How to Select a New HVAC System: A Buying Guide

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated January 19, 2022
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If you’re tired of calling the technician to repair a problematic and outdated HVAC system, then it might be time to say farewell. Whether your current HVAC system is puttering its last cycles or you’re hoping to reduce HVAC energy costs, this guide will help you select the best new HVAC system for your home. 

Types of HVAC Systems

The most common HVAC system is a standard split system, consisting of an air conditioner and a furnace, but there are other options than your traditional system setup. 

Let’s take a look at the four common types of HVAC systems:

Split HVAC Systems

A split system uses two parts to heat and cool your house. The part that cools your home is an outdoor AC unit, usually installed on a small cement slab or other level foundation. The heater is usually installed indoors, either in a garage, basement, or crawlspace. 

Your air conditioner for this system uses refrigerant, evaporator coils, and air compressors to lower the air temp before sending it through your home’s ducts and vents to cool the house. Any hot air in your home is pulled out of the house using fans and then released outside. The heating unit in a standard split system is usually a gas furnace, though some homes use an oil furnace or heat pump split system. 

A few split system setup options include:

  • An AC unit and a furnace: Works in any climate, though some regions require higher efficiency ratings than others

  • A heat pump with an air handler: Ideal for warmer climates that seldom go below freezing

  • A heat pump with a furnace: Ideal for very cold climates

Since a split system can use a combination of AC units, heat pumps, furnaces, and more, it’s a versatile option for homeowners who already have a duct system installed and just want to make upgrades.

Ductless Split Systems

If your home doesn’t have a ducting, chances are you already have a ductless split system installed. These systems contain a series of individual units in each room, allowing you to have the most control over specific temperatures throughout the house. 

For every unit mounted on an interior wall, you’ll need to install a compressor on your home’s exterior. This makes installing a ductless split system easier than most, especially if you don’t want to spend time and money installing a complex duct system.

Packaged HVAC Systems

As the name suggests, a packaged HVAC system is an all-in-one unit containing both heating and cooling elements. These units are installed outside, usually on the roof or a foundation slab. You will use an indoor thermostat to change the temperature settings without having to go outside in chilly or rainy weather.

It’s worth noting, though, that packaged systems are less common in residential homes, have a shorter lifespan than split systems, and aren’t as customizable as other options.

Geothermal HVAC Systems

A geothermal HVAC system has high upfront costs that eventually even out due to how energy-efficient the system is. Geothermal units use a series of piping to transfer heat from the ground to your home when it’s cold. In some cases, geothermal units can even use small bodies of water, like a lake, to generate and release heat. When it’s hot outside, the system reverses the process, pulling heat out of your home and cooling it using a refrigerant. 

Geothermal systems require enough land for the installation, as the pipe network can take up a lot of space, depending on the type of heat pump you choose. Keep in mind, your yard will turn into an excavation site during the installation.

Choosing the Right HVAC System

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Before you invest in a new HVAC system, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with a few key aspects of the buying process. 

HVAC System Questions to Ask

Consider asking the following questions when selecting a new HVAC:

  1. What type of system do you want? There are many different types of HVAC systems. Each one has its pros and cons that could impact whether or not it’s right for you and your home.

  2. Where do you live? Your location determines the minimum SEER rating standards your new HVAC system will need. The north, south, and southwest all have slight differences in those standards, making it important that you know the minimum requirements for your area.

  3. What’s your budget? Some units cost twice as much as other units, so budget accordingly.

  4. How much electricity do you want to use? If you want a unit that only cools with electricity, a packaged or split air conditioner might be right for you. If you want a cooling system that also heats with electricity (good for seasonal transitions), then a packaged, split air-source, or geothermal heat pump may be right for you.

  5. What system do you already have? Choosing a split HVAC system will lengthen the installation process if you don't already have a duct system. Reconfiguring ductwork or choosing a system not designed for your home can be more hassle than it’s worth. 

  6. What other factors might affect the installation process? If you live on a small property, a geothermal system might be too large for your plot size. Consider all factors while planning your HVAC upgrade.

Since picking the right HVAC system for your hom is dependent on your region, landscaping, and personal preferences, speak with an HVAC installation professional near you to help you make the best choice. 

HVAC System Costs

Prices will vary depending on your home and your specific needs, but expect to spend anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 or an average of $7,000. This number will increase substantially if you go for a geothermal system or a ductless mini-split.

Here’s a breakdown of each type of HVAC system’s cost:

  • AC: $3,800–$7,500

  • Furnace: $2,600–$6,300

  • Heat Pump: $4,100–$7,200

  • Boiler: $3,500–$7,700

  • Ductwork: $500–$2,000

  • Ductless Mini-split: $2,000–$14,500

  • Geothermal system: $3,700–$17,000

HVAC Cost Factors

Since there are so many different combinations you can choose from for your HVAC installation, prices vary widely. Even so, major cost factors can help you estimate how much you might end up spending.

HVAC system factors to consider include:

Type of System

The system you choose varies by the thousands. For example, a geothermal heat pump will also require up-front drilling costs during installation. Again, discuss these price differentiations with your HVAC professional to help find the unit that best fits your budget and needs.

Size

Your contractor also determines the right HVAC size. A larger system is going to cost more than a smaller system. Unfortunately, this depends on the size of your home and is not something that you can choose. 

Your contractor should perform a Manual J method calculation to ensure proper sizing. The Manual J method is the most in-depth method used by certified professionals to calculate the most accurate HVAC system for a home.

Efficiency

This is a factor you can tailor to your needs. Ultra-high efficiency units will cost more upfront, but they also slash your monthly cooling costs that can make up for any higher initial costs. However, a budget-friendly unit will still be a significant upgrade from an old system. Choose the efficiency that is right for your budget.

Comfort Features

Additional features of a heating or cooling system (like multiple-speed operation or multiple-stage operation) can also affect the cost of the system. A variable-speed, two-stage unit will cost more than a fixed-speed, single-stage unit. Though the initial cost may be higher, efficiency and comfort will be enhanced.

Additional Work

Other components your system needs will also impact cost. If your ductwork is leaky or improperly installed currently, ductwork repair or replacement costs will be factored into your quote. Or, if you want to improve your indoor air quality, you may want to add indoor air quality products. Make sure you discuss these additional expenses with your contractor.

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