Tag Archives: buy

Should You Buy A Private Label Air Conditioning and Heating System?

If you are getting bids on having a new AC and heating system installed, you might be offered a private label system. Like other private label products you may be familiar with, instead of having the manufacturer’s name on the equipment, it is branded with the company that is selling and installing it.

The main reasons HVAC contractors will offer a private label system are straightforward:

  1. Because the quality of the installation matters considerably more than which brand of equipment is being installed,  independent HVAC contractors are now putting more emphasis on “selling themselves” rather than the brand of equipment.
  2. Customers are less likely to compare it to the equipment in competing bids
  3. Since there is less brand advertising and perhaps less markup between them and the factory, the contractor who installs the equipment likely has room to make more profit margin in their cost on the equipment than on branded units. Or they can lower the price to you and make the same profit as on branded units.
  4. You (or the next owner) are more likely to call them for maintenance, repairs or replacement.

HVAC Industry insiders often refer to the equipment as “boxes”

The inference here, of course, is that the ac and heating equipment, heat pumps, etc.  are a commodity. To the extent that they are made from mechanical parts built by factories (some of them the same ones…) from all over the world, I agree with this assessment.

In some of the industry forums, I often read about confusion over who currently makes the equipment for certain well-known HVAC brands vs. who used to make them or whose parts they used.  Brands and factories get relocated overseas, change ownership, or get split up to the point that some industry insiders are not sure who even currently owns some brands.

A private label air conditioner and heater system can be a good buy if:

  1. You are convinced that the company and their technicians who will install it offer an acceptable overall value. Among other things, this includes: accuracy in sizing the equipment and quality of its installation, efficiency, features, benefits, customer service and more.  You can read more about that here on how to buy.
  2. You get documentation on what company or companies the warranty is through, and are comfortable that they will be around for the life of the equipment, and will make good on any defects or mistakes.
  3. If a third party is involved in the warranty (someone other than the actual manufacturer, such as Goodman, or the local company who is installing the equipment, then read this blog post before buying.
  4. You get written verification that your private label equipment qualifies for federal or other rebates. Note: the model number on private label equipment is often the same as for other models made by the factory that builds it.

Let us know if you have any experiences in this area so others can learn.

Same As Cash SAC Financing For Air Conditioning Systems

If you are considering buying a new air conditioning and heating system or heat pump, and are not able to pay for it with cash, check or credit card, then you will likely run across a financing offer called “same as cash financing”.  It is usually preceded by a number of days or months (example: “90 days Same As Cash”) and is also abbreviated SAC.

Having had an eye-opening experience myself with a computer purchase and this topic, research for this blog reinforced my beliefs in this area.  I’ll also include a list of questions to ask about SAC offers, along with a financing alternative you may not have thought of or been told about.

Read the “same as cash” SAC documents and ask questions

The first thing to know about SAC: there are usually strict requirements to avoid changes in the “no interest”. For some offers, if you are late on any payments or fail to pay the entire balance on or before the due date,  the whole loan can be recalculated back to the first day it began, and at some unbelievably high interest rates or with fees. If that happens, what started out seeming like “interest free money” for your AC purchase can turn on you to become something you would regret.  Now…on to the checklist….

As a checklist while you are reading SAC financing details, look for the following:

  1. How many payments must you miss or be late on before the SAC offer turns to a loan with interest?
  2. If interest were to get added, what would the interest rate be in APR?
  3. If the rate escalates, is it recalculated back to the first or the day your loan became late?
  4. What date or system determines when your payment was received? (In other words, how many days could pass between the date your payment is delivered at one part of their payment center and the date your payment is actually credited to your account?)
  5. Is there any credit insurance /debt cancellation insurance required or automatically included?
  6. If present in the contract, can you opt out of it? (This type of insurance usually costs a lot, relative to the size of the loan).

