A/C Replacement Research: Compare First Costs With Lifetime Costs
Finding an appropriate replacement cooling system for your home requires conducting research into factors such as system quality, energy efficiency and — above all — costs. Here’s some insight into how to compare first costs with lifetime costs to see the price you’ll pay for your A/C replacement now and in the future.
In terms of an A/C replacement, first costs are those expenses that are necessary to buy an air conditioner, get it installed, and get it ready to start working. They are the costs that are necessary before the equipment is even turned on for the first time. Typical first costs include:
- Retail price – The initial sticker price is the most visible of first costs. It can be affected by factors such as dealer discounts, renewable energy tax credits, rebates or the time of year you purchase the equipment. Higher-quality, brand name systems will usually cost more, as will high-efficiency A/C equipment. Keep in mind that the price of better equipment will typically translate into better performance, lower operating costs and more reliable operation over the system’s lifetime.
- Installation – An A/C replacement needs professional installation to operate properly and safely. In most cases, installation is included as part of the retail price. If not, ask your dealer how much the installation will cost.
- Ductwork revisions or other changes – Sometimes new A/C systems will require changes to existing ductwork or other physical characteristics of your home. A high-efficiency model, for example, may need smaller ducts to maintain its efficiency and avoid waste of energy.
Lifetime costs are those expenses that will accrue over the lifetime of the A/C replacement. They begin to accumulate from the time the system is first turned on to the time when the equipment is retired and replaced again. Lifetime costs are unavoidable and, in most cases, cannot be reduced past certain benchmarks, such as the A/C’s initial efficiency. The most common lifetime costs include:
- Monthly operation – Each month your A/C replacement is in operation, it will require a certain amount of electrical power to function. A high-efficiency cooling system will need less energy than a lower-efficiency system. The amount of time you use the system will also affect how much it costs to run each month. If temperatures fluctuate and you can run the system on fan-only settings, which will cost less than running the equipment with all components functioning. The cost of electricity in your geographical area will also affect monthly costs. If you get some or all of your household energy from a solar power system, monthly energy costs for your A/C replacement could be minimal.
- Consumable supplies – Even air conditioning systems require a few consumable supplies over their lifetime. The most common of these are the air filters that help clean your indoor air and aid with system airflow. Lower-quality filters will usually cost a few dollars, but higher-quality ones will cost substantially more. Filters should be checked at least every month and changed when they get dirty. Over the lifetime of the A/C, a professional may need to add more refrigerant to keep the system working and cooling at its best.
- Maintenance – Regular preventive maintenance is the key to keeping your air conditioner working at its best for the longest possible time. A maintenance inspection lets an HVAC professional check and adjust the equipment and stop small problems before they become larger issues later. Maintenance should be performed at least once a year, preferably before the start of cooling season. Ask your HVAC services provider about a service contract that will ensure maintenance will be performed on time every time.
- Repair – Eventually, your A/C replacement will need repair to restore it to operating condition. This is another unavoidable lifetime cost. High-quality systems that have been well maintained are less likely to break down and need repair. As the equipment ages, however, repairs are going to become more likely.