We’ve all been there; the home air temperature seems fine when we leave the house in the morning for work. It may feel a bit warm, we chalk it up to the weather. Later, we come home from work in the evening and learn the second floor hasn’t been cooling all day. In this scenario, we have two separate units (more on that another time,) so we can sleep on the couch downstairs. However, this may not always be the case and may result in an uncomfortable nights sleep. Here’s what every homeowner needs to know: first, what things they should be aware of when purchasing a home or installing a new system and second, the industry and parts terms used in regard to your homes HVAC system.
HVAC Terms 101
To begin, the air system in the home is called HVAC, an abbreviation for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Now what? You can do a quick web search for “HVAC terminology for homeowners” to grab intermediate level education. If you type in “HVAC for dummies” you’ll get a much more pared down version. When we input our search terms, we found an amazing analogy that compares HVAC to the human body:
This is a great concept, but you may need a bigger picture. Let’s talk about the basic physical equipment that a home HVAC system requires.
Let’s Get Visual
The most common piece of equipment you might recognize is the condensing unit outside. It looks something like this:
This houses the fan, condenser coil and compressor.
The next big piece of equipment is the furnace which hides behind a door you never open and stars in childhood nightmares or scary movies. The filter houses the evaporator coil, heat exchanger, filter and blower. The furnace looks something like this:
Next up is the ductwork and vents. The ductwork is as you see in the photo below, although it is exposed whereas your ductwork may be hiding behind the drywall in your house, with the only telltale sign being the vents. The ductwork moves the cool air through your house and pushes it out through the vents.
What if you’re a newbie?
For the new homeowner, your inspector should have given the HVAC system a life expectancy range when you purchased your home. If not, it should last somewhere between 8-20 years, but this depends on several variables:
– When was it installed?
– How energy efficient is it?
Industry professionals recommend upgrading to an energy-efficient unit if your current central air conditioner is 10 or more years old. Remember, neither the lowest price nor the first estimate guarantees the best product for your dollar. When buying a new air conditioning unit, think about the total cost over the 12 to 15 years that it’s supposed to last. For example, a high efficiency system might cost an extra $800 up front but could save you $300 per year on your energy bill.
– Is it the right size for your home?
Many homeowners don’t know this, but you need the right size air conditioner for your home. Improper sizing causes inadequate home cooling. If the unit is too large, it’ll cycle on and off frequently, which wastes money on your energy bill. If it’s too small, the A/C unit won’t be able to cool your entire home on hot summer days.
Consumer Reports has a great central air conditioning buying guide located here: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/central-air-conditioning/buying-guide/index.htm
It’s December here in Texas, but one thing you can always count on are the Indian summers and the early springs. The time to upgrade or schedule system maintenance for our area is the first quarter of the New Year so that everything is in place for when we need to turn on the cold.