While reading in some HVAC industry publications, I found references to credit unions, and this is a topic we have written about before. If you project into the future and believe you may not be able to pay off the entire SAC loan, you should consider a fixed rate home improvement loan from your local credit union.  You can search online or look up credit unions in your area at NCUA – Credit Union Directory

In the past few years, there are more credit unions that have membership criteria other than employment for a specific company or entity.  One way to describe these is “community chartered credit unions”.   Practically speaking, it is probably easier to just ask what the membership requirements for your credit unions are.

If you have related experiences, please send them so other readers can benefit.

Extended Warranties for Home Air-Conditioning and Heating Systems

Frequently, we learn lessons from other industries that apply well to home heating and AC.  The other day, I had to visit my independent auto mechanic shop. While in his waiting area, I overhead him tell another customer that he “never recommends his customers to buy third-party extended warranties on their car or truck”.  He went on to say that that third party warranty companies were diligent at selling warranties /repair insurance and collecting premiums, and not-so-good at being around later or paying out for claims.  In case the term is new to you, ‘third party” simply means a company not involved otherwise in the transaction.

While monitoring HVAC industry forums and news, what I have read seems to generally support my mechanic’s overall assessment on extended warranties offered by third parties.

First, let’s be clear on the difference in the types of warranties that you can buy for your home heater or air conditioner system. The following parties typically offer warranties on heating and A/C equipment, either when it is first installed or sometimes later. :

  • Manufacturer of the equipment
  • Local dealer or independent contractor who installed the equipment
  • A third party insurance or warranty company,  who is not the manufacturer or installing contractor.

Extended warranties will usually provide different terms for (or ways to dictate coverage of) the following:

  • Main Components  (compressors, condensers, heat exchangers, etc)
  • Parts (other than the above)
  • Labor to diagnose and fix any warranty claims (this can be a higher amount than parts)
  • An amount of time the warranty covers
  • Deductible (amount that must be paid by you later before warranty starts paying)
  • “Ordinary wear & tear”, abuse or neglect vs. a failure or repair covered by the warranty
  • Which repair company is required to do the work for you to be eligible for payment
  • Does the warranty pay for the repair directly, or do you have to pay for it and apply for reimbursement

Summary:

  • Higher efficiency or more sophisticated heating, cooling, heat pump or indoor air quality equipment increases your likelihood of needing /using  an extended warranty.
  • A yearly maintenance plan is something most owners should have but do not
  • If you only have budget for one of the two, go for a yearly maintenance plan over an extended warranty
  • Always be clear on what the manufacturer’s warranty covers and exactly what any extended warranty actually gains you above what you already have from the manufacturer or installer
  • If you have the discipline, you could take the money you were going to pay an extended warranty, deductibles, and excluded items and instead, put it in a savings account. You can use those funds to pay for your own maintenance and repairs later.
  • Regular maintenance will help prevent the need for repairs from neglect
  • If you decide to go with an extended warranty, those from a large manufacturer are usually a better bet than the other two categories.  Sometimes dealers are owned by the manufacturer. It helps you to know if they are or are not.

If you have experience related to this, whether you agree with the comments above or can offer something to the contrary, please post your comments.

Dual Fuel Heat Pumps: Comfort and Efficiency

Even though the worst part of winter is behind us in many parts of the country, we are still getting a lot of questions about dual fuel heat pumps. The main reason: our site focuses on how to buy a new AC and heating system, and all these components are often replaced at the same time. Now that the weather is warmer (and before the first wave of heat arrives) those who have waited to get their system replaced are now looking for ways to lower their utility bills or get tax a credit on higher efficiency HVAC equipment.

Let’s start with a definition: Dual Fuel Heat Pump

A dual fuel heat pump is a heating (A/C can also be combined…) system that relies on electricity and one other source of heat, such as natural gas or heating oil.

