People often ask us, should you replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time? Yet, they are surprised when we answer: “Not necessarily; it depends.” Replacing your furnace and air conditioner at the same time can have several advantages, but don’t buy into all that hype from your local HVAC salesman…it’s not always a good idea to replace both. Remember, their job is to sell you furnaces and air conditioners, not to set you up financially. Those of you who have read our articles, know that we are a small, U.S. Veteran-Owned heating and air conditioning company located in California, and have built our reputation on giving people honest, straight answers; this will be no different. In this article, we’ll address when to replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time, some disadvantages to doing so (i.e. wasted money), and when to do each.
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Replacing Your Furnace and Air Conditioner at the Same Time – The Myth
I’m not going to get on here and slam my fellow HVAC technicians for saying you need to replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time (no doubt a surprise, to some of our return readers). Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and one opinion differing from my own was nicely laid out in this article: “The Advantages of Replacing Your Furnace and AC at the Same Time.” It’s good for you – the consumer- to see both sides, but I, however, respectfully disagree.
It’ll suffice to say that you don’t necessarily have to replace them both at the same time, and in some situations, you shouldn’t; it’s just wasting money! Those of you who have read our articles before, know that my wife likes to read these over my shoulder and critique them (mainly me, which she is more than happy to do), particularly when I get on a rant about something. But, I’m not getting on anyone’s case today, partly because it is a lot of wasted energy…after all, if you believed the salesman’s line, then why would you be reading this article? But, to be fair, it’s also not entirely their fault either…let’s discuss.
Where the Furnace & Air Conditioner Replacement Myth Began
Look, there are definitely contractors out there who lack the ability to properly match a furnace and air conditioning system, but let’s, for a moment, forget these contractors, and assume that you are dealing with a reputable contractor that knows what he/she is doing. Ask yourself, “do you need to replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time?”
Well, this contractor knows – as you now do – that the average lifespan of an air conditioner is 10-15 years, while the average lifespan of a furnace is 20-30 years…twice as long. “But Tim, my contractor told me that if I replaced both at the same time, then with the money I saved, I’d end up paying for the furnace in the long run…” Again, stop, focus, and realize what you just said…you mean the guy that gets paid a commission on everything he sells told you to buy something extra that you don’t need? Get out of here…
However, to be fair – and to get off of my high-horse for a second – many HVAC technicians (and salesmen…ick) work under the false impression that if you don’t replace both the air conditioner and the furnace at the same time, then your new system will lose efficiency and fail prematurely. This, however, is false; it’s a blanket statement that is akin to saying, “cooking dinner will start a fire.” Although this might be true in some instances, it isn’t true in all instances, and there are a lot of variables to take into account before making such a general statement!
In The Beginning
This all began when the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) made a general press release to all HVAC contractors working the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, in which they recommended the replacement of both air conditioning components (condensing unit and evaporator coil) when installing new units on affected homes. However, their statement was referring to the matching replacement of the two air conditioning components in a split system (related article: Split Air Conditioner vs Packaged Air Conditioner), and NOT to replacing your furnace and air conditioner at the same time, which is only needed in some instances. If you’d like to read this statement, it is viewable here:
However, salesmen quickly jumped on this, and now many HVAC contractors (mistakenly) believe that you need to replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time to maintain efficiency. Those that actually know their trade, however, also know that there is a time that you should replace both the AC and the furnace, and a time that you shouldn’t…hire someone that knows the difference. Enough said.
If you’re looking for a reputable contractor in your area, here’s an article that might help:
When to Replace Your Furnace and Air Conditioner at the Same Time
Now that you’re an expert on why many contractors believe that you need to replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time, let’s discuss some instances in which it is a good idea to do just that. “But Tim, didn’t you just say that you didn’t have to replace both?” Yes, I did, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t instances in which you should. In fact, looking back at our installations over the last year, it turned out that about 65-70% of the time, it makes sense to replace both your furnace and AC at the same time. So, let’s take a look:
1. Replace Your Furnace and Air Conditioner at the Same Time if it is Over a Certain Age
Remember, the average life expectancy of your air conditioner, if properly maintained, is 10-15 years. For your furnace, it’s nearly double that, at 20-30 years (According to the National Association of Home Builders – “Life Expectancy of Home Components”).
So, if you do the math, it makes sense to consider replacing your furnace and your air conditioner at the same time only if your furnace is over 15-years-old. When you replace your furnace, you need to detach it from your evaporator coil and other internal components. The thing is, these components will already be detached if you are replacing your air conditioner to begin with, so it actually makes more financial sense, in this situation, to replace the furnace at the same time as the air conditioner.
Don’t Pay Too Much!
To replace just a furnace, you could be looking at $2,000 – $5,000, depending on the furnace chosen, as well as the difficulty of the replacement. However, to just add a furnace to the air conditioner replacement, you are typically looking at an extra $1,000 – $2,000, again depending on features and the difficulty of the job.
So, if your furnace is less than about 10-15-years-old, it will very likely last until the next time that the air conditioner needs to be replaced, so, in this instance, it makes more financial sense to keep it. However, if it is older, then you run the risk of it breaking down before you replace your air conditioner again, which can be costly.
