Replacement cost for central A/C

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Hey everyone,

I know there are a billion factors that go into a project like replacing an existing A/C but I'm just trying to ball park it here. I replaced an A/C in my previous house and the quotes ranged from $3500 to not kidding $20,000. This process is worse than buying vehicles because there are so many costs I don't have access to easily.

House is a colonial built in 1987 in central MA. Fairly large SW facing expsure with skylights. Current unit is a 4-ton Rheem installed in 1994. Works well but getting up there in age. At 85F it will cool to 70F but it runs 19-20 hours out of the day. Once you go above 85F outside the inside temp starts creeping up. On a few 95F days it mainained 72-74F. No hot or cold spots and the ducting seems well done and does not need any changes. A/C is in the attic, it's a huge open space that's well lit and easy to work in and it's accessible with folding stairs in the hall. Today the temp was about 65F up there.

First quote is simply to replace air handler, replace unit outside A/C, run a new line set, and dispose of current equipment. No other changes needed. Proposed equiment is:

126B - Bryant® Preferred™ - 4 Ton 16 SEER Residential Air Conditioner Condensing Unit Model # 126BNA048000
FX4D - Bryant® 4 Ton Residential Fan Coil High Efficiency Multipoise Air Handler Model # FX4DNF049L00

Equipment + installation $11,456.00. I think there's a $300 federal tax credit available.

Seems very high considering I think this is low to maybe mid-tier equipment - A/C is only single stage and air handler is not variable. Any help interpretting and/or working my way through this is much appreciated.

Provided your old unit is properly charged, the fins are clean both on the evaporator as well as the condenser side, I'm not sure replacing it with a high efficiency, but still a 4 ton unit will make any noticeable difference.
You have to understand that these high efficiency units get their efficiency ratings by running at a much lower speeds. So instead of cycling On and Off, they run for long periods of time but at a reduced capacity. As an example a 4 ton unit would run as a 1.5-3 ton unit.

However, if your current 4 ton unit has trouble keeping up with the existing heat load, and I presume it has been checked and works as it should, the new, high efficiency unit will also have to run at full 4 ton capacity in order to maintain the temperature and therefore will consume roughly the same amount of energy.

I believe you have an insulation and air intrusion problem that has to be addressed first.
 
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PWMDMD

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First, whatever brand you buy, pay the extra money for a variable speed air handler, which is critical for making sure the unit dehumidifies properly before the cooling cycle is done. Cold and clammy is no good. It's apples and oranges, NC vs. MA and heat pump vs. straight AC, but two years ago I had a 4.5 ton Trane heat pump and variable speed air handler (rated 16.5 seer) installed using an existing Honeywell zone controller for $7,000. No additional ductwork or copper line set was needed. Even if MA prices are wicked high, your first contractor is pimping you. Try to get recommendations from local friends.
The second quote was from a company that I was referred to by a very good friend who is head of maintenance for large company that manages the properties of group homes in the state and who in total takes care of 150 buildings. The group home management company does multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars of business with this HVAC company and they work together with my friend on these projects together a lot. He said they're honest and their work is good. He also said he thought the quote was right around what he thought it would be for our area and so I'm satisfied there. I will get a few more quotes just to do my due diligence. Still waiting on the Bosch quote.
 

PWMDMD

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Provided your old unit is properly charged, the fins are clean both on the evaporator as well as the condenser side, I'm not sure replacing it with a high efficiency, but still a 4 ton unit will make any noticeable difference.
You have to understand that these high efficiency units get their efficiency ratings by running at a much lower speeds. So instead of cycling On and Off, they run for long periods of time but at a reduced capacity. As an example a 4 ton unit would run as a 1.5-3 ton unit.

However, if your current 4 ton unit has trouble keeping up with the existing heat load, and I presume it has been checked and works as it should, the new, high efficiency unit will also have to run at full 4 ton capacity in order to maintain the temperature and therefore will consume roughly the same amount of energy.

I believe you have an insulation and air intrusion problem that has to be addressed first.
I finally had a chance to talk to the guy about the "unique" aspects of my home. It was built in 1987 and the A/C was retrofitted in 1994. The house is 3006sqft NOT including an additional 1000sqft of finished basement. The house also has a large section with cathedral ceilings and three very large skylights with a SW facing which represents a large volume not obvious in the sqft. The windows and doors are relatively new.

