We all rely on heating, ventilation and air conditioning to make our homes comfortable as the seasons change. It’s easy to take these services for granted until one of them stops working, leaving you with an immediate problem to address in your home. It’s a good idea to set aside a budget for different issues that could arise with your home, including an AC emergency budget, but what if your repairs exceed your savings? Here’s how you can budget for an HVAC surprise and find the funds to deal with one when you’re faced with it. 

Table of Contents

Potential HVAC surprises

HVAC surprises include everything from your refrigerator to your heating and air conditioning to the airflow from vents in your house or apartment. Here are some common surprises you might encounter with your HVAC system.

Surprise 1: Refrigerator malfunction

If you’ve open your freezer or refrigerator to find half-thawed food products, you’re not alone, it’s a common HVAC emergency. One potential HVAC surprise you can encounter is a flaw with your refrigerator or freezer. The main components of a refrigeration system include evaporator fans, compressor fans, temperature controls, evaporator coils and a defrost heater. If your refrigerator or freezer isn’t working, odds are that there is an issue with one of these components.

Additionally, overpacking a freezer or refrigerator can inhibit certain functions from working properly. Beware of trying to fit too many items into your refrigeration system to reduce the chance of a malfunction. 

Surprise 2: Blockages preventing heating or cooling 

Are different rooms in your house drastically different temperatures? Is your energy bill unusually high? You might have a blockage in your air vents that is preventing the flow of air to cool or heat consistently. 

Here are some ways you can potentially fix small blockages on your own:

  • Make sure there aren’t any obvious physical obstructions covering a vent. Examples of this include seasonal decor and wall art. 
  • Use a flashlight to look into any accessible ducts. If you can see an obstruction and reach it, you could avoid having to call an HVAC professional. 
  • Dirty air filters can cause obstructions as they dramatically limit airflow. You might want to try replacing air filters before pursuing other causes for uneven heating and cooling. 
  • Air ducts usually have a part called zone dampers, which control the flow of air through your vent. If the zone damper is completely closed, you’ll likely need to manually reopen it. 

If your house still isn’t heating or cooling properly after trying these quick fixes, it might be time to dip into that emergency budget and call a professional.

How Much Should I Expect to Spend to Fix HVAC Problems?

Different HVAC services have different price points, but you can calculate a given job using the cost of materials and labor. If you have a simple repair, you can expect to pay your HVAC technician for their time. Most HVAC professionals charge an hourly rate of $100 to $150 for their services. You can use an HVAC cost calculator to estimate the cost of your job. 

Let’s look at a few simple examples to determine the total cost of repair jobs in comparison with replacement jobs requiring the purchase of new parts.

Repair

Oh no! Your air vents are blocked with dirt and debris and require a deep clean. The HVAC technician charges $100 hourly for their services and will be there for three hours. 

$100 x 3 hours = $300 total

Replacement

Looks like your cooling system needs a new evaporator coil. Replacement coils are an average of $1,200, and will take your HVAC technician two hours to install. 

$100 x 2 hours = $200 + $1,200= $1,400 total.

Three Problems Commonly Uncovered by HVAC Inspectors

When you call in a professional to check out your heating, ventilation and air conditioning, there are common problems they’ll be able to spot immediately. 

Problem 1: Leaky air ducts

Air ducts are designed to facilitate the flow of conditioned or heated air through your home. According to Energy Star, the average house loses 20% to 30% of air moving through those vents due to holes, leaks and incorrectly connected ducts. Usually hidden within walls, ceilings and attics, some ducts won’t be visible for you to gauge flow and function.

Here are some signs that your house is experiencing leaky or malfunctioning air ducts:

  • Abnormally high utility bills
  • Irregular cooling and heating in your home
  • Significant amounts of dust 
  • The sight of air leaking from ducts

There are some ways to combat duct leaks yourself, including taking extra steps to seal off the entry points of any ducts you can access. Ironically, you won’t want to use duct tape for this job. Mastic sealant or metal tape are longer-lasting materials that can be applied to where your ducts meet the ceiling, floors, and walls. 

Problem 2: Coil issues

Your air conditioning system likely functions using a variety of parts which include coils. There are two main types of coils that can cause issues with your AC when impaired. 

