Will I regret replacing just my evaporator coils?
December 14, 2018 9:30 PM   Subscribe

We recently moved into a home in Texas with a 14 year old HVAC system that consists of two heat pumps and two air handlers. All or most of the refrigerant has leaked out of both systems. Will I regret replacing just the evaporator coils? Or regret, as the home warranty company suggests, replacing just the two air handlers?

The HVAC system was likely a top of the line Carrier model when it was installed. Are OEM parts still available? Even if they are, should I just assume this system is at its end of life and not bother trying to repair?

What I thought odd is that both systems stopped working within hours of each other. Seems too coincidental for both coils to leak out at the same time. And, no one has actually detected any leaks because there is so little refrigerant left they say it’s not possible. They are just assuming the leak is only in the evaporator coils.

Replacing just the air handlers with the Ameristar products the home warranty company is allowing doesn’t seem like a great idea either. We would still have to pay a large chunk out of pocket ($3600), which might be better spent on Carrier branded air handlers.

Is it ever a good idea to repair 14 year old HVAC systems? Is the fact that both units stopped working at the same time at all relevant to my decision?
posted by GliblyKronor to Home & Garden (2 answers total)
I do not believe in coincidences. I would find out why they both died at the same time. It may cost some money to do so, but it may save you money in the long run. Was there any other tradesperson working in the house that may have accidentally hit them, punctured a line, etc? I had a roofer innocently putting in new shingles with an air hammer and one of the tacks/nails punctured the copper line that ran through a very inaccessible part of my roof and crawl space. It took a while to diagnose the problem because it seemed so far fetched.

While I have repaired a 10 year old ac system and would consider doing so for a 14 year old, I would want to know about the rest of the parts on the two systems. Just as I would take a used car to a mechanic to check it out before I did a major job on it with a different mechanic, I would have an HVAC expert come in an evaluate both systems before I decided on the course of action.

Also, what will the Home Warranty cover if you do replace the coils only and then a year later the systems shut down? Will they cover replacement? Will you have to pay another $3600? How much is a new system? Would a newer system be more efficient and save on fuel bills? How long do you plan on staying in the house? What would it cost to charge one of the systems with coolant and then test for leaks?

I would also negotiate with the warranty company. Find out what they are paying for the air handlers and see if they will give you a credit for that amount towards entire new systems. I may (it will) increase your out of pocket, but it may make sense to spend twice as much to get two entire new systems. My gut says all new systems would cost a decent amount more, but they will bring you peace of mind you seem to be seeking in addition to efficient working systems.

Also, I would not repair one and replace the other. Either repair them both or replace both. It would suck to repair one and replace the other and then a year or two later have to replace the repaired one. It may also be difficult logistically to do one later on.

My point is that you are being asked to make a decision with a lot of incomplete information. Not sure your time frame (obviously, it is short if the systems are needed) is, but to the extent you can gather more information about options, costs, and warranty, I would.

I have no experience with Carrier versus Ameristar so I cannot comment on the difference, if any, in the quality of the two. I repaired the above mentioned 10 yo unit with generic non-oem parts and they worked fine for the 4.5 years I lived there before I moved.
posted by AugustWest at 11:00 PM on December 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Augustwest, for your help!

We ended up deciding to get one complete new HVAC system to replace the two old ones. The previous owners had gone a little overboard on the capacity, with two 3.5 ton units. The smaller bedrooms always had a bit of a wind tunnel effect going on. We figured we could go down to one HVAC system like others in our neighborhood with a similar floor plan.

The price for one new 5 ton Carrier base system (which is cross branded Bryant and Payne) ended up being about the same as what the warranty company would have wanted for two new 3.5 ton complete Ameristar systems. Except now, we’ll only have to maintain, and eventually replace, one system instead of two.

The company servicing our warranty, while very well rated on Angie’s List, was completely uninterested in discussing our options outside of warranty replacement of just the air handlers (or air handlers plus matching heat pumps out of pocket. ) We asked for a quote for upgrade, and applying any funds from our warranty to that, but it was silence on their end.

We never tracked down the cause of the leak. We did call a bunch of places, but everyone who came said it was the coils and to just get new systems. One guy was willing to entertain repairing just the coils, but he was busy with other jobs, and by the time he got back to us we had already figured that replacing two coils would be at least half the price of the one new system. And, with no guarantee that there weren’t other problems looming.

One thing that I nearly missed - the dimensions of the new system. We originally chose the model one level up from base, because the cost difference was negligible. However, the salesman mentioned a carpenter coming by after the install was done to put everything back, and that got me thinking.

It turns out the model we thought we wanted would have been too big to fit into our attic. Too big by less than an inch, but nevertheless too big. Luckily, the base model is the exact same dimensions as the older units already in attic. I shudder to think what kind of surgery would have been performed on our house had I not caught this. No thanks to the salesman!

We’re doing the install next week. Fingers crossed that they do a good job. Everything I’ve read says the installation matters more than the equipment. We picked a company that was well rated on Angie’s List, but even so it’s a matter of luck.
posted by GliblyKronor at 4:47 PM on December 21, 2018

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