HVAC repair or replace?

27 Replies

I'm trying to decide within the next day or so if I should repair or replace the hvac in my rental. Here's all the details...

-Townhome, 2 bed 2.5 bath 1600 sq ft. There are 2 HVAC units, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. The upstairs unit has stopped working.

-I've only owned the place for a month so I don't know HVAC history...intake filters were pathetically dirty

-The place is currently occupied by tenants, their 13 year old son occupies the bedroom upstairs

-it's April in north Alabama, not terribly hot but it is upstairs and temperatures are beginning to rise.

-Both hvac units are 12-13 years old, 1.5 ton Bryant original units that came with the home.

-Condenser fan motor is gone, $150 I can replace myself BUT I'm also low on freon, estimate about 4 pounds of R22. I've been told that the evaporator coil is usually the culprit for freon leaks about 85% of the time, that's a $600-$900 repair plus about $200 in freon. All in all I'm looking at a $950-$1250 repair in a 13 year old unit. One of the hvac guys also mentioned that compressor may fail soon as well because it's not holding pressure quite like it should. 

-I've been quoted $3900 for an Airtemp 1.5 ton system and $4500 for a Rheem 2 ton system. Hvac guy mentioned he thought the airtemp was a solid unit, didn't breakdown any more than other brands. I'm gonna get 2 more quotes today. 

-I don't pay utilities

-Prices on new hvac will likely go up next month, its the off season still

What would you do? Repair or replace? If replace, then replace with cheaper unit? I don't pay utilities in this thing and I'd like to keep costs low, especially since the currently working unit is the same age. 

Replace and have peace of mind for the next decade. 

Bite the bullet and do it now . You will spend the money on a repair , and 3 months down the road it will quit again . Then you will be waiting to get a new one installed . 

Your quotes sound high. Get at lease 2 more. The bigger HVAC co. will be higher. I like to check the smaller independent guys. They are a lot less expensive. A couple years ago I replaced a furnace and ADDED AC for $5000. The bigger co. wanted $7500.

Also ask for opinions of the other companies about if it needs to be replaced or not when you seek out the additional quotes.

You’d be surprised how often used (2-4 years old) units come up in online classifieds from a reputable supplier.

replacement prices seem very high...I can get a new, 2 ton system installed for 2200...

My question is, why do you have two systems for a 1,600 sf house? Have you looked into adding a zone damper system so two thermostats can control one hvac system? That is much more cost effective and efficient than having two systems.

Originally posted by @Shaun C. :

My question is, why do you have two systems for a 1,600 sf house? Have you looked into adding a zone damper system so two thermostats can control one hvac system? That is much more cost effective and efficient than having two systems.

Yeah I thought about it when I first bought the place, but I wasn't expecting to have to change it out so soon. Now that I have tenants in there I don't really have time to experiment what I really know nothing about. Also, it is very very tall, 20+ feet ceilings, so it has volume of a full sized 2000+ sq ft home. 

Originally posted by @Casey Culver :
Originally posted by @Shaun C.:

My question is, why do you have two systems for a 1,600 sf house? Have you looked into adding a zone damper system so two thermostats can control one hvac system? That is much more cost effective and efficient than having two systems.

Yeah I thought about it when I first bought the place, but I wasn't expecting to have to change it out so soon. Now that I have tenants in there I don't really have time to experiment what I really know nothing about. Also, it is very very tall, 20+ feet ceilings, so it has volume of a full sized 2000+ sq ft home. 

2000 sf is nothing for a properly sized system. We just upgraded a home two a two zone system and it's crazy comfortable now. Spend the money now for the extra zoning damper system and ducting needed for it to work, or continue to replace 2 separate systems every 15 years...Which would you pick?

Replace it. I repaired an 8 year old system in Florida for $750 and the next year ended up having to replace the whole thing. In my other house, the thing only lasted 10.5 years (10 year warranty....).

@Casey Culver , did your purchase come with any kind of home warranty?  I would check with that first, if it did.

The Freon is the old R22 which is being phased out rather soon.  Maybe within 2 years I thought I heard.  I would look at heat pumps since you are in the south.  I would bet you have the builder basic model and they don't last as long.  I would look at moving up in series to get a better product.

