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Are My Air Conditioning Handler and Compressor Too Big?

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Arlene in Rhode Island is on the line and wants to stay cool this summer with some air conditioning. How can we help you with the project?

    ARLENE: I live an in 1,850-square-foot ranch that’s 38 years old and we installed the central air before the walls were sealed. The access to the handler, which is in the attic, is 21 inches by 21 inches square. And they always told us if it ever broke, it would be a difficult problem to replace the handler in the attic.

    But lo and behold, last week the air conditioning went on for about an hour and then it stopped. I called my service-contract people. They came. They said – they went up into the attic and they said the handler is dripping grease. It’s old. It has a fan belt, which is no longer used, and it’s time to get rid of my air-conditioning system and get a new one or replace – or they could fix it for $800 but it might not be good forever.

    So, I’ve been interviewing companies; they told me to do that. I’m a little bit educated on it now. And I know that I want a 5-ton handler in the attic and a 13-SEER compressor on the outside. My compressor is almost 10 years old but I think it wouldn’t be compatible.

    TOM: How big is your house?

    ARLENE: Eighteen-hundred-fifty square feet.

    TOM: It’s important to get an HVAV system that’s a perfect fit for your home’s size. Five tons is a lot of air conditioning for that size house. Usually, you would use 3 to 4 zone – 3 to 4 tons. If you oversize the air conditioning, what’s going to happen is it’s going to cycle on or off very quickly. You could actually overdo it and it’ll be really inefficient.

    But OK. I’m guessing that your question is how do you get the air handler back up in the attic.

    ARLENE: Well, everyone said they can make a new opening and put a new vent in and it’ll give it more circulation and it’s a good thing to do.

    TOM: Right.

    ARLENE: The last person I interviewed said he can get it up – a 5-ton up into the attic. Because the one he’s going to supply – an Amana – comes in two pieces.

    TOM: OK.

    ARLENE: He said and that will be better because if it ever needs a repair, you just click open the two pieces. I’ve never heard of a 2-piece 5-ton and I’m wondering what your opinion is, because he gave met the best price. He was $3,000 cheaper than everyone else.

    TOM: Yeah, well, it’s hard to tell, because a lot of these guys bid you and not the project. But Amana is a good brand.

    ARLENE: Yeah.

    TOM: So I have no issues with that. I would just do some research on the contractor.

    But by the way, you know, making a bigger opening is not that big of a deal. It might seem like a big of a deal but it’s really a pretty simple carpentry project. It’s just an additional project that you probably didn’t want to face.

    Is there any storage space up there if you were to make it bigger? Could you take advantage of that?

    ARLENE: A crawlspace attic.

    TOM: It’s all a crawlspace? Yeah. Yeah, I mean listen, a carpenter that knows what he’s doing can open – can double the size of that hole in about an hour. It’s really not hard.

    Listen, I just – before you make the commitment to the 5-ton, I’m just telling you, for an 1,800-square-foot house that’s over – that’s probably overkill. And I don’t want you to get in a situation where there’s – you know what I mean? When I say “cycling,” do you know what that means? It means the air conditioning comes on and it goes off, comes on again and it goes off, goes on/off, on/off. So what’ll happen is it will never run long enough to dehumidify your house. And as a result, you’ll feel cold and clammy. It’s really not good.

    So, you want to put the right-size unit in, OK? You want to put the right-size unit in. And generally, it’s about 600 square feet per ton. So that’s only 3 tons for your house. So, I’m thinking three to four, not – I’m thinking five might be too big. OK?

    ARLENE: OK. Thank you so much.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT. And well done doing all the research on this.

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