The air handler was placed in the attic because it was easy to access the upstairs bedrooms where all four bedrooms, the two bathrooms, and a large finished room over the garage all have supply ducts but there are only three supply ducts to the first floor. Believe it or not even on hot days there is only a 2-3F difference between upstairs and downstairs. To make up for the lack of supply ducts to the first floor there is a large 25,000BTU through the wall A/C (very large window A/C style) that we only need when it's +95F and only in the late afternoon. With the 25,000BTU A/C on the first floor within 30 mins we can get the 1st floor colder than the second floor but since it has a thermostat we just set it and it automatically comes on/off. The net result is first and second floors are easy to balance.

He thought part of the reason the 4-ton worked was because it's drawing air from the additional 1000sqft basement (door is usually open) as well as the very large volume of air on the first floor. Most of the time the 25,000BTU A/C on the first floor is NOT on. Obviously, ideally, a second unit for the first floor with more ducts and a smaller unit for the second floor would be ideal BUT this is not my dream home - I just want to be reasonably comfortable when it's hot and I have no desire to correct all the wrongs of this house.

Thanks for everyone's input so far!
 
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Ive installed one, they use the same inverter technology as ductless units (mini splits). Haven't heard much about them besides that, the unit i put in worked fine, the quality of the air handler cabinet and condenser cage and panels looked basic, i was expecting better quality for it being 20 seer i guess. Unfortunately I don't have any input as far as durability and performance yet, maybe someone else here does.
Still too new to say on durability but we have a few installed going on 3 years now without issue. Customers love them. Had one lady who keeps her house set at 75 in the winter tell us the Bosch cut her electric bill in half.
 
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Just paid $3,100.00 (today) for a 2.0 ton, 14 SEER Lennox. "A" coil and Condenser, installed. They re-used the old (R22) lines. I don't think new lines are that important. I have had serveral systems installed (in apartments) with old lines and they are still working fine after 6 years.
 
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My small home is 13,500 and was built in 1986.It had a 2 ton Heil heat pump and with just having it checked for gas it lasted till 1999.So when it needed replacement I went with Heil again and it had the scroll compresser.The guy was an independant dealer and he let me have for it for $3400.It lasted till 2017.Did have the blower replaced and charged a few times.In 2017 I went with a two ton Trane heat pump and been satisfied.It only set me back $3800.I can get away with a heat pump here in South Carolina.
 
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I finally had a chance to talk to the guy about the "unique" aspects of my home. It was built in 1987 and the A/C was retrofitted in 1994. The house is 3006sqft NOT including an additional 1000sqft of finished basement. The house also has a large section with cathedral ceilings and three very large skylights with a SW facing which represents a large volume not obvious in the sqft. The windows and doors are relatively new.

The air handler was placed in the attic because it was easy to access the upstairs bedrooms where all four bedrooms, the two bathrooms, and a large finished room over the garage all have supply ducts but there are only three supply ducts to the first floor. Believe it or not even on hot days there is only a 2-3F difference between upstairs and downstairs. To make up for the lack of supply ducts to the first floor there is a large 25,000BTU through the wall A/C (very large window A/C style) that we only need when it's +95F and only in the late afternoon. With the 25,000BTU A/C on the first floor within 30 mins we can get the 1st floor colder than the second floor but since it has a thermostat we just set it and it automatically comes on/off. The net result is first and second floors are easy to balance.

He thought part of the reason the 4-ton worked was because it's drawing air from the additional 1000sqft basement (door is usually open) as well as the very large volume of air on the first floor. Most of the time the 25,000BTU A/C on the first floor is NOT on. Obviously, ideally, a second unit for the first floor with more ducts and a smaller unit for the second floor would be ideal BUT this is not my dream home - I just want to be reasonably comfortable when it's hot and I have no desire to correct all the wrongs of this house.

Thanks for everyone's input so far!
From my understanding the volume to be cooled with "cathedral ceiling" likely needs to be calculated as double instead of single floor. Treat it like a 2/F area and double that space.

Having air handler in attic likely cost more in installation than in 1/F garage too.
 

PWMDMD

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From my understanding the volume to be cooled with "cathedral ceiling" likely needs to be calculated as double instead of single floor. Treat it like a 2/F area and double that space.
Roughly, based on the cathedral ceiling area and the basement I need enough cooling to cool ~4700sqft.
 

