Do I Need to Replace My Indoor and Outdoor HVAC Unit At The Same Time?

Posted by Will Housh on August 1

Recently, we received a question from Gina in Las Vegas, Nev., that might help out anyone who is thinking about replacing an outdoor HVAC unit. She writes:

“Dear team,

My husband and I need to replace the outdoor heat pump unit for our home. The indoor unit is still working, but our HVAC technician said we should consider replacing both at the same time. Do we really need to replace the indoor unit as well?”

Unfortunately, the short answer is yes. You should replace your indoor air handler at the same time as your outdoor heat pump — or air conditioning unit if it’s that time of year. I know it seems like an extra, unnecessary expense, but let’s look at why:

It is a necessary evil to replace both, here’s why:

  1. Matched systems perform better.

    When outdoor ac units and heat pumps and air conditioning units are designed, they are built to work with a matched indoor unit. This matched system works in tandem to generate optimum efficiency and ideal system performance.

    Replacing an outdoor air conditioner unit without installing the matching indoor unit will work. However, you are jeopardizing the dependability of both the units and compromising your HVAC system’s efficiency, which may cost more in the long run.

    Air conditioner

  2. Efficiency ratings are based on matched systems.

    When you purchase a new HVAC unit, the heating and cooling efficiency ratings are based on matched system performance. That means if you bought a heat pump with an 18 SEER rating to help you save money on monthly bills, you won’t realize the full potential of those savings without the matching air handler.

  3. Technology has changed.

    Over the last 20 years, advances in residential HVAC technology have made outdoor and indoor HVAC units better than ever.

    When it comes to debris filtering, noise levels, and air handling performance, the units today simply outperform those installed in the past. Replacing both your indoor and outdoor units at the same time ensures that your HVAC system is running on the latest technology to make your home comfortable and your family healthy.

  4. Replacing both now will save you money long-term.

    Like I mentioned above, a mixed system will result in poor efficiency, which will cost money on energy bills. But that isn’t the only money replacing just an outdoor unit will cost you.

    Since most systems are installed as pairs, your indoor unit is probably just as old as your outdoor unit. Additionally, if your heat pump or air conditioner is 10 years old, it’s time to replace it anyway.

    If you choose to replace only the outdoor ac unit, you’ll probably have to spend the money to replace the indoor unit shortly thereafter, and that means paying installation costs twice. Replacing both ensures you will have an efficient, dependable system for a longer period of time.

  5. New units mean new warranties.

    Purchasing new HVAC equipment means a new manufacturer’s warranty and service guarantee when your equipment is installed.

    If you only replace your outdoor unit, your indoor unit’s warranty may expire before your outdoor unit’s. Additionally, some manufacturers may not extend full warranty coverage to an outdoor heat pump or air conditioner that is not attached to the matching indoor equipment. Replacing both the outdoor air conditioner unit or heat pump and the indoor unit allows you to breathe easy knowing that your entire HVAC system is covered for the same period of time.

Replacing just the outdoor unit might appear cheaper right now, but long term, it will only cost more money. Replacing both units at the same time may seem like a more costly option, but a matched design system will run more efficiently, perform better, and last longer, delivering cost savings well beyond the extra expense.

If you’re like thousands of homeowners across the country who will be faced with making the quick decision to replace their air conditioners this summer, you should consider the questions worth asking your HVAC contractor. With high temperatures, you can’t always risk being without cooling for very long — when you must replace your air conditioner in the middle of cooling season, you won’t have as much time to research and evaluate your options as you would when replacing in the off-season, where cooling isn’t critical. Just because a breakdown forces you to purchase a replacement quickly doesn’t mean you have to do so uninformed — ask your HVAC contractor these questions to help determine the right choice for your home and family.

Ask Your Contractor These 5 Questions…

  1. Which type of system is best for me?

    A good contractor will evaluate your home and discuss with you the functionality you want in order to provide you with sound advice regarding which type of system is best for your home. For example, in homes with failing or nonexistent ductwork, a multi-unit ductless mini-split system may be the right choice for you. Your contractor can answer any questions you have about using a mini-split, central AC, or heat pump in your home.

  2. What size do I need?

    Size does matter when it comes to your air conditioner — undersized and oversized units will consume excessive energy while causing comfort issues in the home. In order to determine the correct size unit and configuration for your home, your contractor should perform a Manual J cooling load calculation.

  3. Are there other things that need done to my home to accommodate installation?

    The air conditioner itself is just one piece of the cooling system — other components include your duct work, thermostat, and air handler, amongst others. Replacement or repairs to these components may be necessary to accommodate the installation of your new air conditioner and facilitate efficient operation. Your new high-efficiency air conditioner won’t offer the savings you expect if your conditioned air is leaking out the duct system! Have your contractor evaluate all the components of your cooling system to see if other work is needed.

  4. What do SEER ratings mean?

    SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The higher the ration, the greater efficiency of the system. All air conditioners must be at least 13 SEER, but SEER ratings go all the way up to 23. If you decide to go with a heat pump, you’ll be looking at HSPF ratings (Heating and Seasonal Performance Factor). These equipment efficiency ratings will have a great impact on the energy use and operating costs of your new unit, and your contractor can help you estimate your monthly or annual costs associated with the new unit. Higher efficiency units typically cost more to purchase, but their savings can result in quick payback periods.

  5. What’s the warranty term and what does it include?

    Manufacturers’ warranties cover various parts for a specific period of time. Make sure you know what is covered on your new unit and how long the warranty lasts so you can have qualifying work performed under the warranty if needed, rather than paying out of pocket. Some manufacturers offer extended warranties for purchase, and your contractor can help you out if you wish to extend the warranty term. Quality HVAC contractors will also offer a warranty for their labor, so be sure to ask what is covered by their warranty and how long the warranty term lasts.

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