Model Home Improvement
AC Unit DIY

The Pitfalls of Installing your AC Unit DIY

In the beginning, Google created the heavens and the earth and taught us all how to do everything ourselves.

At least that’s how it can feel.

However, even though we each have the world’s most comprehensive oracle right at our fingertips, some jobs are still better left to the experts.

I get it – I’m a DIY enthusiast too. You start by MacGyver-ing tree houses from wooden crates as a kid. As an adult, you install your shower curtain and change your motor oil. Eventually, you get to a point where you become the world’s greatest DIY-er, and you feel like nothing can stop you.

AC Unit DIY

DIY AC Installation

Feelings aside, I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes there’s no substitute for experience. AC installation seems like one of the things that an Average Joe should be able to do. After all, you’re not building an AC unit from scratch. You’re just installing the thing. What could go wrong?

In this article, we’re going to talk about a few of the things that could go wrong. I’ll share some of the potential pitfalls and explore several details you must think about if you want to install your own AC unit.

Air Conditioners are intricate pieces of equipment that work in a complicated infrastructure. Besides the actual, physical air-conditioning unit, you also must think about a secondary layer of things the installation could affect. These include

  • Refrigerant Pipes – which need to be a precise length.
  • Secondary Drip Pan – which could wreck your ceiling if installed wrong
  • External Airflow – which can be a significant headache; and many other details.

Installing your new air conditioner by yourself might save you a few dollars now. However, it could also end up costing you a lot more money if you get something wrong. Moreover, it can be draining on your peace of mind or worse, your physical health.

What it Takes to Become an HVAC Expert

Figuring out all the ins and outs of installing an AC infrastructure in your house is not something that you can do in a day. You’ll need to start by sitting down and researching HVAC systems and equipment.

If you want to get it right, you need to become an HVAC expert. The first step is becoming familiar with the tools in the HVAC toolkit. While you are likely familiar with most of the tool kit, things like reciprocating saw blades and tin snips are more obscure. Are you read up on how to use a refrigerant scale? Here is a list of some of the tools you should own and know how to use to install an AC unit:

  • Multi-Meter
  • Voltage Tester
  • Vacuum Pump
  • Refrigerant Scale
  • Reciprocating Saw Blades
  • Cordless Drill
  • Pipe Wrench
  • Tin Snips
  • Shears

You also need to get to know the latest mobile HVAC software so you can properly calibrate your equipment. Here are some applications you would likely need to buy to start you off:

  • Plandroid can create an automatic layout of your floor plan to help with your AC system design.
  • Ductulator is a calculator for the dimensions of your ducts that can help you get efficient airflow and reduce frictional loss.
  • AutoCad can help you avoid damaging the load-bearing structure of your building when installing your AC infrastructure.
  • Excel can be used to generate formulas to reduce the heat load of your AC.
  • SimScale is a cloud-based platform that helps analyze the fluid dynamics and thermal mechanics of your system.

Licensed HVAC installation professionals spend years studying HVAC systems. They know the names of all the components and where each belongs. They have read up on the jargon, experimented with old ACs, tared apart units, and tested their memory by trying to put them back together.

If you watch a few how-to videos, grab a screwdriver, and go to town on your new unit, you will find yourself woefully unprepared. You run a massive risk of damaging your equipment and voiding your warranty, or worse.

HVAC develop an instinctive feel for AC installation that helps them identify and avoid problems during the process. They know the best ways to get rid of the hot air and how to avoid clogging the coils. They understand fire hazards and high-energy appliance safety. Licensed HVAC professionals also undergo additional training, usually about once a year, to make sure they stay up to date on all the latest tech.

The Counter intuitive Cost

Besides the personal pride, you may take in your DIY work, the main point of installing your unit yourself is probably the cost. Why pay a professional when you can use some elbow grease and save money?

The problem here is that all too often, DIY-ing this installation can end up costing you more money in the long run than using an expert. Here are a few reasons why:

Air-conditioning units are heavy and delicate

This combination can easily lead to some damage to the machinery during a DIY installation.  professional HVAC technician knows how to handle delicate machinery. They are trained to install your unit without any bumps, dents, or turbulence.

