HVAC Repair: The Timing, Signs, and Costs

HVAC Logo IconBy Tom MoorJuly 31, 2023

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Deciding to repair or replace your HVAC system can be a difficult decision, and most homeowners enlist the help of a knowledgeable and professional HVAC company for advice.

Fortunately, HVAC repair service can often restore your heating and air conditioning system to proper working condition for a fraction of the cost of a replacement. But how do you know if HVAC repair is suitable for what’s ailing your system? Keep reading to learn more about when HVAC repair is generally considered the more viable option over HVAC replacement, the cost of repairs, and common signs your system needs repair.

Consider the 5,000 Rule Before Repairing Your HVAC System

If you’re leaning toward HVAC repair service over a replacement but aren’t completely sure, consider the 5,000 rule which is widely accepted throughout the HVAC industry for determining when to repair or replace an HVAC system.

It’s simple. Multiply the age of your heating and cooling system by the cost of the repair. If the amount is under 5,000, consider a repair; if the amount is over 5,000, you should replace it.

Here’s an example of the 5,000 rule formula in action:

  • Cost of repair: $500
  • Age of unit: 5 years
  • $500 X 5 = 2,500 (result is less than 5,000 so repair the HVAC system)

When to Repair Your HVAC System

Some of the common signs that indicate you should repair the system include:

  • Its age. Age plays a crucial role when deciding whether to repair your HVAC system. Generally, HVAC systems last about 15-20 years. Newer, more energy-efficient systems are enticing if you’re looking to improve efficiency and reduce energy costs. However, if your system is under 10 years old, a repair is usually the best option.
  • The warranty. If the warranty is active on your heating and air conditioning system, a repair makes sense. The warranty will cover the cost of the repair, allowing you to put off the expense of buying a new system for a couple of more years.
  • History of repairs. If this is the system’s first or second repair in the past three years, it may still have a few years of life left in it.
  • The system’s performance. If you haven’t noticed a decrease in efficiency or indoor air quality, consider a repair.
  • Will you move? If you plan to move in the next few years, avoid the more costly replacement option and go with a repair.
  • The unit’s efficiency. Newer HVAC systems are more efficient than their predecessors. But how do you know if your system is efficient enough to keep it around with a repair? Ensure your HVAC systems have the following efficiencies: air conditioners: over 10 SEER; furnaces: over 80% AFUE; heat pumps: over 10 SEER or 8 HSPF.

Signs Your HVAC System Requires Repair

While it’s not uncommon for heating and cooling systems to break down out of the blue, they often exhibit signs they need repair. Since some of the following issues can indicate a repair or replacement, match the problem with the information we provided about "when to repair your HVAC system" to make a decision.

Weak Airflow

If the airflow from your vents is weak, your HVAC system is struggling to heat or cool your home. This is problematic because it can cause high energy bills and increased system wear and tear. Common causes of weak airflow include a clogged or dirty air filter, a refrigerant leak, a malfunctioning blower motor, dirty coils, thermostat issues, and ductwork problems.

Uneven Heating and Cooling

Are some rooms in your home hotter or colder than others? Uneven heating and cooling is a sign of an HVAC problem that needs to be addressed by a professional technician. Clogged air filters, leaky or inadequately sized ducts, or a lack of maintenance are common culprits. Most HVAC companies can also perform HVAC duct repair.

Strange Noises

Aside from the gentle hum of your HVAC system running a cycle, it shouldn’t produce any jarring or strange noises which indicate an issue. Loud noises such as clanking, banging, grinding, or screeching may suggest a broken or loose component that needs to be fixed or replaced.

Foul Odors

Like strange noises, foul odors should not emanate from your furnace or air conditioning system. Musty odors are often caused by mold and mildew growth which can damage your home and lead to health issues. Meanwhile, burning smells may indicate an electrical issue and should be fixed immediately.

Short Cycling

Short cycling occurs when your HVAC system starts a cycle, shuts down after a few minutes without reaching the set temperature, and starts back up a short time later. Short cycling causes energy waste and wear and tear on system components. Over cycling might be caused by blocked airflow, a refrigerant leak, or a faulty thermostat. It may also indicate you don’t have the right-sized system. Unfortunately, the only fix for this is buying a new HVAC system.

Leaking Water

Pooling water near your HVAC system is most commonly caused by a broken or clogged condensate drain line. When excess humidity is pulled from the air by the evaporator coil, water is funneled out of the home by the condensate drain. When it’s not working properly, water can spill out on your floor, causing damage.

Inconsistent Thermostat Readings

Sometimes it’s not the air conditioner or furnace that’s experiencing issues – it’s the thermostat, which is the "brain" of your HVAC system. If the thermostat is showing inconsistent or inaccurate readings and doesn’t match the actual temperature in your home, it could signal a faulty thermostat or sensor.

High Energy Bills

If your energy bills are significantly higher than they usually are at this time of year, without a significant weather event, your HVAC system may require repair or maintenance.

HVAC System Won’t Turn On

If your system won’t turn on at all, you need HVAC emergency repair or replacement service. Causes of an HVAC system that won’t turn on include a malfunctioning component or issues with the thermostat or circuit breaker.