PWMDMD

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Holy crap...I thought BITOG was tough! I just posted some questions over in hvac-talk.com and apparently since I have one quote for $8K and one for $12K, for very similar equipment and for at least superficially the same job (just changing out the AH, condenser and line set), I'm a cheap bastard, I should look on Craig's List and at least 2 contractors would've walked out on me and refused to do the job because I asked for mid-tier SEER-16 equipment and I stated this is not my dream house and I just want the equipment changed out and I don't want to put in two systems (one on the first floor and one on the second floor) and all new ductwork on the first floor.

Tough crowd...
 
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Seems like no one does a manual J as standard procedure unfortunately. I'm just thinking as well that the new equipment will be more efficient and likely run less.
Sometimes they do...and still screw up. My friend does HVAC, he got a call for a brand new duplex during a heat wave, the A/C had been running 3 days without cycling off and it was still almost 80 degrees inside. He checked the unit, everything working perfectly. Then he go the specs...and something did not look right.

Someone had carefully figured out how much cooling (and heat) each unit needed...and installed, precisely, half that much into each unit. 😲 Oops.
 
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I don't work on residential and or newer equipment much anymore.
Take care of a couple newer Lieberts...(2016) the rest are mid 80's.
Have a ton of late 80's Trane and Carrier equipment.
I know micro channel condenser's are popular.
Didn't realize they went to aluminum evaporators.

Hopefully they learned from past mistakes.
At least the pressures are lower there.
How much would you trust an older (late 80's) Carrier 3-ton? It's been serviced and cared for quite well.
 
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That price here in eastern NC is what it would have cost us to replace our outside gas pack, basically heat and A/C in one and all the duct work under the house. We were looking at upgrading but decided not to since we would not recover that cost for a long time.
 
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I finally had a chance to talk to the guy about the "unique" aspects of my home. It was built in 1987 and the A/C was retrofitted in 1994. The house is 3006sqft NOT including an additional 1000sqft of finished basement. The house also has a large section with cathedral ceilings and three very large skylights with a SW facing which represents a large volume not obvious in the sqft. The windows and doors are relatively new.

The air handler was placed in the attic because it was easy to access the upstairs bedrooms where all four bedrooms, the two bathrooms, and a large finished room over the garage all have supply ducts but there are only three supply ducts to the first floor. Believe it or not even on hot days there is only a 2-3F difference between upstairs and downstairs. To make up for the lack of supply ducts to the first floor there is a large 25,000BTU through the wall A/C (very large window A/C style) that we only need when it's +95F and only in the late afternoon. With the 25,000BTU A/C on the first floor within 30 mins we can get the 1st floor colder than the second floor but since it has a thermostat we just set it and it automatically comes on/off. The net result is first and second floors are easy to balance.

He thought part of the reason the 4-ton worked was because it's drawing air from the additional 1000sqft basement (door is usually open) as well as the very large volume of air on the first floor. Most of the time the 25,000BTU A/C on the first floor is NOT on. Obviously, ideally, a second unit for the first floor with more ducts and a smaller unit for the second floor would be ideal BUT this is not my dream home - I just want to be reasonably comfortable when it's hot and I have no desire to correct all the wrongs of this house.

Thanks for everyone's input so far!
Serious question: you selling soon? If so, and the existing system seems to be able to keep things comfortable...do you REALLY need to drop a pile of money to replace it?
 

PWMDMD

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Serious question: you selling soon? If so, and the existing system seems to be able to keep things comfortable...do you REALLY need to drop a pile of money to replace it?
I’ll be here 10 to 15 more years. I can’t imagine a 37-42 year old A/C still functioning. There are no parts available either. So one breakdown in the summer and we’re doing an emergency change out. I’m not fun when I’m hot either!
 

PWMDMD

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HVAC talk, while a good resource, protects the installers, so they will not negatively comment about others work or quotes. And good luck if you want to DIY and post there.
Yeah, I just mentioned I had two quotes for the same equipment and one was ⅓ more and it immediately went to, “Oh boy...here we go...you get what you pay for...”.

My point was how do I know I get what I pay for and their answer was ask the contractor. He quoted me the price...of course he’s going to say it’s worth it. Then they said well does he follow “best practices?” How the hell do I know that?! If I asked and he said yes then I’d have to take his word for it because I don’t do it for a living. It was a ridiculous response by some of the pros who apparently just want to write the check no questions asked.
 
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