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What to know when you need to upgrade your HVAC system

What to know when you upgrade your HVAC system

Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. That’s the first time I ever went to a Washington Nationals game.

As visitors to Washington, D.C., my family was excited to see the Nats play the New York Mets in a nationally televised Sunday Night Baseball showdown. Also, we’d heard the nachos at Nationals Park were awesome (they are).

I remember being surprised -- almost panicky -- when a searingly hot, unbelievably humid day turned into night...and didn’t cool down. At all.

Washington, D.C.: The heat is on

Looking back at weather data from that fateful night, the temperature at game time was 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The Heat Index was 92.1 degrees. I’m not ashamed to admit I spent a lot of time in the air-conditioned clubhouse that night.

Today, my family lives in Northern Virginia. And whether you’re new to D.C., Maryland or Virginia, like me, or you were born and raised on the shores of the Potomac, you know that the region’s summers can be brutal. You’re going to need top-notch air conditioning.

When the winter comes -- well, if you were here for Winter Storm Jonas, you know heating is pretty important, too.

Are you actively looking to upgrade your HVAC system? Just shopping around? Here are some things to keep in mind.

5 important steps when you upgrade your HVAC system

  1. Learn what you need. Are you in the market for an HVAC upgrade that combines heating and cooling? Do you simply need a new furnace or air conditioner? Do you have no idea? That’s fine!

Your first step should visiting and educating yourself on the basics of home heating and cooling (the HVAC system is only part of the overall picture).

Next, call in a professional who can help you determine the best HVAC upgrade for you -- and you can get your energy audit done, as well.

  1. Get an energy assessment. What is an energy assessment, you ask? A HVAC service professional comes to your home and does a walk-through with you to check for energy leaks.

If you’re going to upgrade your HVAC system, you should make sure that you’re not pumping your air conditioning or heat right out the door...or window...or wall.

In fact, you may find out that you don’t need an new HVAC system at all -- you may just need better insulation or sealed ducts.

  1. Do the financial math. You may feel uncomfortable spending an extra $2,000 or $3,000 more than you planned when you upgrade your HVAC system. You should -- that’s a lot of money! But remember that better, more efficient HVAC units will save you tens of thousands over dollars over the coming decades.

Check out this anecdote from

The 26-year-old unit Jeff replaced was 80 percent efficient — not bad for 1979 technology. But we've come a long way since then. The standard option Jeff considered as a replacement would basically restore the system to status quo for $3,500. But Jeff was looking for more.

The midrange unit was priced at $4,200 and would boost the furnace efficiency to 90 percent, with a 16-SEER air conditioner. The lower the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER), the more energy it takes to cool the home.

The high-end system would cost Jeff $5,800, but for that $2,300 more, he got more features and optimum, 97 percent efficiency.

In the long run, Jeff’s $2,300 spend would pay huge dividends -- he notes that his energy bills “were about 20 percent lower.” It doesn’t take long for the more efficient system to pay for itself. Talk to an HVAC professional about your options.

  1. Ask, “How smart is my thermostat?” It’s 2016 -- we live in the future, people. Smart thermostats “learn from your behaviors, allow you to control the climate in your home remotely, show you energy consumption in real-time, and can even adjust themselves based on ambient conditions like humidity,” notes Lifehacker writer Alan Henry.  

A top-of-the-line smart thermometer can cost upwards of $1,200, but is worth the investment when considering the long-term cost savings (and knowing, even from work, that your kids aren’t jacking the temperature up to 80 whenever they feel a little chilly). Ask your HVAC professional for some recommendations.

  1. Think about age. Unlike a fine wine, HVAC systems generally do not get better after a decade or two. Energy Star recommends replacing your unit if the heat pump or air conditioner is over 10 years old or if your furnace or boiler is over 15 years old.

Odds are good you’ll have already noticed rising bills, weird noises, excessive dust, temperature changes from room to room and other telltale signs of a fading system. Time to call in the pros.

Have questions about replacing your HVAC system? Tweet us @johncfloodva or schedule a service call.