Can you imagine living in a region where you do not have to worry about heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems? If we assume that the V in HVAC is naturally accomplished, there are no such regions because all residential and commercial structures need ventilation of some sort. Since HVAC generally refers to mechanisms that utilize energy for the purpose of interior climate control, there are some parts of the world where you can live comfortably without HVAC, but these are only a few.

In 2018, a data visualization project carried out by British newspaper The Guardian identified a few dozen cities around the world where residents manage to live without HVAC; these are usually located in mountainous and rainy coffee-growing countries blessed with micro-climates. In the United States, virtually all metropolitan regions require both heating and air conditioning. In the Pacific Northwest, cities such as Portland and Seattle used to feature many homes without HVAC, but this trend is fading because of climate change.

Delaware is a region where HVAC is essential. We get to enjoy all four seasons and a very pleasant spring, but temperatures will at some point turn high or low enough for air conditioning and heating to become a necessity. Many Delaware homeowners do not realize how much their HVAC system is worth; in 2021, if we are talking about a state-of-the-art system with a central A/C unit, a gas-burning furnace, insulated ducts, and a smart thermostat, the cost of such a system would easily be more than $10,000. Real estate appraisers usually estimate the value that HVAC systems provide to residential structures at around $5,000 if they are less than 10 years old and able to control the indoor climate of a home with 2,000 square feet of living space.

Knowing what you should be paying for your HVAC equipment and installation is essential to getting a fair deal. Most HVAC prices aren’t advertised. If we assume that most HVAC dealers are honest, we can think of them as offering their products at a fair price that will be clearly communicated prior to the purchase. They may also advertise an HVAC dealer price for a home; however, the advertised price is not the total cost of the HVAC services. The advertised price may not include the cost of permits, inspections, material costs, and installation services. This could make it harder for you to figure out how much you should be paying for the HVAC services. A simple way to know what you should be paying is to know the total cost of installation, which is what we will discuss here in terms of national price ranges.

Factors that Determine the Cost of HVAC System Replacement

Here are the installation aspects that HVAC replacement costs will be contingent upon:

  • HVAC unit brands, capacity, and energy efficiency.
  • The condition of the existing ducts and ventilation features.
  • The regional weather conditions, taking into account recent effects of climate change.
  • Home construction.
  • The type of HVAC system combination you choose.

There may also be local market conditions to consider, but they tend to even out through competition. An established contractor that promotes HVAC services to upscale communities may be able to get away with charging higher prices, but this strategy may not last very long because competitors may swoop in with more enticing offers.

Understanding Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER)

You can count on paying more for HVAC systems with a higher SEER rating, which in some ways is similar to the Energy Star ratings of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency of cars powered by internal combustion engines. There is significant value in spending more for HVAC systems, particularly A/C units, with high SEER scores.

The upfront cost of high SEER HVAC systems will pay off in the long run not only because of lower monthly utility bills but also in terms of maintenance and unit lifespan. The minimum SEER rating is 14; once you start seeing higher numbers, you are looking at more advanced units controlled by smart thermostats. The maximum SEER on the market is 21.

SEER on its own will not hold up as a wise investment unless your home offers a decent level of energy efficiency as well, and this is determined by its construction as it applies to HVAC. The U.S. Department of Energy has created a home energy scoring system from 1 to 10; the higher range implies lower use of energy, and what this means for HVAC is insulation, weather stripping, ceiling fans, and natural air circulation by means of open doors and windows. In other words, your high SEER heating and cooling units will rarely need to operate at their higher capacities in homes that have a high energy score. Energy-efficient construction is a major selling point in today’s real estate markets; however, this creates a bit of a paradox. If you think about it, more affordable HVAC systems with lower SEER ratings would also benefit from energy-efficient construction. To this effect, you will really want to go with the recommendation of your local HVAC installer in relation to the minimum SEER adequate for your home.

Types of HVAC Systems

The most affordable central A/C units you can find on the market these days are the ductless split kind, which ranges between $3,000 and $5,000 as of 2021. The SEER rating on this kind of unit tends to be on the low end. The heating equivalent would be the electric furnace, which can be purchased for as low as $1,500, but you will not find too many recommendations for such systems because of their higher electricity consumption and the fact that they will fail you in the event of an electrical power outage.

A more ideal HVAC system for the Delaware regional climate would feature central A/C and a gas furnace. You can expect to see a greater range of pricing in the A/C units compared to gas furnaces; the former can run from about $3,500 to almost $8,000 while the latter typically costs between $4,000 and $5,000. A solid advantage of gas furnaces is that they integrate with your water heater; plus, let’s not forget that the U.S. is a major producer of propane made from natural gas, thus keeping energy prices pretty stable.

Oil furnaces and heat pumps can run about $1,000 to $1,500 higher than their gas counterparts. The most expensive HVAC system for residential use would be geothermal heat pumps, which are incredibly efficient, but they may not always be available for installation based on where the property sits. One of these systems can easily run more than $20,000.

HVAC Installations: What Can Be Negotiated?

Contractors and installers will rarely quote you a project cost at the higher end; they are more likely to quote the regional average based on what homeowners with similar properties have recently installed. With this in mind, the factors that can be negotiated based on what you want for the property and the available budget include:

  • Supplies: Ducts, lines, and insulation materials vary in terms of quality and pricing.
  • Labor: The contractor may agree to lower this cost based on the existing ducts and certain construction features.
  • Unit costs: This is pretty much up to you, and it is the installation aspect that you can derive more savings from based on what we have mentioned above. Keep in mind that HVAC systems with lower SEER ratings, ductless split A/C units, and electric furnaces have certain limitations that may end up costing more in relation to monthly energy bills, maintenance, and future repairs.
  • Travel: Depending on the contractor, this cost item may or may not be negotiable.

In the end, homeowners should try to obtain estimates from various contractors in order to determine a suitable price. Not all HVAC contractors will offer the same equipment or brands; some prefer to act as dealers for unit manufacturers while others may only stick to installing systems they feel comfortable with.