Evaporator coils

Filled with refrigerant, an evaporator coil absorbs heat from the surrounding air. In order to do their job, an evaporator coil actually requires the presence of hot air. If none is getting in due to airflow issues, an evaporator coil can form a layer of ice on its exterior and freeze over. 

How can you tell if your evaporator coils are frozen? You’ll get warm air, or none at all, coming from your AC unit. 

Condenser coils

Once the evaporator coils do their job correctly, condenser coils expel the accumulated heat from the hot air outside. Condenser coils can get dirty, which causes them to malfunction. If your condenser coil gets covered in dirt or soot, the entire system goes into overdrive and can stop working altogether. 

If you experience a complete AC unit failure unexpectedly, the problem could be dirty condenser coils. 

Problem 3: Thermostat settings

Though it might sound strange to suggest that improper thermostat settings are a significant problem, they can be the simple fix your AC unit needed. Before paying a sizable fee for an HVAC professional’s opinion, check the settings on your thermostat. Here are some simple ways to make sure your heating and AC problem isn’t a simple thermostat issue. 

  • Many updated homes have electronic thermostats. However, older mechanical thermostats require a level wall mounting to work properly. Double-check the angle using a torpedo level.
  • Check your thermostat for erosion. If you spot buildup, you can remove it with an electronic contact cleaner. 
  • Make sure your thermostat is mounted at least five feet from the ground, as it won’t be able to get an accurate read if it isn’t high enough. 
  • If you’re positive your electronic thermostat is mounted and programmed properly, try replacing it with new batteries. Simple but effective, this hack could end up saving you hundreds.

If you do need to purchase a new thermostat, current electronic models run anywhere from $17 to over $200 depending on how sleek of a model you prefer. 

How to Afford an HVAC Emergency Budget Expense

Do you have an AC emergency and no AC emergency budget? You still have home improvement financing options. When examining the cost of different types of home repairs, HVAC repairs often cost less comparatively. 

The cost of your HVAC job could be impacted by not only the cost of labor but of parts, the climate where you live and your home’s age. Here are some ways to afford your HVAC emergency while on a budget. 

1. 0% APR credit card

A 0% APR credit card is exactly like a standard credit card other than its 0% introductory rate. If you’re able to repay your credit card charges within the introductory time period, you could dodge interest on your HVAC expenses altogether. Almost all 0% APR periods fall in the 12 to 18-month range, though your exact timeline is up to your chosen lender. For a small HVAC repair, this could be a good option. Remember, once the introductory period ends the interest rate will jump significantly, so make sure you have a plan to repay all the funds before that time. 

2. Contractor payment plan

Many contractors are comfortable with payment plans from their clients. After receiving an estimate for your HVAC repair, you can ask your contractor about monthly installments rather than paying all at once. While not all HVAC professionals will be willing or able to accept payment as a series, it’s worth the ask to avoid going into debt if possible. 

Put everything in writing if you choose to go with this method. Outline exactly how you’re going to pay, when the payment is due and include a spot for signatures from both you and the HVAC professional.

3. Personal loan

If you don’t have the cash to pay for your HVAC repair immediately, a personal loan could be a way to supplement your AC emergency budget. Since personal loans are typically unsecured, a lender’s decision about how much to lend you and at what interest rate will rely heavily on your credit score. Shop around online to compare quoted rates, making sure lenders are only doing soft credit pulls to estimate your interest rate.  

Avoid Problems By Having Your HVAC System Inspected Regularly

You can think of home repair and maintenance like visiting the dentist. If you put effort into brushing your teeth and flossing at home and attend regular checkups, your likelihood of having expensive and unexpected dental problems decreases. The same applies to your home. If you have regular checks and pay attention to the functionality of your HVAC systems, you can nip a problem in the bud before it becomes a hindrance to your daily life and accrues a hefty price tag. 

If your system is newer, you might be able to get away with fewer appointments with HVAC professionals. However, older systems should be checked at least once a year to maintain system health and functionality. Not to mention, if you live in an area where you use your HVAC system year-round rather than the average four to eight months, you’ll want to schedule maintenance checks annually.