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2. Replace Your Furnace and Air Conditioner at the Same Time if You Buy a High-Efficiency Air Conditioner (above 16 SEER)
This one’s a bit hard, because you can actually get an old furnace to work well in tandem with a new, mid-efficiency air conditioner. But you’ll need a very skilled technician who knows the systems inside and out to do so. You see, you definitely have to get matching air conditioner components (condensing unit and evaporator coil) to get the high-efficiency you’d like. But the furnace, although itself not important to AC efficiency, also contains the blower motor that runs your air conditioner. The blower motor (aka “the fan”) is what actually pushes air through the ductwork in your house. If the existing furnace is not rigged with a variable-speed motor, and you buy an air conditioner over 16 SEER, then you will sacrifice some of the efficiency in your new AC that you are over-paying for (heh-heh).
In other words, mixing and matching components is a varsity job, and although possible, only do this if you are installing a new 13, 14 or 16 SEER air conditioner. Of course, you could put a variable-speed blower motor into your old furnace…but, putting a variable-speed motor into an old furnace is kind of like dropping a Ferrari engine into a Chevy. Possible; yes. Should you do it; no. Plus, it gets cost-prohibitive. That’s just my recommendation. So, if you have your heart set on high-SEER equipment, then replace the furnace too.
Now, is it worth it to buy a high-SEER air conditioner…probably not. We don’t think that they return on their investment is as much as the salesmen would have you believe. But that’s another story, viewable here:
3. Replace the Air Conditioner and Furnace at the Same Time if Your Job is Difficult to Access
Do you live in the middle of nowhere? Or, is your furnace buried in a 2-foot crawl-space underneath your house, requiring the technician to crawl through 17-feet of spiders, mud and crud to access (which is always the case when our guys are on vacation, and Tim gets to fill in)? If so, then you might want to consider replacing your furnace and air conditioner at the same time.
One of the biggest factors that affects the price of your new furnace or air conditioner installation, is difficulty. Unfortunately, many contractors take advantage of this and prey on people, touting “this is an expensive job because it’s so difficult to blah, blah, blah.” Although this violates the code of ethics all contractors should have, that doesn’t mean that all contractors are like that. Difficulty truly is a huge job factor for us to consider when writing a contract, so if you live in the middle of nowhere, maybe you should have them replace the furnace and air conditioner at the same time. Remember, we are only talking $1,000 – $2,000 more here, but if they have to come out and do the furnace later on, or if it is in a hard to reach place, then you could be shooting yourself in the foot.
What is considered a difficult place to access? An attic or closet is not considered a difficult to reach spot. If your furnace is in a difficult to reach spot, like under a house in Manhattan Beach, then you will definitely know it. Enough said.
4. Consider Replacing Your Furnace and Air Conditioner at the Same Time if You Are Retiring Soon
We get a lot of calls from elderly people who are retiring, or have already retired (lucky) and want to get their houses in tip-top shape before living on a fixed income. In these circumstances, it is also worth considering replacing your furnace and air conditioner at the same time. That way, you have hit the reset button, and can live comfortably in your house without worrying about it for a while.
Don’t Overpay for Your New AC or Furnace; Watch This Short Video:
When Not to Replace Your Furnace and Air Conditioner at the Same Time
Look, you can probably infer from the topics above, when you should not replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time. However, just to beat a dead horse here, let’s discuss a couple of times that you should definitely keep and use your old furnace with a new air conditioner.
1. If Your Furnace is Less Than 10-Years-Old, Don’t Replace it at the Same Time as Your Air Conditioner
Furnaces are a lot simpler than air conditioners, and last forever (no, not literally). If your furnace is less than 10-years-old, I’d highly recommend keeping it – it just isn’t worth replacing your furnace and air conditioner at the same time. A furnace will last 20-30 years, so replace it the next time that your AC has to be replaced.
2. Don’t Replace Your Air Conditioner and Furnace at the Same Time Just Because the Salesman Told You To
This one sounds redundant, but remember that we write these to keep people from getting ripped off. Salesmen – unlike most of the technicians that actually install the equipment – are there to sell you HVAC equipment (which is why we don’t have salesmen at ASM). They will have all sorts of smooth lines, just like a car salesman. But what you have to realize, is that we have addressed the occasions in which you should replace both your furnace and air conditioner at the same time: when you are getting high-SEER equipment (which you shouldn’t), when your furnace is getting older than 10-15 years, if your job is difficult to access, or when you are getting ready to retire.
Simply put, you know when you have to replace them both at the same time, so don’t believe any of the excuses that they give you. Remember, it is their job to make money off of you. Have confidence, or better yet, hire a company that is honest, trustworthy, and has a good reputation (versus using the cheapest).
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Look, if you’re in the market for a new AC or furnace, you really should consider using the HVAC Design & Consultation Program. That’s what it was designed for…to help you, and to keep you from getting taken advantage of. Click below for more information:
Final Thoughts on When to Replace Your Furnace and Air Conditioner at the Same Time
Replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time if any one of the above requirements is met, which is about 70% of the time. However, realize that this also means that 30% of the time, it isn’t worth it to replace your furnace with your AC. Take your time, do your research, and find an honest contractor in your area. After that, everything else will fall into place. We hope this article on when to replace your furnace and air conditioner at the same time has helped un-blur the lines a bit, and wish you the very best of luck on your upcoming HVAC project! For more articles like this one, try our Air Conditioning Blog, and if you are in Southern California, then you might be in our service area! Click below for more information.