time and give you peace of mind.
Also be sure to keep your system clean and free from dust, dirt and debris. Accumulated dust and other impediments can block the flow of air and that can drastically reduce the efficiency of your heating and cooling system. Be sure to check your air conditioner or furnace filter every month, especially during heavy use months (winter and summer). If the filter looks dirty after a month, change it or clean it. Never go longer than 3 months without replacing or cleaning a filter.
Look for the ENERGY STAR Label
When deciding on a heating or air conditioning system, insist on it being an Energy Star qualified system. The Energy Star designation is your best assurance that you are are buying an energy-efficient system. Be sure to ask your HVAC contractor to estimate your utility costs of purchasing an Energy Star qualified system. Although Energy Star heating and air condition equipment may cost more initially, they will cost much less to operate over time. In fact, most Energy Star qualified heating and air conditioning products can yield annual returns of 15–30 percent in lower energy bills. That translates into hundreds of dollars in annual savings.