What to Consider When Buying a New HVAC System

having breakfast at home.

It may not be as stressful as buying a car, but picking out and buying a new air conditioner or furnace is no picnic. Not only are you in a hurry to replace your system and restore comfort to your home, but there’s just so many makes, models, and system types to choose from. How do you know which is the best fit for your home and comfort needs? In this article, we’ll review the four main factors you should consider when shopping for an HVAC system—as well as why it makes sense to work with a local professional.

What kind of system do you need?

Many homeowners will probably opt for a traditional air conditioner or furnace, but there are certainly other options out there that may be an even better fit for your home. For example, ductless systems are becoming increasingly popular. As the name implies, this type of heat pump does not require existing ductwork to cool or heat the home. Instead, a wall-mounted blower pushes the cooling and heating into the room directly. Not only does this allow ductless systems to go places where ductwork cannot—such as garages, sunrooms, home additions, or guest suites—but it also improves energy-efficiency by taking ducts out of the equation.

How efficient is it?

This is the top question homeowners ask about air conditioners and heaters, and it’s a critical one. Over the lifespan of the system, choosing an HVAC unit that’s even marginally more efficient than another can result in hundreds of dollars in utility bill savings. Today, HVAC manufacturers are setting a new bar when it comes to energy-efficiency, and that’s all due to demand from homeowners for less expensive cooling and heating.

When buying a new cooling or heating system, here are a few things to consider when upgrading to a new system. For cooling systems, SEER—Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio—is a good measurement for efficiency used throughout the industry. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the air conditioner will cool your home. The difference can be stark: upgrading to a 12 SEER system will save you about 33% every year, while switching to a 21 SEER can save you almost twice that. When weighing two cooling systems against one another, don’t just think about the sticker price. Take SEER into consideration.

For heating systems, things are a bit more complicated. AFUE—a measurement of how efficiently a furnace utilizes fuel—is a good system for comparing two furnaces with a similar fuel type, such as natural gas. A 97% AFUE gas furnace is more efficient than an 80% AFUE gas furnace. However, be careful using AFUE to compare systems of different fuel types. For example, electric furnaces have incredibly high AFUE scores (even approaching 99%), but being more efficient doesn’t make them cheaper to operate. In most parts of the United States, electricity is more expensive than natural gas, so a more efficient electric furnace may cost more to run than an inefficient gas furnace.

What size is it?

Many homeowners make the mistake of believing that, when it comes to buying an air conditioner or furnace, bigger is better. At the surface level, this makes sense: a larger air conditioner should cool your home faster and better than a smaller one, right?

In actuality, a larger system isn’t better for your home by default. In fact, the exact opposite might be true: too large of an HVAC unit for your home’s square footage could result in performance, efficiency, and comfort issues. When an oversized air conditioner or furnace runs, it will quickly cool or heat the home, and then shut off. However, it often has difficulty maintaining that temperature over time; any time that it turns back on, it can only run for a bit before overshooting the target. All this constant starting-and-stopping—known in the industry as “short-cycling”—is bad for your system, for your utility bills, and for your comfort.

That being said, there are also downsides to having too small of an HVAC system for your home. The opposite happens: the system has to run constantly just to keep up with demand, leading to high energy costs and poor comfort in your home.

This is why it’s so important to hire a professional HVAC company to install your new system. Based on your square footage and other factors, an HVAC professional can assess your home and recommend that right-sized system—neither too large nor too small—for your cooling and heating needs.

What features does it have?

Regardless of the brand or manufacturer, most air conditioners and furnaces use the same fundamental processes and technology to generate cooling or heating. However, some models do have advanced features that make them more efficient. 

For example, many HVAC units now have variable-speed compressors and variable-speed blowers. For years, most standard cooling and heating systems had two modes: on and running, or off entirely. Variable-speed technology allows the system’s computer to “shift” down to a lower or higher speed depending on the amount of cooling or heating needed. This technology helps save energy by allowing the system to maintain the current temperature of the home without running at full speed.

Also, no matter what system you end up purchasing, make sure it’s compatible with smart thermostats. Even if you haven’t upgraded to this new type of thermostat yet, you may decide to do so in the coming years during the life of the system.

Work with a professional

If you really want to ensure that you get the right system for your home, be sure to talk to a local HVAC pro in your area. A trusted HVAC company does more than just install your new system: they’ll take the measurements necessary to ensure that you get the right system for your home. Most reputable heating and cooling companies offer free in-home estimates, so this is a great place to start your buyer’s journey.