Air-conditioning units are complicated

Your AC unit requires attaching a lot of external components to the correct internal components. You need to be able to drop all the other pending projects in your life and fully dedicate your mental bandwidth to getting this right. If not, you might end up with an installation that initially looks right but ends up considerably shortening the lifespan of your machine. A properly certified professional will make your installation their top priority. They know where each component goes and how to connect all the pieces to each other correctly and in the right order.

Air-conditioning units use significant energy

Even under optimal conditions, AC units use a lot of energy. There are more ways to get the installation wrong than to get it right. Installing your unit or ducts in the wrong places can lead to wasted energy. This inefficiency can make your long-term costs 2 to 3 times higher than what you’d pay if you had used a professional.  An AC expert will figure out the most efficient way to distribute the cool air and get rid of the hot air. They’ll make sure your unit uses the least amount of energy possible.

Installing require you to cut some hole into your house

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you stand a good chance of causing unnecessary damage to your property. Most importantly, a licensed HVAC professional with experience will study your building and give you the best suggestions as to where to install your AC unit without damaging anything. They will avoid the small nuisances like unnecessary holes in your wall and the big problems like structural damage to your property.

Professional installation is crucial for protecting your warrantee

As Steve VanQuill, an HVAC Contractor with All Hours Plumbing, advocates, “In regards to equipment and parts warranty, most DIY don’t realize or know that, with product registration, they could double the length of the warranty. And if installed by licensed technician there are some models that have lifetime warranty. However, if you install it yourself, good luck getting any warranty from manufactures” Besides doing the project right in the first place, professional installers ensure that if something does go wrong, your investment is protected.

Installation Pitfalls

Finding the best place to install your AC unit is both a science and an art. This means it should be done by a scientist-cum-artist, which, in layman’s terms, is also known as a professional. Even a simple window unit comes with its own issues.

Here are a few things you will need to think about if you plan to install your equipment by yourself. Keep in mind that this is in no way a comprehensive list:

  • Stay away from the hottest parts of your property. You may think it makes sense to install an air-conditioner in the hottest room of your house. However, this means you’ll be making your machine work harder to cool that room. The rest of your house, as well as your pocketbook, may end up suffering.
  • Don’t hide your unit. Installing your AC behind a couch or a plant could stifle its indoor airflow. Trying to hide the unsightly ventilation could clog up its outdoor airflow.
  • Keep fire hazards in mind. Make sure your AC isn’t too close to the curtains or the carpet. If you need to put your machine in a window, make sure you still have access to a secondary exit in case of a house fire.
  • Remember that smells travel with airflow. Don’t install your AC too close to the bathroom or the garbage can.
  • Stay away from other power-hungry appliances. Air-conditioners use a lot of energy. If you plug your machine into the same circuit as, for instance, your microwave, you could burn out your wiring. Keep your AC circuit away from your refrigerator, your heating unit, and your washing machine.

The Devil’s Details

We’ve talked about the HVAC toolkit, unit placement, energy efficiency, cost, airflow, and property or equipment damage. If you’re still not convinced that you need to hire an expert, here a few other things that can go wrong:

  • If you forget to insulate your tubing correctly, it may sweat. Over time, this can lead to water damage to your floors and walls. You may not even notice the subtle warping and staining until it’s too late.
  • If the refrigerant pipes connecting your indoor and outdoor units are too long, it puts extra strain on your AC unit. Over-long piping can make it hard for your AC to complete its cooling cycle. This issue can lead to a compressor that stays on all day, wearing itself out and inflating your electric bill.
  • If you forget to file for the necessary permits required in your zone, you may end up with a fine.
  • If you install your thermostat in the sun or next to an incandescent lamp, you can heat it, confuse its readings, and force your equipment to work overtime.
  • If you don’t seal your ducts properly, you may cause inadvertent leaks that could lead to numerous expensive issues.
  • If you use the wrong drainage setup, the excess water may spill and damage your other AC components.
  • If you install a unit that is too big or too small for your home, or the number of people, you may end up having to repeat the entire AC installation.

Richard Overmyer a copywriter and outreach specialist for All Hours Plumbing, plumbing and HVAC specialists in Salt Lake City. He strives to help all his clients make the best decisions to keep their homes a happy place. When not writing, you can find Richard in the mountains, looking for his next piece of inspiration.

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