The original furnace was a coal fired “octopus” design which had no blower to circulate the air but relied upon warm air rising to distribute the heat. That also means that the system breathed air in from the basement and most of this type did not have a cold air return system. At some point (probably in the 1940’s) the system was upgraded to a forced air gas furnace. The upgrade included replacing the 12″ diameter air ducts exposed in the basement with 6″ ducts and a cold air return system of ducts from the two (only two) air returns on the first floor.
Your HVAC unit and air ducts deliver heated or cooled air throughout your home year-in and year-out. The air your HVAC unit produces travels through your ductwork and heats or cools your home via the air vents in each room. The dust and other particles in your home’s air are known as particulate matter, which the EPA defines as "a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets." The EPA also notes that "particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles." Having clean air ducts means fewer of these particles moving through your home. If you remove your furnace filter and hold it up to the light, you can probably see several hundred of these minuscule particles floating in the air. 
DIY: Most DIY installations go smoothly. The major brands have compatibility checkers to see which of their models will work with the wiring your old thermostat is using. Potential problems involve the need for a C-wire, or common wire, when the existing bundle doesn’t include one. There are solutions discussed in our Thermostat Buying Guide, linked to below.
Air conditioner size is measured in “tons.” However, the tonnage of an HVAC unit is not actually based on its weight. A “ton” is simply a measure of an air conditioner’s ability to cool your home. One ton is the ability of your air conditioning system to cool 12,000 BTUs (BTU stands for British Thermal Unit) in an hour. Likewise, a “2-ton” central air conditioner is able to cool 24,000 BTUs per hour.

These are the prices for a proper installation from a professional – as a word to the wise, HVAC systems require fine tuning and the custom fabrication of parts during installation to work properly, otherwise they will likely fail prematurely. But there are plenty of people who will do it for cheaper than this, using substandard, used, or stolen equipment (stolen from construction sites and new housing developments). Or, they are using unskilled laborers with no experience, etc. But HVAC is not a “we’ll figure it out trade;” there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. There are just too many predatory companies out there, so be careful. I’d highly recommend not skimping on your HVAC contractor. If you go cheap, you will typically pay more in the long run...and in California, that will be a lot!

Compressor -- Compressors are outdoor components in your system. The compressor is the pump that circulates the refrigerants through the air-conditioner. You can hear it when it's running so you'll know if it's working just by listening. If it starts getting louder, your compressor is about to fail. If it makes no sound when it should be on, it has already failed. Compressors fail for a number of reasons. Most often they fail due to strain from another failed part such as the fan motor. Electrical storms can also damage compressors. If the sound from the compressor gets louder or if you see a decrease in performance, you should have your compressor checked. A failed compressor will not heat or cool your house.
I own an HVAC company. Dirt in your ducts stays there and hurts no one. It is like dirt on the ground outside. This industry was infiltrated by a bunch of money grubbing low lifes years ago. As a credible company, we do not clean air ducts. Some who were credible probably signed on not knowing what else to do or to try to make a buck another way. These companies, because they also do HVAC work not only rip off private homeowners, they are ripping off legitimate HVAC company's customers and the integrity of what can and should as a rule be a great service industry. Some probably have gotten into this to simply offer what competitors who were ripping off their customers were offering. Anyone cleaning ducts is in my opinion raising a big red flag that they cannot and should not be trusted. Political pressure from NADCA, advertising dollars, manufacturers and marketers of duct cleaning equipment, and intense competition for the customers is the only reason the government and adverstising companies have not run them out of business and that this cancer perpetuates itself.
Installation: Replacement is quite easy, especially when an old refrigerant line set can be used. If the set is worn, it’s much better to pay the extra $400-$600 to replace it rather than risking it leaking later. When your AC loses refrigerant, you lose your cool air and the compressor is at risk of failing. A new installation means installing a coil in your furnace or air handler, running the line set between it and the coil in the condensing unit and adding refrigerant, if needed. Most ACs come pre-charged for 20-30 feet of line. If the line set is longer, a small amount of refrigerant is added.
When central air conditioning service fails during a heat spell, you may have to wait days for an HVAC repair technician or an ac contractor to show up, and you'll probably pay at least several hundred for the repair. But if you're comfortable working around electricity and are willing to spend about $50 on parts, you can probably repair your air conditioning service yourself in about two hours and save about $225 on parts markup and labor.