|Old thermostat? Bye-bye.|
Sigh... since I'm going through this mini-crisis in homeowner land, I wanted to share my tips with you, in case you ever have this happen!
BEFORE IT NEEDS REPLACING...
1) Maintain your homeowner's insurance for repairs on the house. It's a monthly fee, and don't let it lapse! It really can be worth it. Buy it at the same time you buy your house. It could pay for itself in one incident... such as replacing your HVAC unit! I wish I had done this.
2) Perform maintenance on your AC! If you're new to the house, go ahead and pay to have it cleaned and service. You never know what the previous owner has been doing for maintenance, if anything. Ask the HVAC serviceman what you need to do to maintain your AC. Whether that means dusting out the outside unit, changing/washing the filter inside monthly (remember my last AC catastrophe?), keeping the tubes from clogging using bleach/water, etc., a good HVAC serviceman will show you what you need to do. Then, DO IT! Set a monthly alarm on your phone or choose an easy-to-remember date for your filter cleaning, like the 1st of the month.
3) Use, don't abuse, your system. Don't start using the AC until you need to, and don't keep your temperatures so high or low indoors that your unit is working overtime. It could make your system last fewer years than it should.
IF YOUR UNIT NEEDS TO BE REPLACED...
1) Get multiple estimates. Shop around! Even if you are dedicated to the HVAC service you use, when it comes to replacing the system, get multiple estimates. Ask your local friends who they recommend, if they've had good experiences with a specific company. That's just the smart thing to do. You could use one company to install the unit, then ask your regular HVAC folks to perform maintenance. So get multiple opinions.
2) Research the brands. Google it! I found that one company was quoting me WAY high on a brand that wasn't better than some of the lower quotes were offering. Also, you will find that some well-known brands like Carrier have other brands that fall under them, like Bryant. Not being an HVAC person, I kind of compare it to Lexus and Toyota. Both brands have similarities, because they fall under the same parent company. So hit the message boards and get to know the systems! Of the four quotes I received, each one was for a different brand; it all depends on the contracts the companies have.
3) Know the current technology. Some folks are trying to empty out their stock of less up-to-date models. A family friend who works in HVAC told me that I want a system with a SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) rating of 13 or higher, that uses the new R410A freon, with a scroll (not reciprocated!) compressor. Armed with this information, I knew exactly what to ask the folks giving me estimates, to ensure I was getting a good product for my money.
In the end, I received quotes ranging anywhere from $3200-$6000! Just think, if I'd gone with a single quote of $6000, I might have overpaid significantly for a replacement. Fortunately, I had the guidance of that family friend to tell me what a fair price would be. He also recommended that if I got a good quote from the company that has been helping me out through the years, he does feel it would be fair to continue to be loyal to them.
Anyways, these are the lessons I have learned throughout this debacle. And while it does sting a bit to have to replace the system, it's just another part of being a homeowner.