Its a no brainer replace. Then buy a case of air filters for tenant at no charge and take to property. Then if you want to go by once every 4-6 weeks or have the tenant change filter out reminding them via text. I was told by my ac guy to buy the least expensive filter because it has less drag on the ac unit. Good luck JP

Originally posted by @Mark Fries :
replacement prices seem very high...I can get a new, 2 ton system installed for 2200...

 Right now I have 2 quotes, one for $3900 and one for $4500 from 2 different guys, each local and reputable. How are you arranging this for $2200? Are you buying used unit? Are you buying the unit and then having someone else install? Or do you just have an awesome hvac guy?

Originally posted by @John Patton :

Its a no brainer replace. Then buy a case of air filters for tenant at no charge and take to property. Then if you want to go by once every 4-6 weeks or have the tenant change filter out reminding them via text. I was told by my ac guy to buy the least expensive filter because it has less drag on the ac unit. Good luck JP

 I love the taking case of air filters to the property idea. 

Originally posted by @Andy Bondhus :

@Casey Culver, did your purchase come with any kind of home warranty?  I would check with that first, if it did.

 Auction home on steps of the courthouse, came fresh with all the issues, and even included the previous owner still living there for a bonus LOL

Originally posted by @Casey Culver :
Originally posted by @Mark Fries:
replacement prices seem very high...I can get a new, 2 ton system installed for 2200...

 Right now I have 2 quotes, one for $3900 and one for $4500 from 2 different guys, each local and reputable. How are you arranging this for $2200? Are you buying used unit? Are you buying the unit and then having someone else install? Or do you just have an awesome hvac guy?

By installing the junkiest system he can put in. In Michigan my costs are higher, where we use AC 1/3 as much as Florida. You should be looking at least putting in a 16/18 SEER unit or a heat pump model in Alabama.

I have the big 4" thick filters that are good for 6 months. I change them which allows me into the unit to see the place.  I also have the system cleaned twice a year under a service contract which will prolong the life of the unit. Tenants wont change the filters.

I work in HVAC and one thing I think you should consider is the high cost of low price. Sure you can probably find some hack to do a system for the 2-3 thousand dollar range, and you will have problems with it and most likely be replacing parts/system shortly.   

Regarding your current unit- things to consider R-22 production will be scaled down until in 2020 when it will no longer be produced and all that will be available will be what is reclaimed and re-purified. Meaning essentially that the cost of R-22 has skyrocketed in the last few years and will continue to do so. 

I think replacement would be the best bet for peace of mind, updating to R4-10A refrigerant will certainly be beneficial. However I would stay away from the Rheem line, rheem underperforms according to consumer reports. I installed a Tempstar, (Same company owns tempstar, bryant, carrier) in my rental and its been reliable.    

In addition to the case of filters, write the month on each when you drop off. I tell tenants I’ll supply as many filters as they want to change. Every 3 weeks in winter if they have pets works fine for me. $3/ pleated filter is dirt cheap insurance.

I can get a brand new 2 ton heat pump system completely installed labor and material for $2200 all day long from multiple different contractors in Jacksonville. And to tell you the truth pretty much all manufacturers offer the same warranty the same components the same stuff... 90% of all air conditioners are manufactured by two larger companies anyway.
I would never install a high SEER, expensive system in a rental... That makes absolutely zero sense.
Originally posted by @Mark Fries :
I would never install a high SEER, expensive system in a rental... That makes absolutely zero sense.

 I'm either not looking for the right people or I need to move to Florida :)

I agree, I'm definitely looking for lower end, cheapest brand I can get in fact as long as it doesn't break down noticeably more. I don't care about efficiency because I'm not paying utilities. That being said, I'm having a hard time getting below $3900 for anything...sheesh. I'll have 2 more quotes by tomorrow.  

Originally posted by @Shaun C. :

My question is, why do you have two systems for a 1,600 sf house? Have you looked into adding a zone damper system so two thermostats can control one hvac system? That is much more cost effective and efficient than having two systems.

I have one system that is gated and the reason you have 2 is the return air isn't gated, so you are returning from the place that doesn't need the air changed.  Agreed gated is cheaper up front.

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