In order for your home to be comfortable, efficient, and save you money, you need to understand the systems in your home. I’m not talking about a sound system or gaming system, but the inner workings of your home. The plumbing, electrical, HVAC components of your house. If you understand how your home works, you can prevent costly repairs, keep your home in good working condition, and can potentially sell your home without making any major repairs. In the next few Open Houses, I’ll be exploring common home systems that are typically expensive to repair, but are necessary for good home health. This week, I’ll be tackling your HVAC system.
Inspect Your Systems
First and foremost, it is always a good idea to have an inspection done on a home you plan to buy. In today’s extreme market, several buyers are waiving their right to an inspection in hopes that their offer is accepted. While I and Homes for Heroes do not support that idea, to each their own. But, one of the best things you can do financially for the long term health of your home is to get an inspection. Why? It can give you a glimpse of everything wrong, or right, with your home.
By conducting an inspection, your inspector can test most of these systems to ensure that they 1. are working 2. are working properly, and 3. are up to code. While an inspector is not a licensed or professional electrician, plumber, etc., they’ve seen enough homes to have a realistic guess on how long systems might last. So even though they see that your hot water heater is working and up to code, they might notice that it’s 12 years old. Since most hot water heaters have an average lifespan of 10 years, this would be something to note.
Having a non-expert expert, if you will, take a look at all these systems, plus typical inspection items like your foundation, you can start to budget just how much money your potential new home will require in work.
I am not a professional anything (unless dog mom is a profession?), so I would encourage you to contact a professional with requests for work for any issues, repairs, or replacements you need in your home. This guide is more of, well, a guide to show some of the hidden costs of homeownership and large-ticket items that can be costly to repair.
HVAC, short for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, is all the airflow in your home. Heating and cooling is obviously essential for a home to be inhabitable. Because of the sheer size of a home, and the fact that the HVAC system is built into your house, this can be an expensive repair.
Starting with the heating system, the furnace is probably going to be one the more costly repairs or replacements you’ll have as a homeowner. Most furnaces have a life expectancy of 16-20 years on average. Some will go sooner than that, and some can last a little longer.
So how will you know when you need to replace your furnace with such a large span of life expectancy? If you don’t know the age of your furnace, you can try looking it up online. Most major furnace manufacturers have a system to determine the approximate age of your furnace system. But, just because your furnace is 16 years old or more doesn’t mean you need to replace it. Some things to look for are:
- Rising energy bill – the older a furnace gets, the less efficient it is. If you notice your bill rapidly going up when temperatures are normal, it might be time to consider replacing it.
- Past repairs – if you have the repair history of the furnace and notice there have been multiple repairs over the last 2 years, it might be more cost effective to just replace it than have another service call.
- Uneven temperatures – are some rooms in your house comfortable, while others are freezing? An older heating system can have trouble keeping up with the demand to output enough warm air, making it harder to distribute to rooms further from the furnace.
- Noises – has your furnace started making funny noises when it had been silent? That’s probably not a good sign and should get looked at right away.
If you do need to buy a new furnace, there are some things to consider. The first is the state of your air conditioner. We’ll address some of the issues next, but a lot of times HVAC companies will give you a discount if you replace your air conditioner at the same time as your furnace. This is because a lot of the components are either the same, or require access to the same area of the duct system. If your air conditioner is near the end of its life, this could save you money with one installation.
Another consideration is if you have an electric or gas furnace. The price between the two can be very different as they operate in different ways. The average cost of a new furnace ranges from $1,800 to $6,300, with most homeowners paying around $3,800. The cost varies greatly because of factors like the efficiency of the model you choose, the brand, the installation, and the size of your home, since larger homes typically need larger units.
It’s worth it to note that this is just the cost of the furnace itself. Labor for installing a new furnace can be anywhere from $2,500 – $6,000. Again, this is determined by the company you use to install the furnace, as well as the type of furnace you choose, among other factors.
Extending the Life of Your Furnace
Part of the longevity of your furnace comes from how often you run it and the maintenance you put into it. Actually, that goes for pretty much every appliance system in your home. The more use and less maintenance you put in, the higher likelihood your furnace will die sooner rather than later.
