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HVAC Replacement: Reality, or Rip-off?
Old 04-20-2014, 12:52 PM   #1
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HVAC Replacement: Reality, or Rip-off?

Our house was built in 1990 and has the original heat pump system - 2 air handlers (one in basement, one in attic) and 2 outside compressors. Like all heat pumps, this is basically an air conditioning system which is also used to heat the house in winter. We have now exhausted my grasp of HVAC technology

The system still heats and cools OK, but the compressors look ratty (the metal "lid" of one is actually cracked across). We hope to sell the house in a year or so, so replacement is essential; but even if we stayed, we'd want to replace those units, which seem like they could go at any time.

Got our first estimate (used Angie's list) and are looking to get 2 more. The owner of the company came out. He said he would need to replace both the internal air handlers, as well as compressors. Total cost for the cheapest possible replacement: $11,000.00. He strongly recommended going with a higher rated system which would cost $15,000.00.

Although there is nothing wrong with the internal air handlers, he said they, like the compressors, are only 8 SEER and the lowest you can buy today is 13 SEER. You can't put a 13 SEER compressor on an 8 SEER air handler, he said, and besides, the refrigerant our air handlers use is now "illegal."

At first he made it sound as if the legacy and new units would not work together, but then he shed doubt on this. In a nutshell, he said buyers wouldn't want our house with new external units, if the air handlers were old. He said they would know we'd gone on the cheap. Said HE would not buy such a house. I thought this was laying it on a bit strong....

I shared this info with a few relatives and friends, who said the contractor was just trying to get more money.

So, I am bringing it to the unbiased and definitely frugal-minded ER Forum...What do you think?

Thank you,

Amethyst
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Old 04-20-2014, 01:25 PM   #2
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I do believe you've been given accurate info on the need to replace both internal and external units. I did some research when we had to replace our heat pump a few years ago and learned to get the tax credit (since expired) for installing a high efficiency system both the compressor (external) and condenser (internal) had to be replaced in order to get the SEER level needed to qualify. A high SEER compressor won't deliver the efficiency level specified with the old low SEER condenser.

Don't know where you live but I'm amazed you have units that have lasted almost 25 years. Heat pumps here in south TX are usually worn totally out after 10-12 years since they are used throughout the year, especially in the mid April through mid November time frame we know as 'summer'.
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Old 04-20-2014, 01:36 PM   #3
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You will have to change the coil since R-22 outside units are no longer available and R 410 is a higher pressure system. Note that the inside coil is the most expensive part of the air handler. Besides this there is the box, the blower and backup resistance heat, unless there is a furnace involved. In addition 24 year old units may have rust on the case. Likley the new units will have more multispeed fans also (for example if the backup heat comes on the fan goes to high, while it runs more slowly if its just heat from the heat pump)
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Old 04-20-2014, 01:40 PM   #4
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It sounds to me like you have two separate units, which is what I have. If so, it's very unlikely that both units would fail at the same time. If one fails you will still have one unit for some heating/cooling.

Having said that, I think you've gotten your money's worth out of these two. You may as well make plans for replacement when it is advantageous to you.

The next time I replace my heat pumps, I will be looking at geothermal units. They are expensive, but we have no plans to move except to the cemetery or nursing home.
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Old 04-20-2014, 01:51 PM   #5
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It depends greatly on where you live, but FWIW we replaced the entire heat pump system (outside compressors, inside air handlers with aux heat units, the whole shooting match. Existing system was 24 years old and on its last legs when we moved in.

Our system is certainly much smaller than yours, probably half the size since it was a single system. The entire job cost $5,600 ten years ago, so I'm guessing your quote is probably reasonable.
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Old 04-20-2014, 01:52 PM   #6
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We hope to sell the house in a year or so, so replacement is essential . . .
I dunno about that, it seems unlikely that new AC/heat pump units to replace functioning old ones is the kind of "improvement" that will result in a dollar-for-dollar higher sales price. If prospective buyers go into the house and it is appropriately cool/warm, then that's probably the standard to meet. I'd make cosmetic repairs to the outside cabinets so that they aren't an eyesore and don't draw attention to the age of the units (coat of paint, shine up the fans, etc) and that's about it.

A listing real estate agent is likely to suggest you replace the units because:
1) they aren't the ones paying for them
2) A higher selling price, even if it's only 50 cents on the dollar for what you spent, increases their commission

I'd skip the replacement and be prepared to use the dough as a concession on the price if a prospective buyer brings up the issue. A prospective buyer might not notice or care about the heat pump at all (lots of buyers fixate on countertops and finishes hardly noticing the true mechanicals of the house), or they might be the other way and really want a geothermal system or one with exceptionally high SEER. Why spend $10-20K and be guessing? As a buyer, I'd much prefer to get a price break to spend on what I want rather than someone's assurance that units were new and worked well.
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Old 04-20-2014, 02:10 PM   #7
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As a buyer, I'd much prefer to get a price break to spend on what I want rather than someone's assurance that units were new and worked well.
Personally, I agree completely.
But I keep hearing that most buyers today tend to focus on a house being completely ready to move in, with no loose ends.
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Old 04-20-2014, 02:13 PM   #8
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I just replaced my 2 ton AC unit (Carrier) including the coil in the furnace for $2700. I don't see a need to replace your air handler, just the coil and the outside compressor unit. I'd continue getting estimates, if you indeed replace.

