Category Archives: Brand Comparision of HVAC equipment

How buying a new AC system is different than a product purchase

I had a call this week from a reader who asked why — since our website is positioned as a buyer’s guide — we do not have charts or grids that compare specific AC brands and their components.  In spite of the video and other free information on our site that explains why, (and what to do instead) this is a still a common question. So, I’ll use notes from that conversation for today’s blog post.

Air conditioning and heating is a complex topic. Although there are many sub-topics and themes that are interrelated, we can distill the most important answers down to four points.

1-Quality of installation matters more than brand
Correct, professional installation includes, among other things, a precise load calculation for your specific situation — your location and building.  You need to compare the features and benefits of the company and technicians who install your air conditioning system before you think about equipment and brand comparison.  Look for contractors who use the “whole house approach”.

2-Central AC and heating components are parts of a system that include your home or building.
Unlike refrigerators, air conditioning and heating systems are not “plug in and forget” appliances.  Any component, features or benefits that you could compare on paper must be installed and operate within a system that is affected by other factors. As just one example, duct work (which would not be included in a comparison of brands and models) is a huge variable – it will literally “make or break” your AC system, costs and comfort.  As you can see, the two points above are related.

3- Your satisfaction and cost of operation over the life of the system
Most buyers focus on initial cost, discounts, rebates, payments or financing.  However, there are additional points to consider in an installed system:  a- how much does it cost to operate monthly, b-how much are repairs and maintenance over the life of the system, c- how many years before this system needs replacing again.  Here again, the initial installation has a major impact.

4-It is fine to compare equipment brands — after you have considered the more important points.
OK, now to brands. Once you have picked one or more local AC companies who are qualified and diligent with load calculations and the other main points, you can choose from equipment brands and features.  You can go to this page to read about the relationships between your local contractors and brands they carry.

Free Download: You can print out our chart to compare quotes or bids for a new installed AC and heating system. There is a companion video on the same page that explains how to use the chart.

I hope this post and free resources help you in your decisions. If you have related experience of feedback, please share it so others can benefit.

Even the Best Air Conditioners Break Sometimes – And When They Do…

Most days of each month, I read an HVAC industry online news group. In those, I read that even the most established brands of AC and heating equipment sometimes have defects, recalls, service bulletins, and so on.  This is in spite of how well they are assembled at the factory or installed at your location.

Here’s our take on the situation:  when your system needs repair, which it likely will at some point, have yourself set to get it going again with minimal inconvenience, discomfort, and cost.  To prepare for the day when your system goes on the blink, below are a few practical questions to consider when you are deciding which local HVAC contractor to install it and brand or model of equipment to buy (in that order of importance).

– How long has the contractor been in business under the same name, location and ownership?

– What training, certification, and experience do their technicians have?

– What is the relationship of the contractor to the brand(s) of AC and heating equipment they sell: Owned by them?  Exclusive dealer?  Independent dealer?

– How many service trucks and technicians do they have?

– Does the local contractor have 24-7 service?

– Do they charge extra for service after hours, weekends or holidays?

– What is the parts and labor warranty from the manufacturer? From the installer?

– If you sign up for a yearly maintenance plan, do you get preferential appointment times, pricing, or both on repair work?

– Do they have a good rating with minimal unresolved issues at the Better Business Bureau – BBB?

– When you search online for their company name, are the online comments generally positive?

On this last point, online testimonials or rants, be aware of what we call the “wild west” effect. By that, we mean that, far too often, we see and hear about companies writing good stuff about themselves or even bad stuff about their competitors.  And some real customers who take the time to write are not always objective.

Not to worry. If you use most of the points above and ask your neighbors who they use, you’ll get a reliable composite of the companies you are considering.

Compare Bids for a New Heating AC System AND Anticipate Contractor Add-On Costs

Comparing Equipment Features
Attempting to compare heating and AC brands, or shopping for features get the most attention from buyers. We wrote about this in last month’s blog and in other place.  We provide a free grid to compare new equipment cost at a glance. From your research or bids, you can fill in the blanks on this printable chart to cut through the “noise” and understand the equipment efficiency and other objective features. However, this equipment must be installed as a system in the structural environment of your home or building, which has variables. So, on to our main topic.

Preparing for What ELSE Might be Necessary to get a New HVAC System Installed
In situations where the new heating and cooling equipment is going into an existing structure (as contrasted with new construction) there are some major potential “gotchas” to prepare for.  I’ve experienced this personally, so hopefully you can benefit from my lessons, some of which were costly. Two good examples of this are electrical wiring and ductwork. They both have the potential to be significant “add ons” to the scope of the work in the project.

Electrical Wiring
If you are having central heating and AC installed into an existing structure for the first time, be sure to get info about wiring conditions.  This would be especially true for a older home or building with original wiring.  Essentially, you want to make sure that the wiring, connections, and circuit breakers, etc. can safely and efficiently handle the new load. If they cannot, you will experience circuit breakers tripping or perhaps much worse.  Because inadequate wiring will increase the cost of a job or might slow down the decision to buy a new system,  some equipment installers might be tempted to not bring it up at all. Or, they might focus the discussion on the new equipment first, get that signed, then bring up the wiring issue and cost.  This is also true for an older structure that already has central heat and air, but needs them replaced.

Ductwork
If your home or building already has ductwork, there are several parallels with electrical wiring to consider:

– The existing ductwork might be usable, OR it may need to replaced due to its structure, design or condition.

– Most potential issues can be seen ahead of time, but some could be discovered during installation of the new system.

– Project add-ons can be  awkward to negotiate or expensive to buy, because work has already begun.

