Our homes are the places where we feel relaxed and spend our most precious moments. That is the main reason why we are constantly aiming to improve different aspects of our living spaces and to make them as comfy as possible. But no matter what investments we make and how big they are, the thing that should always be considered at first place is the healthy and comfortable climate of our homes.
Ensuring the healthy and comfortable climate in a home is a complex task that is determined by various factors. Minimizing the risk of mold formation, ensuring occasional ventilation and airflow circulation, allowing enough daylight penetration, permanent maintenance and cleaning and so and so forth – these and many other factors can determine how you manage to maintain a healthy and comfortable climate in your home. If you want to ease that process, a good way to do it is to start thinking about the benefits of having a good heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in your home.
HVAC – what is it and how it works?
Many experts define the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units (or whole system) as one of the most important factors for the preservation of a good and healthy climate in your home. But you will most probably agree with that fact only if have one and has experienced the unpleasant situation when it had stopped working. In fact, the most valuable systems and elements for our homes are those, which effect and importance are noticed only when a problem occurs, such as waterproof, electricity, water supply and the HVAC system of course.
The goal of the HVAC system is to provide adequate thermal comfort and high interior air quality. Operating on the principles of thermodynamics and heat transfer, these systems are becoming a very important part of residential facilities such as apartment buildings, single family homes, hotels, as well as large industrial and office spaces, skyscrapers, hospitals, schools and etc.
Ventilation is one of the most important aspects of a HVAC system as it is responsible for the process of constant movement of the inside air and its replacement with fresh one from the outside. It also accounts for reducing the moisture, indoor bacteria, smoke and dust by taking them away, in the outside areas. The ventilation process has two main functions – to make the exchange of inside and outside air possible and to ensure its adequate circulation within the building.
Types of HVAC systems and useful features
There are different types of HVAC systems that are available on the market. When choosing the right one, you should consider different factors such as the size and the characteristics of your home, whether there is an existing thermal insulation, the functions that you would like your HVAC system to have, the budget that you have set aside and etc.
If you wonder what type of HVAC system is the best match for your home, the best thing to do is to consult a professional, who will guide you through the process. Nevertheless, it is important for you to be acquainted with the different types of HVAC systems that are available on the market, so that you are prepared to ask the right questions and to make adequate estimation of the pros and cons of each one of them. Here is a simple list to start with:
Single and Multi-stage HVAC systems
A single-stage heating and cooling solution is a good one if you are on a tight budget. These systems are very popular in both hotter, humid areas and colder climates and are completely capable of ensuring the good climate in your home. On the other hand, they have one big disadvantage. The fact that they are single-stage means that they are not able to adapt to dynamic climate changes which makes them operate at full capacity when it is not needed. You can always reach for a single-stage HVAC system that has multiple fan speeds to make you more flexible with the air flow, but that will not minimize the effect of the unit working at its full capacity significantly.
That is what makes the multi-stage HVAC systems the better choice. These solutions have all the benefits of the single-stage ones but will also save you money by reducing the unnecessary wasted energy.
Zoned HVAC systems
A HVAC system with a zone control is always a good choice, no matter in what climate you live or what is the type of your home. This function provides the system with the ability to heat or cool individual areas of your home by controlling specific elements inside the unit which are able to selectively block the air flow. If you want to have a smart system that will save you money, then this is your best choice as you can heat or cool only these areas where you and your family are about to spend the most time.
HVAC systems with integrated humidity controllers are suitable for homes that are prone to significant humidification or dehumidification. There are humidifiers and dehumidifiers options that can be added to your system in order for you to be able to effectively control the healthy climate in your home. Experts suggest that 50% is the optimal level of humidity that should be maintained in your living areas. If the humidity in your home exceeds significantly these numbers, you should tackle the problem because it can be harmful for the construction (mold, mildew formation, condensation and etc.), as well as your health (breathing problems).
The effectiveness of the heating abilities of your HVAC system is very important, because it will ensure a comfortable climate without the need to pay unnecessary high bills. One of the most popular solutions when it comes to heating units are the furnaces. They are designed to provide your home with heated air through a ductwork system. These units usually work with natural gas or propane. Other very common options that you can install in your home are the boilers. These units can warm your home by heating water that is then transferred to steam radiators, water-forced systems or electric heating, installed all around the place. The boiler-based heating units work on gas or oil.
