Cleveland HVAC Blog

Limitations when Replacing your Existing HVAC System

Posted by Paul Wadsworth on Fri, Jul 09, 2010 @ 10:18 AM

Last time, we talked about some of the factors involved in replacing your old heating and cooling system.  Let’s go over the first one– limitations imposed by your existing system.  Of course, the solution that is easiest and cheapest (at least initially) is to simply replace your old boiler or furnace with a new model of the same type.  A possible problem with this is that your current system may not be operating efficiently, and may not be the best solution for you.  It may be sized improperly (at least half of all systems are- many times we find that homeowners have done something to improve the integrity of their home- like insulation or new windows and that can dramatically affect the size and design of the HVAC system), or it may have other issues such as the inability to evenly heat and cool your home.

So, if your system is over 10 years old, and you suspect that it’s time for a change, that’s a good time to call in a qualified HVAC contractor.  We do a lot of system evaluations for our customers, and sometimes, we end up recommending a switch to a more energy-efficient system.  Here are some possible scenarios:

1. Electric or steam to hot water baseboard- Assuming you don’t want to incur the expense of adding ductwork to your home, transitioning from electric to hot water baseboard may be a good option.  You are limited by the fact that you need to add plumbing, but hot water baseboards can  replace electric baseboards in the same locations in your home.  And, since electric baseboard is the most expensive and least efficient form of heat, you should realize savings in operating costs.

We see a lot of older homes here in the Cleveland area that have steam heat.  These systems can be converted to more efficient hot water baseboard as well.  The cost varies depending on the type of steam system you have, but a two-pipe system (with two pipes that go to each radiator– one for the steam and one for the condensate return) can more easily be converted.  Of course, the age and condition of the piping can have a large impact on the viability of this type of project.

2. Heat pump to furnace and vice versa- If you currently have a ducted system, you can add A/C or switch to another type of ducted system.  If you have a furnace, for example, you can switch to a heat pump.  One important consideration is the size of your ductwork.  We find that return ducts are undersized about 50% of the time.  So, your new system must be matched to your existing ducts, or your ducts need to be replaced or augmented without a system appropriate to the new system.  Airflow problems can result in uneven heating and cooling, and can reduce your system’s efficiency by about 15%, so sizing your ducts is critical whether or not you upgrade to a heat pump system.

3. Adding ducts-You might have a few good reasons for wanting to add ductwork to your home.  However, if you’re only looking to add air conditioning, we recommend that you consider another option called a ductless mini-split system (a future blog topic!)  But, if you want to switch to a ducted system to get higher efficiency, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends that all ducts be located within your home’s conditioned space.  Mini ducts, which are plastic tubes about 2 inches in diameter, are a good solution for many non-ducted homes.

If you’re adding ductwork, we can help you determine if your entire system needs replaced, if the cost of adding air conditioning will be prohibitive and other pertinent questions.  Replacing your current system is an expense that needs to be outweighed by efficiency, safety and comfort considerations, so get expert help when tackling this issue.

Topics: existing system, system evaluations, current system

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