The victorious bank account

I learned yesterday that I need a new evaporator coil for the air conditioner. This will cost roughly a third of an entirely new furnace/AC unit to purchase and have installed. Professionals seem inclined to replace the entire unit, which is a little more than half-way through it’s expected life-span at 11 years old. Their reasoning is mainly tied to the much greater efficiency offered by new models.

Of course, the decision for my wife and I boils down to a financial one. Herein lies a certain tension between paying more for a more efficient or more durable object when the bottom line says “no.”

I’m all about, in philosophy, a more durable and sustainable built environment, but it costs more, in money and time. It costs more to build a house that’s going to last for centuries than it does to throw up spec homes. It takes more time to involve an architect and wait for details that most mass developers forgo, such as a wonderful, authentic, masonry wood burning fireplace.

I would love to put in a newer more efficient air conditioner, but my savings account says that’s simply not gonna happen. Sadly, it’s easier to justify spending more for a new unit with a significantly higher SEER if you plan to be living in the house for a longer period of time. We don’t have the foggiest idea how much longer we’ll be in this little bungalow — it might be one year and it might be five — but the point is that I don’t like being cheap just because I might not receive the benefit of a certain purchase.

I imagine a lot of people are in a similar situation. We’d like to build sound and articulate homes. We’d like to save on utilities and live more sustainably by using higher efficiency appliances, solar panels and longer lasting, recyclable or less toxic roofing such as metal or tile. But our bottom line reiterates that’s simply not gonna happen.

To a degree, my wife and I have put ourselves in this position. We’ve chosen — very purposefully — at this point in life to work for a non-profit, and have therefore chosen a lower-class lifestyle than if I were to pursue graphic design or she were to pursue newspaper management in the “secular” world. Further, we’re not willing to go into debt as readily as most Americans seem to.

The tension, therefore, persists. I will, because I don’t feel like I have any other choice, pay for the repair instead of the improvement. The savings account wins.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to The victorious bank account

  1. Julie says:

    You could the air conditioner less frequently and set it at a higher temperature…

    You could use solar thermal panels to preheat your water on the way to the water heater. They pay for themselves pretty quickly and work any time (to greater and lesser degrees) the outdoor temperature is 60 or above.

    Yes, things that last do cost more, initially. In Europe, costs tend to be evaluated over the lifespan of the building, that’s one reason their commercial buildings are 20 years ahead of ours in technology for energy efficiency.

    I don’t have an easy answer on the priorities thing, wish I did. As a general observation, people do what’s most important to them… I’m not about to tell you that staying out of debt is more important than saving energy… it’s your choice, and I don’t think you’ve chosen unreasonably.

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