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Buying a new HVAC system? Here’s what you need to think about first.

A new air conditioner or furnace is a major investment. As with all big purchases, you’re going to need to do some homework before you buy and make some key decisions. It doesn’t just come down to the make and model. Even if you narrow things down and look at new systems from just one manufacturer, you’ll find there are major differences between their furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, and more.

In this article, we’ll review some of the factors you need to consider prior to making your purchase, and why it makes the most sense to start by talking to an HVAC professional.


Let’s say you live in the Northeast, and you’re weighing your options for heating and cooling in Buffalo, New York—a city known for its frigid winter weather. To keep your home warm enough throughout the long winter ahead, you’re probably going to want either a gas furnace or, if your home has radiators, a boiler. A heat pump—a two-in-one cooling and heating system—is probably not robust enough to heat your home efficiently and effectively in these freezing conditions. But, a heat pump is perfect for a home in Georgia, where winter temperatures aren’t so extreme, but homes still need heat.


Air conditioners (SEER) and heaters (AFUE) have uniform efficiency benchmarks designed to help consumers compare systems. The higher the SEER or AFUE percentage, the more efficient the system is. As you’ll no doubt notice, higher energy-efficiency is typically associated with a higher price tag.

That higher price is often worth it. Remember, this system is going to be cooling or heating your home for the next 15-20 years. Even seemingly small differences in energy-efficiency between two systems can, long-term, end up representing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If you’re able, go with the most efficient system out there. You’ll likely pay more for it now, but make it up in energy savings over the coming years.

One more note: when comparing heating systems, you have to also factor in the fuel type. On paper, electric furnaces are more efficient than natural gas models, and have a higher AFUE. However, since electricity is more expensive than natural gas, you’ll often end up paying more to run an electric model. Always check your local utility rates before making a final decision.


Contrary to popular belief, air conditioners and furnaces are not one-size-fits-all. HVAC systems actually come in a variety of sizes, each designed for homes with different cooling and heating needs. After all, a two-story, 3,500-square-foot home is going to need more cooling output than a 800-square-foot studio condo.

How do you find the right-sized system for your home? A good first step is talking to a licensed HVAC contractor in your area. Most HVAC companies offer free in-home (or virtual) estimates on new systems. They’ll send an installation expert out to your home to take measurements, weigh the variables, and determine what BTU (the standard measurement for heating and cooling output) your home needs. This is called a “Manual J calculation,” and these companies are good at it.

Always take your local climate into consideration when weighing different HVAC systems. Again, this is where an experienced expert can be helpful. They’ll be able to tell you which types of systems will work best for your specific home. For instance, if you live in an historic home that doesn’t currently have air ducts, a ductless system may make the most sense.

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