The next thing that you should consider is the type of the cooling system. Nowadays, there is a wide range of options, when it comes to the air conditioning units – both in terms of size and characteristics. For example, a good air conditioning system nowadays will save you 20% to 40% more energy when compared to those, produced just a decade ago. When choosing the right air conditioning system, you should bear in mind the three most important components that they have – evaporator (located in the inside), compressor and condenser (both located in the outside).
Estimating the costs
If you are in the market for a new HVAC system for your home, you have probably realized that the cost is just one of many factors that you should consider. Nevertheless, it is a very important one. No matter whether you are on a tight budget or are ready to spend big on a high-end HVAC system, the market can offer you wide range of options, suitable for every type of project. That said, you should know that such wide range of options also means the HVAC installation cost can vary widely and the best thing for you to do is to consult a professional.
There are many factors that can determine the price of a HVAC System. As you are not an expert, it is always better to do your homework and search for some useful tips in order for you to be sure that you are getting the right quality you have paid for.
First of all, you should be aware that most of the contractors will provide you with a cost that includes both labor and materials.
Many homeowners try double-checking the provided costs by looking at the hourly rates and the individual price of the materials. But this can be very misleading, because the provided hourly rate can consist of many different things, depending on the pricing policy of the given contractor. For example – in the labor costs that some professionals charge, there may be an insurance or a supervision costs also included. And on the other hand – you may get way lower quotes, but with the working process going on, the contractor may surprise you with different add-ons, that you haven’t taken in mind. For sure, that is a situation that you want to be avoided.
The best thing that you can do before starting the project is to ask for a costs breakdown that is written on paper (or also – an official offer). That way, you will be sure that you won’t have to deal with any hidden costs later on. A detailed breakdown will most probably consist of the following points:
The cost of this one will depend on the type of the system that you and your contractor decide to choose and whether any additional tools and items will be needed for its installation. Here it is important for you to think for the long-term – spending more on a more expensive, but highly efficient system today, will repay itself in the foreseeable future.
The brand of the given HVAC system will also play its role in the final estimation of the budget that you will need to set aside. Depending on the specifications of your project – whether there is enough space for installation or it is hard for you to find a unit with the appropriate size to fit in, you may be forced to invest in a custom solution by a more expensive brand. Nevertheless, even if that is the case, you will be sure that you are paying for long-term quality.
You should expect to pay a little bit more if you reach for different comfort-enhancing features such as UV protecting system, humidifiers or dehumidifiers, electrostatic filters and etc.
Piping and ductwork
Another important components of the cost estimation are the piping system and the ductwork units that should be installed for the smooth and effective operation of your HVAC system. This type of equipment will require more specific installation, as the different elements will be integrated in the walls and the ceiling, so that the water (if you have a water-based system) and/or the air (if you have an air-based system) can be distributed accordingly to every part of your living area. Of course, if you are about to replace your existing HVAC system and the piping and ductwork components are working fine, your contractor will have a lot less work to do, thus reducing the overall cost of the budget.
Depending on the complexity of the whole system, the type of the required controlling unit may significantly increase the overall cost. For example – some HVAC systems may be controlled only by a simple local thermostat, while others will require a more advanced smart controlling unit. Make sure to get an advice from your contractor in order to find out which solution is best for your project.
Starting the system
Some types of systems may require some initial settings adjustment such as air- or water-balancing in the air- and water-cooled systems respectively. Such procedures track whether the system works seamlessly by comparing the actual airflow and the temperature estimations with the manufacturer’s documentation.
To estimate the exact cost of a HVAC installation project, let’s assume that the size of the house is 2000 sq. ft. and the air conditioning equipment that we would like to install is the common split system. The average price for the provided project’s specifications depends on numerous factors, but is estimated to be in the range of $2000 – $6000. Depending on the type of the air conditioning unit, you should expect to pay approximately $2000 for a single zone system, $2500 for a double zone, $3000 – $3500 for a triple zone and $4000 – $4500 for a quad zone one.