Before going further, we should include a bit of history

In the earlier days of heat pumps, they were often used in homes and buildings where a primary fuel such as natural gas, heating oil, or butane was not available. In that case, electricity was the only common option. Most heating was accomplished through the use of a compressor and working fluid (aka Freon or refrigerant). For easier understanding, heat pumps are often described as “an air conditioner or refrigerator in reverse”. That’s easy to understand if you have ever stood behind your refrigerator or outside AC unit. Anyway, in a heat pump the main work of creating heat is powered by electricity. Because they don’t “extract and move” heat very well when the outside temperature drops below a certain point, heat pumps require a secondary or “emergency” source of heat. Before dual -fuel models became available (and still today when electricity is the only energy source), the secondary heat source was resistance or “strip” heating. Nearly everyone has seen this type of heating in the orange glowing part of radiant heaters. The element in these gets hot quickly, but electrical resistance is generally not an efficient way to heat space –they use a lot of electricity for the amount of heat given off.

Because they require the use of a compressor and for other reasons, some might ask

In situations where gas or heating oil is available, why bother with the heat pump…why not just have a high efficiency furnace?

This is a good question, and it makes for lively debate. The quick answer is that, with a dual fuel heat pump, a sensor in the system chooses the mode (electricity powered heat pump OR gas/oil/etc. furnace) that is most efficient for the current temperature, outside conditions and thermostat setting. Here’s an example: in the daytime in cooler or cold season of the year, have you ever been inside your home or office feeling chilly, and walked outside to warmer feeling air? That’s a good example of when a heat pump would likely be more efficient choice than gas. Why burn fuel when you could “move” warmth from the outside with a lower energy equivalent of electricity.

While discussing ways a dual fuel heat pump can be installed, the following scenario was brought up:

Homeowner has a heating system in good condition and high enough efficiency, but their older or inefficient air conditioning unit goes out. If done properly, by a competent installer, a new combo air conditioner/heat pump can be installed and connected with the existing gas or oil furnace to create a dual-fuel option. In our experience, non-standard retrofits such as this require a higher level of skill than the normal installation of equipment that has been designed to work together.

If you want to read more about heat pumps, you can go to the about heat pumps page on this site.

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.

Whole House Air Filters Remove Pollen, Second-Hand Smoke and More

In many parts of the country, fall is the time of year when ragweed and other pollen-producing plants go into high gear.  Individuals who suffer from allergies often benefit from better filtration of their indoor air.  In addition to filtering out plant pollen for allergy relief, the right system will also remove second hand smoke, odors, pet dander, dust and many other irritants.  Early fall, when the heat of summer subsides, also happens to be one of the two slower periods each year for most local AC and heating companies.  The convergence of these facts makes a good topic for our post today.

In contrast with portable or room air filters, a whole house air filtration system covers all rooms of your home and are integrated within your HVAC system.

Within your AC and heating system, the air filter element serves two main purposes:

1– Protect your AC and heating equipment from contamination and becoming clogged inside the system.  The air filter element must allow the air to flow through the equipment at the rate specified for that system. Of course, if the filter is not changed on schedule the clog will occur at the filter element itself.

2– Remove airborne particles, odors and other contaminates from the indoor breathing environment of your home or office.

There are many choices of whole house air filters available.  Just as in water filters, the overall objective is to remove the maximum amount and type of contaminates while avoiding undesirable growth of molds, etc. on the filter media.  Maintenance requirements, initial + operating costs, and other factors figure must also be included in this equation. For a more detailed description, go to our air filter page.

During autumn, your local AC and heating service companies are less busy.

For the homeowner, this means that now is a good time for you to call them for maintenance, repairs, or to get a quote on an air filter system.  They will be under less pressure (which is usually the case when it first gets hot or cold outside), plus many service companies offer off-season discounts, rebates, and other ways to save.

If you are about to get a new ac and heating system or make changes to your air handler or ductwork, you will want to consider the air filter options at the same time.  It costs less to add a whole house filter at these times, rather than as a stand-alone project later.  As is the case in the rest of air conditioning and heating, the quality of the installation often makes a bigger difference than the brand of equipment.  Of course, there are differences in air filter equipment.  However, you need to first screen for quality work from the company who will install and maintain it for you, because that is the most important variable. While on site, your local HVAC contractor can also help you select the equipment that will work best to meet your indoor air quality goals in the physical situation within your home or building.

If you have questions or comments on this topic, please send them to us so others can help you or benefit from your experience.  We look forward to hearing from you.