Furnace Air Filters
Some easy maintenance you can perform is replacing the air filters every month, or as the manufacturer suggests. Furnace filters are commonly bought in most stores like Walmart or Target, and can easily be shipped from Amazon. Most furnace systems also make it very easy for you to replace the filter. Some smart thermostats like the Google Nest send you reminders to change them as well.
Filters can range anywhere from very inexpensive for a basic filter to fairly expensive if you’re getting filters with allergen filtration or double or triple filters. There are also UV light filters that sanitize the air going through. These systems are very expensive, but can be helpful if you or your family have severe allergies.
Duct cleaning is a good maintenance practice for your furnace as well. Especially if you have allergies, pets, or are just buying a home and have no idea when the previous owners cleaned their ducts – if ever!
Dust, dirt, dander, debris, bugs, hair, you name it, can all be sucked into your duct system. Then, unless cleaned out, it essentially circulates in your duct system until it’s caught in the filter (another reason to change yours), starts to build up in the duct work which restricts airflow, or gets spewed back into a room for you to breathe in. Yuck.
The less debris going through your furnace system, the less likely it is to agitate the furnace and it should last longer. Duct cleaning varies by the amount of square footage usually, but can cost anywhere from $100-$500+. The good news about duct cleaning is you can usually go a few years between cleanings.
There are a lot of similarities between air conditioning and heating with the furnace. This is because both systems use a blower or fan to circulate air, either hot or cold. Central air is another term that we use to call a system of indoor and outdoor units that work together to cool a home through duct work.
An air conditioning system produces cold air with three main components – a compressor, a condenser coil, and an evaporator coil – and a special chemical called refrigerant. These parts work together to convert the refrigerant from liquid to gas and back to liquid. During this process, the refrigerant becomes cold and cools the air around it. This cold air gets pushed back into the duct system while the hot air gets pushed outside. This is why there is an outside air conditioner unit as well as your HVAC system unit that includes the furnace.
Life of Air Conditioner
The average lifespan of an air conditioner system is 10-15 years. Just like with furnaces, many major air conditioner manufacturers have a system to look up the general age of their systems if you’re unsure how old your unit is. And, just like with furnaces, there are some obvious signs that your air conditioner needs replacement:
- Making frequent or expensive repair calls
- Increased energy bills
- High humidity in the house
- Your air conditioning system can’t keep up with the thermostat temperature
- The HVAC system is making noises
Replacing An Air Conditioner
So just how much does an air conditioner cost? On average, with installation, an AC unit can cost anywhere from $3,000 – $15,000. There are a lot of factors that go into that price, just like with furnaces. The size of the house, how efficient you’d like the unit to be, and the climate you live in are just some of the factors.
Air Conditioner Maintenance
One of the easiest and cheapest (free!) things you can do for air conditioner maintenance is to make sure that your outside unit is clean. This includes making sure all leaves, weeds, and other debris are clear from the unit sides and base. Most units you can even clean by just spraying a garden hose on the side to clean away things like cotton tree seeds or maple helicopters. Having your outside unit clear of debris allows it to intake the right amount of air when it runs, allowing it to run efficiently.
You can also buy a cover for your air conditioner that is especially helpful in the fall when leaves fall, or spring when you have the helicopter pods falling. They’re similar to covers for your grill, usually plastic sheets in the shape of your unit. Just make sure to remove them before you turn your unit on for the summer!
The filters for your air conditioner are generally going to be the same as your furnace. Just make sure to keep them clean and change them out regularly. One thing to make sure of is that the filter is replaced going to the correct way. If the filter is put in backwards, depending on your unit and filter, it can actually block the air flow.
The best thing you can do to maintain your HVAC system is a check-up or tune-up. HVAC companies usually offer promotions in the spring and the fall, right before you start your furnace or AC for the season. A $99 tune-up is so much more affordable than a combined $2000 complete HVAC replacement for a fix that could have been caught early.
Homes for Heroes also offers local discounts on HVAC systems, and heating and cooling services. Just check out our deals page to find deals in your local area!
About the Author
Maggie is the Content Manager at Homes for Heroes. She has bought, sold, and refinanced a home and gives her personal views on all three types of home transactions. Her Heroes include her father (teacher), brother in law (veteran), and friends and family in healthcare and law enforcement. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two dogs. If you have an idea for an Open House topic, email Maggie here.