Knowing when to replace your home’s heating and cooling system is a challenging endeavor. It is a difficult decision to stop repairing an older, less-efficient central AC unit, and invest in a new central air conditioning system. If you are facing an air conditioning replacement, this article will guide you through selecting an air conditioning contractor to tips that will help you prepare your home before the AC replacement project begins.

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Estimate Your Air Conditioner Replacement Costs

Before this home improvement project, Modernize recommends that you get up to four air conditioner replacement cost estimates from reputable contractors or companies. The average cost for installation of a new replacement air conditioner ranges from $3,500 to $7,525. However, your estimate will vary based on your home’s square footage.

Upon arriving at your property, the AC contractor will measure the square footage of your home. This will help determine the size unit needed to efficiently heat and cool your home. The recommendation may include upgrading attic or crawl space insulation, resealing of windows and doors, or repairing breaches in exterior walls where conditioned air might escape.

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Know the Terms

The top air conditioner brands have different ratings on performance, costs, and other factors. As you discuss units with your contractor, be aware of the following terms:

  • Heating Season Performance Factor or HSPF: This rating determines the efficiency of a heat pump. Heat pumps with a rating of at least 8.2 are awarded the Energy Star label by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency or AFUE: The percentage of the energy used that is converted into usable heat. The higher the percentage, the more energy efficient.
  • Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio or SEER: This rating notes the efficiency of the cooling system. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the system. The minimum standard SEER is 13 for air conditioners. Most modern air conditioners have a SEER that ranges from 13 to 21. 
  • Energy Efficiency Ratio or EER: This rating bases its energy efficiency rating on how the unit would react to an outside temperature of 95 degrees, an inside temperature of 80 degrees and humidity of 50 percent.

Units with a higher HSPF and SEER rating than the current standard will cost more, but often yield a better return on investment over time.

How to Find a Reliable Air Conditioning Contractor

To best improve the comfort of your home, you will want to find a contractor you can trust— a local professional who can get the job done quickly. At Modernize, we frequently speak to homeowners about their home improvement projects. When searching for local contractors, the majority of homeowners ask trusted friends, family, or neighbors for referrals. Homeowners can also contact their local Better Business Bureau. Modernize is also available to help you connect with trusted local AC contractors in your area.

Vetting your contractors will ensure you find the best, reliable installer for your project. To help homeowners easily vet and find a trusted HVAC contractor, Modernize recently created a free contractor checklist. You can access the interactive checklist by visiting the Modernize Homeowner Portal or by downloading it here.

The Average Length of an Air Conditioning Installation

The average AC unit installation can take anywhere from eight to 14 hours. Before your project, discuss the installation timeline with your contractor— as they know best based on your home and new unit.

Prepare Your Home for Your AC Replacement 

There are several tasks you can do before the installation crew arrives that can speed up the process of your central air conditioning installation.

  • So the contractor has easy access to the site, clear the area where your AC system will be installed. This may include moving branches, large sticks, garden hoses, and patio decor.
  • For the safety of the contractor and your pets, make sure animals are caged and away from the installation team.
  • Make extra space in your yard and driveway for the installation team. You may relocate your vehicles, so construction crews can park as close to your home as possible.
  • Modernize recommends moving valuables such as antiques and irreplaceable objects to a safe location.

Typically, upon arriving at your property, the air conditioner contractor and crew — usually one or two assistants — will assess the job site and begin preparing the work areas. First, the crew will protect all flooring in applicable work areas by laying drop cloths and/or protective paper. Next, they should move furniture and other household belongings near the work areas to a safe location and out of the way. Because there may be some dust created during the installation, heavy furniture and other household items that cannot be moved should be covered with plastic for protection. After ensuring all flooring and household items are protected, the crew will bring in their tools and begin the project. You’ll want to know a few thing about your central air conditioning unit to help ease the entire process of AC replacement. 

Removing the Old Air Conditioning System

Before installing your new AC system, the crew must first remove the old equipment. This may involve gaining access to attic areas, crawl spaces, and basements that typically house the HVAC system. After cutting the power to the AC unit, the crew will remove any refrigerant from the AC system and begin disassembling and removing the old equipment.

Duct Repair and/or Modification

Depending on the scope of your project, duct repair and/or replacement may be involved. One or two crew members will typically begin this work, while the lead installer begins assembling the new equipment. If major ductwork is involved with your HVAC project, you can expect to have crew members negotiating their way through attics and crawl spaces to make the repairs or modifications necessary for the new equipment. Ahead of your project, discuss ductwork modification with your HVAC contractor.

Installing Your New Air Conditioning Unit

After repairing or modifying the existing ductwork, the crew will begin installing the new equipment to manufacturer’s specifications. Depending on the type of system you choose, the equipment may be installed both inside and outside your home. The components installed may include the inside air handler or evaporator, outside compressor or condensing unit, new refrigerant supply lines, thermostat, condensate drain lines, and the condensate pump when applicable. In addition, while most air conditioning contractors can upgrade wiring and circuit breakers during a typical HVAC installation. Major changes to the property’s electrical system and circuitry may require the services of a licensed electrical contractor.

Plan for Possible Unforeseen Circumstances

As with many home improvement projects, unexpected repairs can pop up that are necessary to complete the project. These might include replacing damaged ductwork, rotten wall studs, electrical upgrades, and drywall repairs that are not originally included in your estimate. While most HVAC contractors will try to cover all the bases in the initial estimate, there are things that cannot be assessed until the project has started. Before completing any additional work, your contractor should discuss project details with you and the updated cost.

Testing the New Air Conditioning System

When the replacement HVAC installation is complete, pressure and vacuum tests are performed before charging the system with new refrigerant. After a complete inspection of the new HVAC system, refrigerant is added and the system is activated and retested to ensure all components are working properly.

After all testing is complete, your AC contractor should go over proper operation of the new system. This includes discussing how to replace the furnace filter and how to operate the thermostat. This is also a great time to ask your contractor who should fill out and submit warranty and rebate forms.

An air conditioning replacement is a large home improvement project, but one that results in a more comfortable, energy efficient home. Learn more about starting your AC replacement project today.