Costco's estimate was $6K.
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Old 04-20-2014, 02:35 PM   #9
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Mine was completely replaced (evaporator and condenser) in the summer of 2013. Total cost was 5650.00. Noticed a drop in the electric bill with the new system, so there was some bonus. The old unit was 12 years old.
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Old 04-20-2014, 03:50 PM   #10
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Yes, the air handlers must be replaced too. Be aware that the new, higher SEER units are typically noisier because they operate at higher pressures.
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Old 04-20-2014, 04:05 PM   #11
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I'm with samclem on this one. As long as the old ones still work not too many people will think about how old they are. They'll find out soon enough.

I also agree that most potential buyers are fixated on the cosmetics and not the mechanicals. Granted you could get one that does. I'd sit it out, do some cosmetic work on the outside units, and see if anyone, even the RE agent, notices.
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Old 04-20-2014, 04:59 PM   #12
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I would not buy from that guy on principle. He gave information tainted with fear and disaster doomsday rhetoric as a sales pitch-that always gets my dander up. I'm surprised that he didn't tell you that was the last one at that price and he could only hold if for 24hours.
The oldest part of my furnace/ac is from the 80's- the a/c unit is at least 12 years old. I dread doing the shopping and the $$.
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Old 04-20-2014, 05:01 PM   #13
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Most homebuyers want the new system installed so the cost is in the price of the home mortgage and won't have money for immediate improvements like two new HVAC systems. Those prices seem reasonable to me if you're talking for both systems. They probably won't warrant a system if you don't replace the whole thing.
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Old 04-20-2014, 05:10 PM   #14
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Lemming, you put your finger on it. I felt talked down to, which always gets MY dander up.

That said, if I'm getting a good deal, they can call me "dearie" for all I care. But I've usually found the best deals come from a dealer who also shows genuine respect.

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I would not buy from that guy on principle. He gave information tainted with fear and disaster doomsday rhetoric as a sales pitch-that always gets my dander up. .
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Old 04-20-2014, 05:36 PM   #15
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I concur with the posters who advised you to take a step back and think about whether spending thousands of dollars on two new HVAC systems will pay off when you sell the house. I doubt that a prospective buyer will see the old, rusty units and demand more than $11,000 off the selling price of the house. They may use it as a talking point to negotiate a lower price, but they're going to do that anyway.
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Old 04-20-2014, 06:16 PM   #16
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For another reference point, we replaced two 2.5 ton heat pumps last summer for $7000 total using the major Carrier rep in the area, and in peak cooling season. The old ones were just 12 years old but had corroded and leaking coils in the air handlers. We were told this is typical in our area and the fact that both units crapped out within one month reinforces that. There was a good spread on the bids we got. I suspect your first bidder was on the high end.
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Old 04-20-2014, 06:49 PM   #17
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I'm with Samclem. Clean up the old units and sell it as is. Let a potential buyer challenge the A/C/heat unit status.

As long as they are fully charged and working properly, I wouldn't discount on age alone. Plus, you can offer a 3rd party appliance insurance policy for a year for about $400.
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Old 04-20-2014, 07:30 PM   #18
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I'm with Samclem. Clean up the old units and sell it as is. Let a potential buyer challenge the A/C/heat unit status.

As long as they are fully charged and working properly, I wouldn't discount on age alone. Plus, you can offer a 3rd party appliance insurance policy for a year for about $400.
I agree with this direction. Offering a warranty should put a buyer at ease, especially an inexperienced buyer. Clean it up and if it functions well then it's doing what it's intended to do. When selling my house a year ago with units that had been reconditioned, we offered a warranty but I also wanted to head off any potential inspection problems so I paid my HVAC person to come and give me a review of the systems. Caveat - this can create a situation where the info, once known, may need to be disclosed. In my case the units checked out fine and the buyers inspector reported that the units were operating within tolerance.
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Old 04-20-2014, 08:29 PM   #19
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Yes, the air handlers must be replaced too. Be aware that the new, higher SEER units are typically noisier because they operate at higher pressures.
Not necessarily. We replaced ours and it is so quiet, I have to walk up to the unit to see if the fan is running. It is a Carrier. The outside unit is much larger physically than the original
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Old 04-20-2014, 08:42 PM   #20
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Personally, I agree completely.
But I keep hearing that most buyers today tend to focus on a house being completely ready to move in, with no loose ends.
+1
A home inspector is likely to flag the units, possibly delaying the sale. There are several manufacturer and utility company rebates available. Not sure if there is a Federal credit available anymore. Do some research. We found out about a $600 utility company rebate after we had already replaced our unit. The HVAC company did not mention it. Our cooling costs dropped almost 30% with the new unit. We had a 12 yr old builder grade unit and it needed some type of repair every year.

I do not believe you can mix new and old components due to the new refrigerants in use. The fact that your estimator could not give you a sound reason for not mixing old and new would scare me away.
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