Brief update on our HVAC woes

When we last saw our Dynamic Duo, Mr. Freeze had fiendishly aged and deteriorated the condenser fan for their upstairs HVAC. The Ipes were sweating it out upstairs, desperately researching options to fix the unit, replace one system for the cost of one Batmobile, or to replace the equipment for both zones (at the cost of two Batmobiles plus some new costumes.)

Would they find a solution before the Joker sweated the citizens of Gotham to the Oldies? Stay tuned!

We ended up having two companies come out to diagnose the issue over the past two weeks. Both companies determined the condenser fan for the upstairs system had died an ignominious death. Replacing it alone would be $800, and one tech also recommended replacing the starter unit for additional $200. Both firms recommended against repair, since both systems are 19 years old and way past their prime. That’s right – our two HVAC systems are original builder-grade from when the house was built. Most systems have an expected life span of about 15 years. While we would painfully pay for the $800- $1,000 break-fix repair, no guarantees that we wouldn’t need additional repairs. In fact, we could expect them.

Acknowledging that every HVAC company would prefer selling a $22,000 job versus a $1,000 job, I did my online research and speaking to friends. The online research confirmed that we were likely best to replace one or both systems if possible. In speaking to friends, the consensus was to replace both systems if possible. A number of our neighborhood friends had purchased homes all built around the same time, and their HVAC systems had all failed recently. Of course, many of them have single zones (one system for the entire house), while we have two zones.

As I’ve stated before, we’re in the house long-term, and we’re okay with home improvements that will benefit us for a long horizon. 18 or 19 year old systems past their prime are a veritable minefield, and neither of us wants to keep applying band-aids if we don’t have to. Finally, one of the companies was very willing to smooth out the financing process for us (always a plus) so that was a big help to have them work with us to find a solution.

So here’s what we’re getting done within the next few weeks:

  1. July 20th – Rip out old 2nd floor equipment and outside condenser, replace with new Trane XR17 3-ton two-stage condenser and a Trane XV80 variable-speed two-stage gas furnace. New systems have an up to 18 SEER rating, but improvement over the late 90’s equipment. We’re downsizing the 2nd floor furnace to 60,000 BTU unit, based on 2nd floor square footage and attic insulation. Interestingly enough, the old condenser was only 2.5 tons so we’re bumping that up to 3 tons.
  2. July 20th – Install a new attic fan to help cool down the attic, and keep the system from working too hard in the hot summer months.
  3. August 8th – Rip out old 1st floor / basement equipment and outside condenser, replace with new Trane XR17 3-ton two-stage condenser and a Trane XV80 two-stage variable-speed gas furnace. These also have an up to 18 SEER rating. The new furnace provides 100,000 BTUs, same as current.
  4. August 8th – Install three new vents in the basement so we can have hit or cold air as needed.
  5. August 8th – Move 1st floor thermostat to central location.

A keep element of the decision-making process was determining what kind of equipment we wanted. How efficient we wanted to be was based on how much we want to spend. After much research and discussion, we opted for variable fan speed blowers and two-stage AC condensers. Our current Honeywell Total Comfort thermostats support this, and our systems can run at lower speeds (with reduced energy usage) when possible.

Still, it’s a lot of money to spend at one time, but we’re also saving 10% by getting everything completed at one time. That’s hard to pass up. Tomorrow is the big day for phase one, and we can’t wait. It’s been so hot and humid in the house.

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