The budget that you will need to set aside for the ventilation components depends on its type – whether you are choosing a natural, hybrid or mechanical solutions. Natural ventilation (windows placement and operation, building specifications, wind capture devices), as its name suggests, is the most basic one as it uses the generated airflow from the outside wind and accelerates its effect for ensuring the constant fresh air in your home. The mechanical one is based on fans and other controlled units that are installed in different spots of your home. The hybrid ventilation is a mix of both and is the most common solution for the average homeowner. Basically, for a good ventilation system, you should expect to pay anywhere in the range of $600 – $2000.
When it comes to the price of the whole HVAC system, instead of buying its components separately, you will need to set aside an approximate budget of $5500 – $8500. Bear in mind that buying a whole system is always the better choice as its components are designed and produced to work in harmony. When you buy the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units separately, you risk damaging the overall efficiency. Buying a whole system will also account for easier installation as it will take no more than 2 to 3 days.
Depending on the specifications of the project, you may need to hire an electrician to handle the wiring works. If you are installing a ductless air conditioning system, you should expect to be charged in the range of $70 to $150 per hour for the whole wiring. Nevertheless, if you are working with a whole-range certified contractor, then the wiring will be included in the overall labor cost as there will be a whole team of professionals that will handle the different tasks simultaneously.
After you have installed the HVAC system, you should bear in mind that in future, you should expect to pay for some periodical professional maintenance if it is not included in the initial contract that you have signed. Professional inspectors check the way the system works and whether an adequate temperature control is ensured. When it comes to maintenance costs, expect to pay inspection fees in the range of $50 to $100 for separate units and $80 – $150 for whole HVAC systems. If some additional ductwork cleaning is required, you may be charged up to $400.
10 questions to ask your contractor
Installation of a HVAC system requires professional contractor as it is a specific process that can appear very complicated at times. But if you wonder how to judge whether a given professional is knowledgeable enough and will be the best fit for the needs of your project, the best way to figure it out is to ask him some questions. Bear in mind that when you are about to start dealing with all the work and planning the project, the most important thing is to trust your contractor. And building trust requires professional attitude from both sides. So, there is nothing wrong if you start asking him plenty of questions. His task is to make you feel comfortable about choosing him and he won’t be bothered to answer and explain in details everything that is needed. That said, here is a good set of questions to start with:
1) Ask about the contractor’s certifications and licenses.
Working with a trusted professional is what you should be aiming at. A good reference for the qualities and the reliability of a contractor is whether he is certified from the North American Technician Excellence program – the most adequate benchmark for verifying his training and hands-on experience.
Another highly-important thing to check is whether the contractor has a gas license and a TSSA Contractor Registration number that allows him to work on different gas appliances. A refrigeration license for AC work is also required in order for you to feel confident that all your work will be handled professionally.
Another important thing to ask for is whether the contractor has an official license to work in your local area. That way you will be confident that all the work that is handled in your home is legal and professional.
2) Ask about past experience and references.
This is very important question for you to ask, because of the fact that the more experienced and proven the company you have hired is, the safer warranty for your HVAC system you will get. You can also search for reviews or request some references so that you are confident that the contractor has handled previous projects professionally and responsibly. Bear in mind that even if you have to pay a little bit more, aiming to hire an established and proven company is always your best choice for the long-term quality of your HVAC system.
3) Ask about the steps that the contractor plans to take in order to recommend you the most suitable HVAC system for your needs.
Installing a new or replacing an old HVAC system is much more than just the installation part. It may sound simple, but there are actually very specific tasks that should be handled during the initial planning. For example, if you have an existing HVAC system, it is very likely for it to be older than 10 years. And when it comes to technology, such period is a very long time. There are new and more efficient systems, as well as guaranteed changes in the local installation and code requirements. All that requires further inspection by a certified professional who will be able to define the exact needs of your home in order to ensure the perfect match in terms of the HVAC system’s features.
Bear in mind that some companies may try to provide you with a quote on the phone or by email, without ever visiting you. Even if a contractor visits you and gives a glimpse on your home for few minutes, you should be aware that this is not the one you should hire. Estimating the exact size of the system and its components, planning the adequate and professional installation and other similar tasks are very important, in order for you to receive the best value that you are paying for. Otherwise you face the risk of investing in ineffective HVAC system, dealing with future exploitation problems or even being unable to sell your house due to the installation requirements not being met.
