Author Topic: Busted central air conditioning unit. Replace, repair or return to window unit?  (Read 5911 times)

partgypsy

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We have an older smaller house (1450 sq feet) 4 people plus dog and cat. We installed brand new central air and heat (gas furnance 12 years ago). The air conditioner has been repaired last summer as well with pronouncement we should replace (which we ignored) and twice in last month, last fix did not work. The latest person (who was recommended) said he could repair for 1400, but he could not guarantee how long it would last (could be 6 months, could be 20) or he could install new unit for 5K.

We live in NC and while I don't mind it being warm during the day, I don't sleep well in a warm house so we need to do something. Right now all we have is some fans. We do have a window unit (used before we had central air installed) still stored in the attic.

I know before I started reading this forum, I would have chosen replace, and taken it out of emergency fund. Now that I've been reading this forum it seems 5K is an obscene amount of money, especially before checking out other possibilities. 

I was thinking, we could put the window unit in a centralish room, use fans to distribute air (already have), install a ceiling fan in master bedroom (100, 150), and a small window unit in kid's room ($120).  That would cost less than $500 even if we found out the air conditioning unit we have in attic no longer works, and a) we could figure out whether we can live without central air, and b) give us time to save to replace unit. The only downside is that I don't sleep well in a warm room (I've been sleeping in the living room since this happened since there is a ceiling fan there) but also don't sleep well with a window unit in same room. But I'm hoping with a ceiling fan (and acclimizing) it might work.

Any feedback, anyone else done this? 

Milspecstache

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Does the centrallish room have an exterior wall facing something other than the front yard?  If so, another option (sorry to further muddy the waters) would be ductless mini-split AC unit.  I think the higher efficiency could pay for itself over going with another central unit or even the window units.

In the South it is hard to go without AC.  Too humid and too hot.  I don't like window units as they are very inefficient and loud.

Mr. Frugalwoods

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You could self install a ductless mini-split.  They are becoming a very economical option, both from an initial outlay standpoint and also on efficiency.  They'll also happily heat your house in the winter.  They aren't that tough to install if you are handy.

The one thing to know about them is that for efficiency's sake you need to match the output of the system carefully to your cooling load.  And I have basically no idea how to do those calculations :-)  I'm sure someone on the internet can help though!

zolotiyeruki

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$5k is about normal for a complete A/C replacement, but it raises the question: what part of the system is broken? The compressor/condenser, or the evaporator coil?  It's possible, but not likely to be both.

You might also consider going the used route--pick up a working <insert borked part here> off Craigslist or Bookoo or Freecycle and ask your A/C tech to install it for you.

partgypsy

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everything I've read, if you already have the ducts in it's better to go with central air. Also if we ever sell our house I think central air would be a better return.

I think they replaced one part (condenser?) and it still didn't work, so that's why he quoted 600-1400 to repair (I'm not sure the wide range, maybe they are not sure where the problem is?). I normally am very pro repair over replace, but we repaired it 3 times in past year, so I guess I'm doubtful whatever is going on with it, won't keep happening.

Hubby got 2 window units for the bedroom and we have another in living room (along with fans) and house was comfortale, slept very well. I know this is nitpicky, but esthetically I don't like how window units and fans look, which is why I'm not sure I want this as a long term solution. I know, first world problems!

MooseOutFront

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Keep us updated.  My unit is over 10 yrs old so it's something I expect to be on the radar at some point.

rmendpara

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Old units have to have major repairs/replacements every decade or so (+/- a few years). Unless you just got a workhorse HVAC unit, and you serviced it once a year (like we all obviously do :) ), a replacement is inevitable.

My primary concern/question would be twofold:

1) What is the cost to run the central vs window unit in the summer and winter? Keep in mind, both a window unit and space heaters are not very efficient.
2) Do you plan to sell the house eventually? If so, how do you think a new owner would value your house without working central HVAC, or if they would probably require you to repair the unit in order to purchase the home?

partgypsy

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I am very curious about the relative costs of central air (cooling) and what we just started (3 window units and assorted fans).
Obviously the up-front costs are less than 500 ($300 so far) and 5K.
Electrically, don't know. 
I looked at last year and we basically have 4 months of $60 electric, 4 months of $70 electric, and 3 months of up to 148 electric (110-148) average 130= around 960 a year. Our electric is a little higher because I pay essentially a $10 credit to get wind generated energy.

there is nothing else wrong with the system; the furnance still works, ducts in order, in fact we have kept on the fan that moves air through the ducts since it improves air circulation. The only thing needing to be done is replace the air conditioning unit.

If we ever sold the house, yes it would be expected that we have central air, not having central air would be perceived negatively enough that house would be discounted off more than the cost of replacement. We are in a small neighborhood that has become desirable (new housing or houses renovated and sold). For example a house 500 square feet larger than ours, sold for $350K in the past year. That said, we are not planning on moving any time soon.

