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Repair or Replace?

It's the middle of summer. Temperatures are hovering in the upper 90's and the humidity is unbearable. You're getting ready for a family gathering and your AC goes out. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon event – heating & cooling system breakdowns usually happen on the hottest day of the year when your cooling system is working hardest. Now you're faced with a stressful and potentially painful decision: do I pay the $700 repair bill or consider replacing the equipment to prevent another breakdown? The best way to make the right decision is to be prepared – do you homework ahead of time and understand when to repair and when you should replace. Here are some factors to consider:

Age of heating & cooling system

If your heating & cooling system is more than 15 years old, it is quickly nearing (if not already past) the end of its economic life. Yes, it's true that some heating & cooling system s will run for 30 years or more, but with newer more efficient models and rising energy costs, it's often simply more economic to replace.

Efficiency of your heating & cooling system

Most standard efficiency heating systems are 80% AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Rate) or less. Older systems often have efficiencies between 56% and 70%.

Cooling systems range from 13 to 21 SEER, (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Older units can have Efficiencies as low as 6 SEER. Essentially, the higher the efficiency rating (AFUE or SEER rating), the more efficient your system will be.

Simply put, the higher the efficiency, the less it costs to run. Even more importantly, heating & cooling systems tend to lose efficiency with age, especially if not properly maintained (just like your gas mileage decreases if you don't get regular oil changes). For a typical Chicago suburban house, replacing an 80% heating & cooling system with a 95% heating & cooling system can save more than 40% on your heating costs.

Cost and frequency of repair

As a rule of thumb if the repair is more than $500 and your heating & cooling system is more than 15 years old, you should seriously consider replacing instead of repairing. Most newer systems come with 10 year parts warranties so repair costs should be at a minimum for younger units. But like everything else in life, as it starts to age, parts tend to wear out and breakdown. If you've had two or more major repairs in the past five years, chances are the repairs will only become more frequent and it probably makes sense to put the cost of the repair towards a new, more efficient and reliable system.

What is the maintenance history?

Most don't realize it but your heating & cooling system is like your car – it needs regular maintenance to ensure safe, efficient and reliable performance. If your heating & cooling system has not had annual maintenance or if has been several years since it was tuned-up, components may have become worn or damaged. An unmaintained system is more likely to breakdown, costs more to operate and in rare cases may be unsafe.

How long will you stay in your home?

Replacing your system should be viewed as an investment that will pay you back over time. Depending on the efficiency of the new heating & cooling system , the longer you stay in your home, the more likely you will not only recoup your investment but actually come out ahead. Ask your HVAC contractor to provide you with an operating cost calculation for any new system they quote – this should provide an indication of the return on investment and how long it will take to pay for itself.