How to Choose a New HVAC System
There are many brands of equipment available for your heating and air conditioning needs, and some are less costly than others up front. Choosing long-term reliability with a higher quality system will save you money in the long term by eliminating the need for repairs.
What to look for in a trustworthy contractor:
- Ask family, friends and colleagues for a referral – or, ask the contractor to provide you with references.
- Ask for verification of bonding, insurance and required contractor’s licenses.
- Check whether technicians are certified by a trade organization such as North American Technician Excellence (NATE) to service residential heating and cooling equipment. Your contractor should also have a master certification from the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR). Such certifications confirm their knowledge of specific types of equipment and their proper service methods.
- Get specifics – your contractor should use a recognized method to run a load on your home to calculate required capacity. The calculations produce a detailed, room-by-room analysis. You can ask for a printout of all calculations and assumptions, including duct-work design. Be leery of a contractor who bases estimates merely on house size or rules of thumb.
Factors to consider when choosing a new system:
- Size. A properly sized system is essential for proper operation. Your contractor should calculate the size of equipment you need by using recognized methods.
- Efficiency. Efficiency is expressed as the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). Your contractor should advise you on SEER ratings for recommended equipment.
- Maintenance. A service plan that combines regular inspections with discounts on repairs and labor should be included with your installation.
- Programmable Thermostats. Proper use of a programmable thermostat can reduce your cooling costs by up to 20%.
Some factors to consider when upgrading an existing system:
- Size. Have your contractor do a load calculation based on a recognized method.
- Ducts. May need to be re-sized, sealed, insulated or replaced.
- New systems are 20-40% more efficient than systems made only 10 years ago.
Keeping your system in good working order:
- Keep it clean. Be sure hedges and plants are at least 2 feet away from the outside of unit. Change filters monthly.
- Seal and insulate ducts. Cool or warm air can escape through leaks when ducts aren’t insulated properly, wasting up to 40% of energy used to run your system.
- Seasonal checks. Twice a year, have a licensed professional change all filters, clean and flush the coils, drain the pan and drainage system, vacuum the blower compartments, check that the system is properly charged, that there are no leaks, and that all mechanical components are working properly.