Keeping My Cool…

From the ‘crap that costs me money’ department…

The day that I’d been dreading for the past year and a half finally came about two weeks ago.  The ancient (23 year old) air conditioner that came with the house finally went Tango Uniform.  I’d been kind of expecting it, because when units get that old the compressors start to wear out, generally due to insulation breakdown in the windings.  In this case, one of the terminals on the compressor had completely burned off (I didn’t ask whether it was the start or run terminal, although it really doesn’t matter at this point).

I was preparing for a battle with the home warranty company, but they didn’t put up a fight about authorizing a new 13-SEER condenser unit (the outside part for those of you not up with central air lingo).  I contemplated this for a bit, and then asked the A/C contractor for a quote on a new system (applying the money the home warranty was offering to replace the condenser to the new system) because connecting a 13-SEER condenser to the existing inside air handler/furnace unit would de-rate it and reduce its efficiency.  And given our usual Texas summers and my past electricity bills I decided it was worth it to investigate a more efficient system.

They gave me two quotes, one for a full 14-SEER system and another for a 16-SEER system (16 is now required to get the energy tax credit).  Both quotes were eye-popping, with the 16-SEER coming in at just under $8K.  But once I picked myself up off the floor, and after checking their finance offer, I decided on the 16-SEER system.  With the amount paid by the home warranty, my cost on the 16-SEER was $7170, and I would get $1500 back next year through a tax rebate, which puts my actual cost (eventually) at $5670, which wasn’t much more than the 14-SEER.  Further, they had a 12-month “same as cash” offer, which would put my payments at just a hair under $600 (for the whole amount of $7170; the $1500 doesn’t get back to me until I file taxes next year).

I’m hoping to recoup some of that during the summers. It’s hard to calculate the exact energy savings in advance, because the old unit did not have a SEER rating, but given its age, it could not have been more than an 8 or 9.  And going from an 8 to an 16 would have the potential to save up to 50% on energy costs.  Last summer I had electricity bills ranging from $400 to $600 during the worst of the summer months.  At 50% savings, and factoring in just the worst three months ($1500 combined), the system will pay for itself in 7.5 years.  At 30% savings it will take 12 years.  And that’s not taking into account future increases in electricity.  If some in the current administration, Congress, and/or the EPA get their way, we could be looking at significant energy cost increases as they implement an ill-advised cap-and-trade carbon emissions plan.

I may also get a little back on the gas bill in the winters, too, because this is a full system replacement that includes a new 95% efficiency furnace.  Although I’m not expecting a lot, since I don’t generally use the heat much.  I like the house to be fairly cool and my dogs love it cold, so I don’t use the furnace much (my worst gas bill in the winter so far has been about $80). 

Anyhow, it’s funny (in an ironic, rather than comic, way) because I just paid off the Avalanche in February, which freed up a little over $600 in my monthly budget.  Is there some kind of conservation of outlay rule (kind like conservation of energy) about monthly cash flow?  Or is the universe just being perverse, as usual?  Sometimes the timing of these things just seems way too coordinated to be coincidence. 

Oh well… here’s to a cool, and (hopefully) comfortable summer.


  1. Mark says:

    We had twin air conditioners – each handling their own floor in our house.  The compressors are outside (of course) and the air handlers and furnace units in the attic.  When they started to have problems we patched them until 2007, when the electric bill went north of $500 in the summer. One more failure and they were out.  We were offered two Lennox 16 seer (XC 16) and we decided to do that, then they offered an XC 21 that had been used as a promotion for almost half off.  So we have an XC 16 and the XC 21 side by side, new air handlers and furnances.  The electric bill dropped by $200 a month.

  2. $200 per month is a pretty good savings.  I’d be glad to get something close to that this summer.

    I just got my bill for April, and while the new unit was only installed for the last half of the month, I’ve already seen a small decrease in the bill (only about $20, but then April isn’t typically a heavy usage month).