Getting handed a HVAC repair quote can be a little like getting handed a stereo manual written in Sanskrit. “You need to replace what because of why?” If you don’t know some basic terminology, you can sometimes feel like technicians are pulling your leg and trying to charge you for repairs that aren’t needed.
By learning some basic HVAC terminology and parts, you can make yourself feel more confident in your HVAC knowledge, and you’ll have a better understanding of your system and the repairs needed. The all-electric split heat pump system is the most common system installed in homes, so we’ll use those parts/terms as our example.
The heat pump is the portion of the system that is located outside. The heat pump contains the compressor, condenser coil, fan, the reversing valve and electrical contractors. Your HVAC technician will usually hook up their pressure gauges to see if there is enough refrigerant in the system. If not, the technician will take a container of refrigerant, place it on a scale, fill your system up with the required amount of refrigerant through a port on the system, and then charge you for the amount used. Generally you are charged by the pound for freon. If there appears to be a leak in the coil, this can be repaired quite easily, but the technician will most likely have to remove all the refrigerant and fill it back up again.
Fins on the condenser coil often get dirty, or even bent due to hail damage. These fins can be repaired or cleaned quite easily. If the fan or compressor aren’t functioning, or the reversing valve is not switching the system from heating to cooling, it’s possible a contactor may need to be replaced. Luckily, contactors are relatively cheap; however, if the fan or compressor needs to be replaced, this repair can be quite costly. The compressor is the most expensive part to replace, and can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars. If the condeser coil or compressor need to be replaced, it might be more cost effective to get a new heat pump, particularly with the new energy efficient units that are available.
Moving to the inside of the house, you now have the air handler, which contains the evaporator coils, indoor fan, air filtration system, humidifier, and a plenum for air vents. One of the priciest repairs occurs when an under-slab plenum becomes rusted, and the slab must be demolished and reconstructed to fix the problem. Occasionally evaporator coils will need to be cleaned, but this is generally low cost. Malfunctioning indoor fan motors can be somewhat pricey, but not too scary to replace. Air filtration systems and humidifiers usually only need basic repairs, replacement of filters, floats, small motors, etc. Thermostats can range anywhere from cheap to moderately expensive to replace. If you are considering replacing your heat pump outside, you may also want to consider replacing the air handler inside to assist with energy efficiency.
If you’re at all uncomfortable with or unsure of what’s on your repair quote, don’t be afraid to ask your technician for clarification. If you’re still uncomfortable, and believe you may be overpaying, you might want to consider getting a second opinion.