The first and most important thing that a professional and reliable contractor will do is to spend the needed time on collecting the right information about the specifications of your home. That way, he will be able to provide an adequate recommendation about the most suitable HVAC system, based on your needs.
Receiving the best possible quote will be guaranteed only if the contractor has the appropriate industry knowledge. Thus, you should require from the one you are considering to hire to handle a comprehensive analysis and load calculation of your home before recommending a suitable solution. That way, you will be confident that the installed HVAC system will meet the home’s structural specifications, comfort concerns, building configuration, energy efficiency levels and etc.
4) Ask if there are some risks that may complicate the installation process or the future exploitation of your HVAC system and how are they going to be avoided.
Like every other technical or home improvement task, the installation of a HVAC system may face some risks that can further complicate or slow down the process. And if your contractor says that there are no risks, you should doubt his honesty. Maybe he is a true professional and is absolutely confident in his abilities, but that should not stop him from sharing the possible issues that may be faced during the installation or the exploitation process.
For example, experts from Energy Star point out that 50% of all heating and air conditioning systems in the USA are installed incorrectly. Other industry researches conclude that the most widely spread reasons for the inappropriate installation of HVAC systems are: improperly sized heating or air systems (72%); inappropriate charge of air conditioning systems (68%); inadequately handled airflow considerations (70%); lack of testing for safety and efficiency (90%).
That said, if your contractor explains all the risks involved and how are they planning to avoid them, you should be confident that you are hiring the perfect one to handle your project.
5) Ask about the working schedule.
It is not about requesting a specific deadline for your project. You should be aware how many hours/days it will take for every single stage of the installation process to be completed. That way, you will be able to make a plan about the exploitation difficulties of your home – when and where are the works going to take place and for how long. You don’t want to be unable to use your kitchen for too long, right?
Having a basic schedule will also allow you to track the progress – whether some of the stages are taking too long to be completed. That way you will be able to ask whether there are some obstacles that are making the process harder. If you have engaged with an unreliable and unprofessional contractor, you may be charged for more working hours than the installation process will actually take. So having an initial schedule is a good thing for you to request.
6) Ask about the efficiency ratings of the proposed system.
When it comes to the installation of heating and cooling units, the most important thing to start with is their energy efficiency rating. It is completely understandable if you are not familiar with such matter and that is what the professional contractor will handle. He will explain you what solution will be the most appropriate according to the specifications of your project.
For example, when it comes to heating units, the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating is the one thing that should be considered carefully. The ultimate efficiency percentage to look for is in the range of 80% to 90%. In the US, the national minimum is 78%. If you take the electric furnaces for example, you will find that there aren’t any solutions that fall under the 95% rating. So no matter what kind of heating unit you are about to install in your home, bear in mind to double check its AFUE rating. When you are discussing the energy efficiency topic with your contractor, there is a very high probability that he will suggest you an Energy-Star certified solution as it is another thing that will ensure the appropriate performance of the system.
When it comes to the cooling abilities of the given unit, you should know that the most widely spread efficiency rating is the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). Ask your contractor what SEER does he suggests is most suitable for your home. His most probable answer will be anywhere in the range of 13 to 16.
7) Ask about the factors that should be considered when choosing the appropriate air conditioner for your home.
A knowledgeable contractor will advise you what air conditioner unit to choose based on the characteristics of your home. A rule of thumb is that an average air conditioner needs 20 British thermal units (Btu) per sq. ft. to ensure cost-effective operation. But choosing the right type of air conditioner is more than that. The contractor will suggest different solutions based on important factors such as the height of your room, the sizes of your windows, the indoor humidity, the climate in your area and the temperature fluctuations during the year and etc. After all these details are figured out, you will then need to consider some of the technological features of the air conditioning unit, such as the type of the filter (can it be removed and cleaned easily), digital control, thermostat settings, timers and etc. The contractor will most probably advise you once again to choose an Energy-Star rated unit as it will significantly optimize the performance of the whole system. For example, experts suggest that the difference between an Energy-Star rating of 5 and an Energy-Star rating of 10 can account for up 50% of your energy costs.
8) Ask about the further maintenance of the system.