Even though I don't WANT to be affected, I think I do need to overcome feeling "low class". Our house is one of the older and smaller in our immediate neighborhood there's that' and in addition not having central AC is definitely would be looked down upon. Probably a generation ago in this town it would not, but things have changed (and the vast majority of people living in our neighborhood are professionals who have recently moved to this area).

 

« Last Edit: July 09, 2014, 11:23:10 AM by partgypsy »

FrugalSpendthrift

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You could self install a ductless mini-split.  They are becoming a very economical option, both from an initial outlay standpoint and also on efficiency.  They'll also happily heat your house in the winter.  They aren't that tough to install if you are handy.

The one thing to know about them is that for efficiency's sake you need to match the output of the system carefully to your cooling load.  And I have basically no idea how to do those calculations :-)  I'm sure someone on the internet can help though!
I just finished installing a ductless mini-split and I love it.  I removed a through the wall air conditioner, patched the hole, hung the indoor wall unit, placed the condenser on a premade pad.  The only part I couldn't do myself was putting a vacuum on the coolant lines, so I had an HVAC guy come out and help with that part.  It is so quiet, you can barely tell it is on.  All total, I spent around ~$1.5k and it is a 12,000 BTU unit.  I still have window units in the bedrooms, so this mini split is just doing our living room/dining room/kitchen area.  When I bought the house, there were two wall units and three window units, I'd love to reduce that to just two mini splits.  If I planned that more in advance, I could've just put in one double headed mini-split.

Before starting I was trying to size the system with those calculations and I eventually gave up, because there were so many unknown variables.  The rough calculations for sq. ft. don't take into account how well the walls and ceiling are insulated or how well the space is sealed against drafts, but they can get you close.

partgypsy

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I also have read, the more rooms to cool, the more it makes sense to use central.
We have 6 rooms in our house (kitchen, study, and living room, 3 bedrooms (one is used as tv room) and 2 bathrooms.

We would def need to cool the 2 bedrooms, not sure how to do the rest of the house if it was done with minisplits.

also how is the energy efficiency of mini splits versus central? Prefer something obviously energy-efficient.
I am also concerned about resale value consequences of mini split versus central.

fallstoclimb

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Popping in here with a question:  Are window units really less efficient?  Even if you are only using them in bedrooms and keeping windows open throughout the rest of the house? 

partgypsy

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I have no idea. I will get idea when I see my next electrical bill : ) I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised, but who knows.

Numbers Man

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Get a second opinion as to what is really needed to be done to your air conditioning system. If it's only 12 years old you can get a lot more years out of it if you get it fixed. I had a 25 year old air conditioning system when I was in Chicago. But since I've moved to Arizona I have heard all kinds of bogus cautionary tales about how our system should be replaced until I found the right technician. Please educate yourself to all of the major parts via google and youtube videos. Air conditioning repair is not rocket science and there are a lot of qualified people that can help you. You just need to sort through the crooks and incompetent players.

okashira

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Use a cheap window unit to tide you over while you learn how to fix the central yourself.

Mrs. PoP

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We went through this at our place 4 years ago.   Handler unit failed in April and we spent the better part of 6 weeks trying different things to get it to work. The replacement part that we KNEW was needed was going to be ~$700 or so, for Mr PoP to do all the install and we weren't certain that would be it. 

We got quotes from 3 well rated companies on Angie's List and went with the one we liked the best.  Had to get on a waiting list because we delayed so long and didn't get our system until end of May, which was rough in S FL. 

Also worth noting, when we got our new system, we noticed a sizable difference in our energy bills switching to a 16 SEER.  I don't know what SEER the old system was, but our bills were easily ~30% lower after the change, maybe even more?  Just worth considering when you're getting quotes.  In 4 years, I'm pretty sure we've recovered more than the price difference between the 15SEER and 16SEER in energy savings. 

partgypsy

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Thanks for all the advice. Yes, learning more about the AC would be good.
to tell you the truth my husband has picked up basics in a whole host of areas (roofing, flooring, putting up drywall, basic carpentry, painting, laying concrete, some plumbing, basic wiring such as for sound systems etc) which he enjoys and has saved us while fixing up our house. 
However I don't think he has the interest in learning mechanical things. For example he never really learned about cars so he takes ours in for everything. I think the AC would be similar situation. He does hang out with the repairmen when we bring them in and talk to them, learn what he can, but fixing is probably out of his comfort level.
(OTOH my little brother is a natural whiz at that kind of stuff, particularly cars and motorcycles; maybe I can ask him if he knows anything about ACs : )
 
I have a feeling our AC was a seer 14? 15? and it was close to the top of what was available when we got it.