Frozen Evaporator Coil

Aside from cooling the refrigerant so it can absorb the heat, your HVAC system’s evaporator coil is also tasked with pulling excess humidity from the air. If the evaporator coil isn’t receiving sufficient airflow, most commonly caused by a clogged air filter or a dirty coil, the evaporator coil can freeze up and cause the system to either shut down completely or produce weak airflow.

Emergency HVAC Repair

In many cases, your HVAC system can still operate when it needs repair; however, a complete system breakdown on one of the hottest or coldest days of the year requires HVAC emergency repair or replacement service.

When an HVAC system suddenly stops working, it compromises the safety and comfort of your family. Some of the most common examples of HVAC emergencies include:

  • Complete system breakdowns during extreme weather conditions
  • Gas Leaks
  • Refrigerant leaks
  • Electrical issues that pose fire hazards

When finding an HVAC company to partner with, search for one that offers 24-hour HVAC repair service.

Meanwhile, emergency commercial HVAC repair is required if the system breaks down and impacts essential services at hospitals, data centers, and other commercial facilities.

HVAC Repair Costs

HVAC repair costs can vary significantly based on several factors including the type of system, the brand and model, and the unit’s age. According to ThePricer.org, the average cost of HVAC repair is $150 to $450.

Lisa Shelby, senior editor at ThePricer.org, a leading financial consulting agency, says the average cost of a diagnostic fee generally runs about $50-150, while labor costs average about $75-150 per hour for most repairs. Complex issues such as heat exchanger replacement and compressor issues often take 4-8 hours to complete.

"Consumers should get multiple quotes as prices can vary," Shelby said. "Understanding typical costs in your area helps you budget appropriately and not get overcharged."

The costs for some of the most common HVAC repairs include:

  • Thermostat replacement: $200-300
  • Capacitor replacement: $150-300
  • Contactor replacement: $200-400
  • Fan motor replacement: $400-700
  • Compressor replacement: $1200-2500+
  • Heat exchanger replacement: $1,500-3,000
  • Coil or drain pan leaks: $800-1,500
  • Control board replacement: $400-900

Ben Green, CEO of Green Leaf Air in Richardson, Texas, says repair prices can vary significantly depending on the type of system you own. For example, repairing a central air conditioning system typically involves different labor and components than a heat pump or gas furnace.

On average, the cost to fix a central air conditioner ranges from $150 to $1,000, while a furnace repair costs from $200 to $1,200. Meanwhile, heat pump repairs fall in the $200 to $1,500 range.

Once you receive a quote for HVAC repair service, QuoteScore from HVAC.com can analyze it to determine if it’s a fair deal.

Factors that Affect the Price of HVAC Repair

According to David Clark, founder of HVAC Laboratory, the cost of HVAC repairs is based on several factors including:

Type of Repair

The nature and complexity of the repair play a significant role in the cost.

"Simple fixes like replacing a capacitor may be relatively affordable while major repairs such as compressor replacement can be more expensive," Clark said.

System’s Age

Older systems that use hard-to-find replacement parts can increase the overall cost of the repair.

Brand and Model

The type of brand and model you own also affects the cost of HVAC repair because of the different components and availability of spare parts.

Emergency Repairs

Emergency repairs such as refrigerant leaks, electrical issues, or complete system breakdowns often come with additional costs.

Labor Rates

Labor rates vary depending on the region you live in and the local labor rates. Larger cities, for example, have higher rates than smaller towns or rural areas.

Company’s Reputation and Expertise

Green said while more reputable companies often charge more for their services, customers can expect higher-quality repairs and better warranties.

"It is essential to strike a balance between cost and quality to ensure the longevity and efficiency of the repaired HVAC system," he said.

Invest in HVAC System Maintenance

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s true for all mechanical devices, including your HVAC system. A lack of HVAC maintenance is the number-one cause of breakdowns.

It’s recommended to have HVAC tune-ups performed twice a year; once before cooling the cooling season and again before the heating season. A knowledgeable and savvy HVAC technician will thoroughly inspect the system, adjust and clean necessary components, and look for any minor issues and recommend needed repairs.

It’s important to find a reliable HVAC company that you can trust for all of your heating and cooling needs. They will be familiar with your HVAC system and make the appropriate adjustments and repairs.

Ask the company whether they have an HVAC maintenance agreement. HVAC agreements are typically discounted, and they help ensure maintenance is never skipped.

FAQs on HVAC Repair Service

What is the most common problem with HVAC systems?

The most common problem with HVAC systems is a clogged or dirty air filter. When the HVAC filter is clogged, it will restrict airflow to the system, which can lead to higher energy costs, insufficient airflow, and a frozen evaporator coil.

Do you tip HVAC repair technicians?

Tipping HVAC repair technicians is not customary or expected. Technicians are typically paid hourly and will not expect a tip after the work is completed. However, if you feel the technician did an outstanding job, there’s nothing wrong with offering a tip.

Does home insurance cover HVAC repair?

Home insurance will cover an HVAC repair if the damage is caused by a disaster such as a tree falling through your home and damaging the system. However, standard home insurance policies do not cover the cost of an HVAC repair due to neglect or general wear and tear.

How many years should an HVAC system last?

On average, an HVAC System should last about 15-20 years. Factors that can shorten or lengthen an HVAC system’s lifespan include maintenance history, the type of system, and the climate you live in.


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