Ask the contractor about the appropriate ways to keep your system in shape for the long-term. Also, if the contractor that you have contacted for the installation process is, at the same time, the one who will sell you the equipment for your HVAC system, ask whether a further professional maintenance and warranty are offered. A good and responsible contractor will deal with the further maintenance of the system, because he will be confident in the quality of the equipment that he is selling. That way, you will be sure that in the long term, you should not expect any problems with the way your HVAC system is working.
9) Ask about the guarantees.
And yes, you’ve read it right. Guarantees are different from warranties. That is a crucial thing that often leaves customers confused. Warranty is a statement from the equipment’s manufacturer that whenever a problem with some of its components and the overall functionality appears, it will be repaired for free. However, in addition to that, a guarantee from the contractor is what you should also ask for. Many contractors offer a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee that covers for the quality of the delivered installation work.
Also, don’t forget to look whether the contract that you are signing states that the work will be executed according to the local code requirements. That way you will be sure that in future, you should not expect any potential problems with local authorities. If a certain problem exists – it is not your fault as the contractor’s company should take care of it.
10) Ask whether there are any rebates or tax credits available.
Your contractor should be informed enough to answer this question, or at least to be willing to further check it. Depending on your location, you may be able to take advantage of such financial benefits that will help you further with decreasing the amount of the budget that you are required to set aside for the installation of an efficient HVAC system in your home.
If you are on a tight budget or you want to take advantage of some leasing schemes, you can further ask whether the contractor or the producer whose equipment he is installing offer some more flexible payment terms.
The installation or replacement of a HVAC system is something that you will most probably experience during the exploitation of your home. Due to its significant importance for the overall functionality and comfortable climate in your living spaces, it is a necessity for you to make an informed choice and invest in the most appropriate solution from the wide range, available on the market. Although you should always seek the adequate advice of a professional contractor, there are some useful tips that may further help you in the process of choosing the right HVAC system.
On the cooling function. When it comes to the cooling abilities of your HVAC system, it, an important thing to know is that you should be willing to invest in its efficiency. Bear in mind that even if your old air conditioning unit is working fine and does not show any signs of stopping, you should be eager to replace it at some point in order to further reduce your energy bills. With the rapid technological development, you will be able to buy an effective solution at an affordable price. If you are on a tight budget, you can act just like many homeowners do – to replace only the exterior air conditioning unit. Investing in a new, more efficient outdoor unit will give a significant boost to the performance of your whole air conditioning system. If you decide to do so, first of all you should consult a professional contractor in order for you to be sure that the new compressor matches the specifications of the indoor unit.
On the size of the air conditioning unit. Choosing the proper size of your air conditioner is from main importance in terms of efficiency. Bear in mind that a bigger unit is not always a better, nor a more efficient choice. Experts suggest that smaller units, working for a longer period operate way more efficiently when compared to bigger units that are being frequently switched on and off, during the whole day. Smaller air conditioning units are also way more effective than the bigger ones, in terms of their dehumidifying function.
On the future maintenance of the system. Investing in a high-end, super-efficient HVAC system will not matter at all, if it is not maintained appropriately. A basic rule of thumb is to call for a professional tune-up before each energy-demanding season (winter, summer) or if you do not have such, do it once in a year. Aside from the professional help, there are some easy steps that you can take in order to ensure the long-term operation of your HVAC system. For example, you can wash or replace the filters of the air conditioner all by yourself. If you have some condensers installed in your backdoor, then be sure to clean them from leaves, dust and other stuff at least once in per month. Bear in mind to do a periodical inspection of the fans also. If some of them are making strange noises or do not ensure a proper airflow, then you should check whether something is stuck and is causing such problems. Also, be sure to do a periodical disinfection of the fans and all the elements that are responsible for the proper airflow.
Choosing the right type of HVAC system for the needs of your home is a complex task that should be handled with the further help of a certified professional contractor. As there are numerous options, available on the market, consulting a well informed and experienced assistant is mandatory if you want to reach the optimal energy-efficiency levels of your home at a reasonable price. Bear in mind that there is no universal solution and the choice you make should be based on the individual specifications of your project and the goals that you want to achieve with the installation of a HVAC system. And last but not least, remember that no matter how expensive solution you choose, the appropriate installation and periodical maintenance is what determines its effectiveness and long-lasting operation.