When your heating and cooling system starts to have problems, it never seems to happen at the right time. Of course, this is usually because your system develops problems when it’s being asked to do the most, usually at the height of summer or the coldest day of winter. And, on top of it all, repairs run from “reasonable” to budget-busting, often with very little warning that bad news could be right around the corner.
I’ve been there.
We moved into a relatively new house fourteen years ago. I knew the average life expectancy of an HVAC system was somewhere between 15- 20 years on average, so I wasn’t shocked when our system started to have some small problems, even though we had been pretty good about getting preventative maintenance, but of course, not perfect- what homeowner is?
The Warning Signs- Pay Attention
We started having some problems with our air conditioning a year or two before it finally needed to be replaced. Our local HVAC contractor had been doing heating and air conditioning maintenance twice a year, and when there was a short in a wire causing compressor problems, they came out and fixed it.
But they also told us about the age of the system and the wear and tear they were seeing.
So we knew we had some time left, but we should start thinking about options. Our moment of need was still probably a year or two away. So like most homeowners, what did we do? Nothing much different, although we did replace our air filters more frequently during that period. Something we continue to do now that we have a new system.
The Beginning of the End
We started having even more problems with the outdoor air conditioning unit during one of those hot and sticky summers where you can actually lose electricity service, just because of the heat. The system needed two “band-aid” repairs, and the technician told us he could not promise how much longer the system would last.
The repairs were well worth the $200-300 we paid, and still minor compared to the cost of a new system, so we gladly paid the bills and started to get a little nervous about our central air conditioner’s ability to make it through the season.
Starting the Process- Discussing the Options
We had gotten to know our HVAC contractor pretty well, and I started to have conversations on and off about what we needed to do, and how to time a replacement so we didn’t get stuck with an emergency situation on our hands.
We talked about the benefits and burden of things like geothermal systems and central air conditioning systems, and whether we could replace the AC without replacing the heater or vice versa, and what the financial differences would be, and how we could get the best deal.
We decided on a hot July day, after a long conversation and another band-aid repair, that we would try to wait until September, when the contractor had more time, and we could get the best price.
This would mean a minimal amount of disruption to our comfort, and we could do it at a time where the contractor could also check out the heater and see if there were any problems, because oftentimes, when an air conditioning system gets ready to go, the heater isn’t far behind, and it’s more cost effective to replace both at the same time than piecemeal.
We were weighing the benefits of a geothermal system versus a gas furnace, thinking about long term reliability and cost savings, and weighing the upfront costs as well.
We were being responsible homeowners, and shopping our options before we had a problem. We felt like we had a decent education about the process, but we also thought we had plenty of time to make a decision.
We were Wrong.