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Two A/C units sitting on ground in Gilbert AZ

Homebuyers’ Guide to Air Conditioner and Heating Units

 |  Air Conditioning

Home inspections, including the HVAC system, are standard with any new home purchase no matter where you live. However, thanks to Arizona’s extreme heat, Gilbert homebuyers need to pay extra attention to the A/C unit.

This is due, in part, to the fact that many HVAC inspections amount to no more than the inspector switching on the unit and writing a checkmark in the HVAC system box. Even the inspector knows that this isn’t really enough to demonstrate the functionality of the A/C unit, since he or she usually includes a disclaimer recommending that the buyer obtain a professional HVAC inspection.

Inspecting the A/C UNIT before Buying a Home

As a homebuyer, you may want to perform a basic check of the A/C unit yourself. If it all looks good and you know an offer is imminent, though, consider hiring a professional HVAC company to conduct a thorough inspection of the system. It may save you thousands further down the road by determining the age of the air conditioning system and possible upcoming problems that may exist

Exterior Inspection

The first thing to check is that the A/C unit is free from obstructions, including foliage and vines. Many Gilbert homeowners surround their A/C unit with a decorative enclosure. Make sure any enclosure leaves at least 30″ in front of the access panels, a foot or more at the sides, and a full 5 feet of clearance above the unit. Materials too close to the unit block airflow, drastically reducing the air conditioner’s efficiency.

Check next to see how the unit sits. Is it directly on the ground, or does it have a concrete base? Units that sit directly on the ground often experience issues with their lines, thanks to shifting ground (a common occurrence in Arizona). Usually, this is an easy repair, but let the A/C tech take a look before you sign any offers.

Finally, look at the condensing coils, which tend to attract outdoor debris such as dirt, palo verde and mesquite leaves, grass clippings, and more. A spray from the garden hose cleans the coils, though you may need to remove a mesh cover to reach them.

Interior Inspection

Inside the house, turn on the air conditioner (if allowed and/or able). You want to see if the fan begins turning on the exterior unit. In addition, check that the air coming out of the vents feels cool.

If you cannot start the unit for any reason, definitely bring in a professional A/C tech to complete the inspection.

What is the Average Lifespan of an A/C UNIT in Gilbert?

With proper maintenance, an air conditioner makes it through 15-20 Gilbert summers. Three main factors determine the lifespan of your air conditioner:

  1. How well you maintain the system
  2. The type of system
  3. The size of the system

When you nail all three, you get the longest life from your HVAC system.

  1. System maintenance

Proper maintenance is vital if you want a long-lived air conditioner. This means regularly replacing your air filter, maintaining the exterior unit, and scheduling regular maintenance. Compare it to maintaining your vehicle. You don’t drive it off the lot and then never open the hood. Oil changes, tire rotations, and the occasional tune-up save you from costly repairs and extend the life of your vehicle. Your air conditioner works the same way.

  1. The type of system

Air conditioner-only systems tend to last longer, 15+ years versus 10 to 15years for a heat pump. This is because air conditioners that include a heat pump run 12 months per year. Straight cooling systems get a break during Gilbert’s few cool months and therefore last longer.

  1. The size of the system

Yes, size matters. And yes, you can have too much of a good thing.

Air conditioners are measured in tonnage, which is not an indicator of the unit’s weight but rather how quickly it removes heat from a space. Larger systems remove heat more quickly. However, this does not mean the largest unit available is the best. When the unit is too large, it cools your home too quickly. This in turn causes the unit to turn off and on too often, wearing it out and shortening its lifespan.

A too-small system also wears out early, as it struggles to cool your home during Gilbert’s intense summers. A qualified HVAC tech performs a load calculation to help determine the right size unit for your home. Avoid a company that attempts to sell you an air conditioner based solely on the square footage of your home.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace an A/C UNIT in Gilbert?

Accurate estimates for a new central air system are hard to come by due to the number of variables influencing price. On average, you’re looking at anywhere between $5000 and $15,000 for a new central air unit.

The main factors affecting price are the type of unit you choose, your contractor, and any additional materials needed.

  1. Type of A/C unit

Obviously, the greatest indicator of price is the type of unit you choose. Within that, three main factors determine the cost of the unit: brand, SEER, and size.

Well-known brands like Trane typically carry a slightly higher price tag, but they come with their own benefits: reliability, excellent warranties, and the fact that repairs are simple thanks to the wide availability of replacement parts.

SEER is a rating that measures the unit’s energy efficiency, with a higher SEER indicating better efficiency. Today’s units have a minimum SEER of 14 and extend to 21 and higher. Units with higher SEER ratings cost more, but lead to savings on your power bill.

The size, as discussed above, indicates the unit’s cooling capacity. Higher sizes indicate improved cooling and come at a higher price. Buying the right sized unit ensures a longer lifespan.

  1. Your contractor

When you choose a Gilbert contractor to install a new A/C unit, he or she has two main responsibilities.

The first is completing the initial inspection of your home and cooling needs. It includes performing a load calculation, which considers the square footage and shape of your home, the climate in your area, and your home’s insulation. The contractor uses this information to determine the appropriate tonnage for your A/C unit.

Next, the contractor provides a  proposal for the installation, which varies depending on the size of your home and unit, as well as how the contractor charges (flat rate versus hourly).

Steer clear of contractors who estimate your needs using rule of thumb rather than load calculation. Also, be sure to hire a contractor with plenty of experience installing air conditioners in the Phoenix valley. Only hire a licensed, bonded, insured contractor.

Obtain quotes from a variety of vendors, but do not assume the lowest bid offers the best value. Hourly contractors, in particular, often wind up costing significantly more than you expect.

  1. Additional materials

A variety of supplemental items may add to the price of a new A/C unit.

  • Ductwork: Your ducts may have leaks, destroying the efficiency of your system. Your installer may be able to do a basic clean and seal, but you may need new ductwork.
  • Insulation: You may need extra insulation to improve efficiency and keep your home cool, especially if your home is more than a decade old.
  • Thermostat: New thermostats have an amazing array of features, including programming, automatic adjustments, and smartphone capabilities.
  • Electrical lines: A new air conditioner may require moving or upgrading electrical lines.
  • Warranty: Purchasing an extended or add-on warranty increases the cost of the unit.

Maintaining Your A/C UNIT

Proper A/C unit maintenance requires two things: regular DIY care and professional maintenance.

The number one cause of A/C unit failure is a dirty air filter. Gilbert and the rest of the Phoenix valley experience strong winds carrying fine dust. These particles (and more) make their way into your filter, restricting airflow. Over time, this leads to inefficiency, your unit working harder than it should, and possibly overheating or breaking down entirely. In the meantime, your power bill skyrockets, especially during peak summer months.

Protect yourself against all of this by changing out your filter monthly during the warm months, and every other month during cooler weather. It takes only a few moments and costs only a few dollars.

In addition to regularly changing your air filter, have your A/C unit serviced twice a year, preferably during spring and fall. First, your warranty may require regular servicing. Beyond that, though, is the fact that regular maintenance helps protect against expensive repairs.

Isley’s offers the TLC Maintenance Plan for both commercial and residential customers, which includes twice-yearly checkups, maintenance specials, and discounted repairs.