The solution: Focus First on Getting High Quality Advice and Labor on the Installation
We rarely miss an opportunity to highlight the variable that matters most in heating and AC: the quality of the installation.  If you choose a dealer whose sales reps and technicians are trained, experienced and  ethical, dealing effectively with existing wiring or ductwork should be automatic. That way, you can be sure to get the right equipment for your situation and needs AND deal with potential variables in the original project scope.

If you and your contractor handle it well, getting a new system installed will be the start of a long-term relationship that includes preventative maintenance. There are also manufacturer and possibly installer warranties to consider, and those will be the topic of our next blog post.

If you find this useful, please share your thoughts and experiences with other reads. If not, let us know how we can improve.

Best Way To Compare New AC and Heating Systems Before Buying

This blog describes how to cut through the “clutter and noise”, and buy a new furnace and AC system wisely.   I first learned this way of thinking while working my way through college in a bicycle shop, and there are some useful, current parallels to the way HVAC equipment and systems are sold.

More Brands Than Factories
Working in the bike shop, I learned that there are a lot more bicycle brands than there are bicycle factories.  Same (or very similar) bicycles…different label, marketing and prices.  Bicycles have a frame onto which major and minor components, made by other manufacturers around the world, are added.  These are combined in a box at the bike frame factory, sold through distributors, and must be assembled by a trained mechanic at a shop to be warranted.

With air conditioners and furnaces, the frame is a box, usually made sheet metal. With a few exceptions, the main components, such as compressors, condensers, fans, coils, heat exchangers, come from factories around the world. As in the bicycle brand example, there are fewer AC and heating component factories than there are brands.  Parts do come in differing grades of quality and efficiency, and the cost (and sometimes the complexity) usually goes higher with the efficiency rating.

There are some generalities about HVAC equipment brands that may be worth knowing. However, before thinking about brand there are two more important aspects a buyer needs to focus on:

Needs Local Professional Assembly or Installation

For safety and efficiency, we mechanics often had to true the bike wheels, and adjust the gears & brakes.  Then we adjusted parts to the needs of the rider, and added accessories based on the conditions the rider would encounter.  If we goofed up, the bike would not ride efficiently or the rider could crash and get hurt.

With AC and heating equipment, the installation is a critical factor. Some types of mistakes are very difficult to correct.  First, the local company that installs your equipment should have helped you choose the size and efficiency specifications appropriate for your climate, envelope (the part of your house or building that interacts with the outside air), and budget. Next, the installers have to be skilled in plumbing, electrical, refrigeration and more to connect the wiring, piping and refrigerant to make the equipment run safely and efficiently. Also, if your existing ductwork is used, they must make sure it is in good condition and sealed.  Should the wrong size or type of equipment get installed into your home or building, it will be a major hassle making things right.

Assure Quality of Installation First, Then Compare Features For Cost
In summary, here are the action points to make a wise heating and AC system purchase. Each one has links for more details if you need them:

1- Choose a local service company with trained and experienced installers and technicians.  Go to this page to get more info on how to make a good choice.

2- Verify that you are getting the correct type and size of equipment for your climate, structure, and circumstances. More info here

3- Use our free cost comparison grid to compare the most important features.

4- After you have done this, you can see how brand fits into the picture.

If you find this useful, please comment so others can learn. If not, send a suggested topic and we’ll consider it.

Buyer’s Guide To Heating and Air Conditioning Says “HVAC Equipment Brands Are Less Important Than Quality of Installation”

We frequently get asked this question:

“Why would a buyer’s guide not list equipment by brands, models and features so we can compare them?”

A blog is a great forum in which to explain this. For easier reading and response, we will answer in a top 5 list:

1. The brand that is on the new equipment matters much less than correct installation.  It is often stated among insiders that a good HVAC technician can make lousy equipment heat or cool OK, while a poorly trained or inexperienced technician might not make the best equipment in the world heat or cool reliably or efficiently.  We’re not saying cut corners on the equipment¬—we are saying focus first on the training and experience of the company and employees who will install your equipment. Then let them explain which types of equipment you should consider. Remember, these are also the folks who will provide maintenance or warranty work on your system.

2. Heating and A/C systems are made up of components that can be mixed and matched, yet contain some common elements, such as air handlers. Rating new equipment either by brand or piece by piece like TV sets is not very useful. Just because two pieces of equipment will physically fit or function together does not make doing so a good idea for optimum results, however.  It is true that a manufacturer’s suggestion of equipment models to be matched is preferred over a “field match”. 

3. Some of the mixing and matching of components can involve existing equipment, such as your ductwork. Unless there is new construction or a total system replacement involved, some existing equipment may be used. Here we get back to quality of installation and the integrity of the installer. If your existing ductwork is used and it has an interior problem (such as mold or contamination) or unsealed leaks, then comparisons of equipment features such as efficiency are much less relevant.  Look out for low bids that cut corners on ductwork, old inadequate wiring or other use of existing equipment.

4. Once must consider features and specifications listed by manufacturers or even independent testing organizations, as they relate to conditions and the envelope of the structure where it will be installed. 

5. There are more brands of equipment than manufacturers of components.  Therefore, some brands share common internal parts.  As an example, look at the common ownership among the brands listed on the lower part of this page . Out of ten major brands, depending on how they are counted, there are about six companies who control them.

As a quick recap, points 2,3, and 4 above reinforce point #1: the integrity of the installation will affect your overall satisfaction and comfort more than the brand of equipment.  A quality HVAC service company will guide you on your equipment options and then install them correctly.  However you go about making your comparisons, start with the quality of the installer first. Then compare features and benefits of the equipment.  You can use our free comparison grid to help.