AC Need Repair? Read This First

Is your air conditioner showing its age? Has it given up altogether? If so, do yourself a favor and read this article before you commit to expensive repairs or replacement.

Colorado’s clear skies and altitude can take a toll on air conditioning systems. With increasing demand, compressors can fail, coolant can clog or leak, and motors can wear out. Repairing or replacing a system can be expensive, often costing $2,000 or more. And that doesn’t always solve your cooling problem, especially if your needs vary widely from room to room.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to repairing or replacing an existing HVAC system, especially if it wasn’t doing a great job in the first place.

AC Basics

The only job of an air conditioning system is to replace hot air with cool air. That can be done in a few different ways.

One system that works fairly well in Colorado’s dry, thin air is evaporative cooling. Water cascades over fibrous material and evaporates, and a fan, typically on the rooftop, blows it into the building, forcing hot air out. This is similar to how a fan or breeze cools us by evaporating the moisture on our skin.

Evaporative cooling is relatively inexpensive to purchase and install, but unless it’s ducted to different areas of the home, it can be inconsistent in its distribution.

Ducted systems are most often seen with refrigerated cooling systems. These systems use chemical coolants to lower air temperature, just like they do in your refrigerator. But since they need to cool a whole houseful of air, they need more coolant, larger coils, bigger compressors, and stronger blowers. And a lot more energy to operate them. But they usually do a better job of keeping a building cool than fans or evaporative coolers.

Refrigerated cooling is also used for most window air conditioners and many portable ones as well.

Refrigerated Air Conditioner Choices

Traditional whole-home refrigerated units have closed systems that have a single task, cool down air and blow it into the building. The compressor and condenser are the “hot side” of the system and are typically located outside the building to keep the hot air away from the indoors side. The cooling coils are inside, usually combined with a furnace, and use the same blower fan and ductwork to distribute cool air throughout the building.

Traditional systems use electricity for everything—and they use a lot. Fortunately, improved engineering and technology has made an old idea new again…heat pumps.

There are two types of heat pumps—air source and ground source. Residential HVAC uses air source heat pumps almost exclusively since ground source heat pumps are expensive and better suited to larger industrial applications.

Air source heat pumps use a two-way circulation system to pass outside air through a unit that heats it in the winter and cools it in the summer.

In operation, it’s much like your kitchen refrigerator, exchanging hot air for cold. In appearance, it’s similar to a typical HVAC unit, but it uses considerably less energy to do its work. In fact, they are so efficient that they can be close to energy-neutral in operation.

For more information about how air source heat pumps work, see this video on the This Old House YouTube channel.

Repair or Replace?

Repairing refrigerated air components can easily run to $1000 or more. Total replacement will be considerably more. If it’s tied into your home’s heating system and the furnace is working fine, it may be more economical to repair or replace it. But that’s not the only consideration.

A heat pump saves a lot of energy costs in two ways. First, it’s an all-electric system so there’s no natural gas or other fossil fuel expense for heating. Second, by using the outside air as a supplemental energy source instead of relying totally on heating and cooling coils, overall electricity use is lowered dramatically compared to other systems.

With energy prices fluctuating wildly, a look at those costs is in order. But many studies have shown that even when there’s a difference in the cost per BTU of natural gas and electricity, the overall cost of operating a heat pump year-round is less than a traditional HVAC system.

Since heat pumps are eco-friendly, there are also incentives offered by government agencies and utilities, so be sure to check those out. You may decide it’s worth converting even if your furnace still has a few years left. And the lowered environmental footprint of heat pumps is there regardless.

Other Heat Pump Considerations

Purchase and installation costs are comparable to central air, but still represent a major investment. And just like any other appliance, heat pump quality and efficiency can vary. A few years ago, they got a bad rap, especially for heating in cold climates. But advances in technology have largely overcome those objections. A knowledgeable contractor can guide you to the unit that will work best for you.

Sometimes a ductless mini-split system (which uses the same energy-saving technology as a heat pump) can be more efficient and less expensive than a whole-house system, especially if sufficient ductwork isn’t present.

Be Safe. Use Licensed Contractors

Electrical work will be needed with any HVAC system you choose for your home or business. The unit(s) may need a dedicated 240-volt line as well as other wiring and connections, work that should only be done by a licensed electrical contractor. So don’t risk your comfort and safety by overlooking important electrical work to make your home improvements function at their best all year round.

Allstar Electrical Services has installed whole-home and mini-split heat pump systems in dozens of homes and businesses throughout Colorado’s Front Range. We deliver the expertise and quality results you expect and deserve for your projects, whatever your needs may be.

Just give us a call at (303) 399-7420 or visit our website. Then use our handy online forms to request a free estimate or set up an appointment. We’ve served the Front Range for over 20 years, are top-rated by the Better Business Bureau and are proud to be listed as a preferred contractor by Angi’s® Home Advisor.