Tag Archives: compare

Can You Trust Online Recommedations Or Compaints About AC Companies?

I recently had a first hand, local experience that reminded me that we cannot trust the integrity of many online recommendations or complaints for AC and heating.  Especially if the comments are anonymous.  The two primary reasons for this are straightforward:

1-Less than ethical A/C and heating service companies (or agencies working for them…) sometimes hire writers to write good stuff about themselves online and, even worse, fabricate rants and complaints about competing HVAC contractors.

Service companies do this for two main reasons: a– to make their website found more easily for searches related to their business.  b– to influence potential customers who are doing online research. Of course, these two are connected.

2-Real customers are more inclined to rant when they are unhappy than they are to write a good online recommendation when the work goes well. This is only natural….since they are paying for the work, it is normal to expect that the repair or replacement of their system will go without many problems.

So, how do you know which local company to call when you need to repair or replace your air conditioner?

Here are a few tips that will help you make your own “composite profile” that is more reliable than online rants and raves.

  1. Don’t wait until your AC system quits to have it serviced.   Research and interview several companies for a short list. Use the criteria below to choose one, and get on their scheduled maintenance plan for the spring and fall. In addition to helping prevent emergency AC or heating repairs and replacements, you will avoid the peak demand times and get preferential service.
  2. Ask your neighbors. If several of them recommend the same company, that’s a good sign
  3. Check Better Business Bureau Online
  4. Ask a few direct questions:
  • Number of years in business under the same name and ownership.
  • Who owns them: equipment manufacturer, franchise, service corporation, independent company, etc.
  • Association memberships, such as ACCA
  • Training and Certifications
  • Experience
  • Do they perform background checks for the technicians who will come to your home or business?

Please write comments about your experiences, so others can learn from them.

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.

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.

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.

Don’t Forget The Ductwork When You Buy A New HVAC System

When comparing bids and price quotes for a new AC and heating system, an essential component often gets glossed over: the ductwork.  Because of rebates and tax credits, a lot of attention is placed on SEER, EER, energy efficiency ratings and other new equipment features. However, unless the ductwork is professionally sized, configured, and sealed with the newly installed equipment, even the most advanced new HVAC system will not cool or heat your home at optimum efficiency.

Ductwork may be difficult or inconvenient to get to
Another reason ductwork can get less attention than it deserves: it may be difficult to get to.  Ducts in two story houses can be encased between the floors.  More often, it is in the unconditioned attic where it is blazing hot and surrounded by itchy insulation and desiccated mouse droppings.  Of course, in a pier and beam house with vents in the floor, the ductwork can be located in the crawl space under the house with spiders, snakes and other biting/stinging varmints.

Ductwork is a variable
The vast majority of local heating and air conditioning companies strive to deliver quality work and above board cost proposals.  However, for the rare contractor that is more focused on winning the signed proposal than delivering quality, the existing ductwork represents one of the least tangible areas.  To them, it could represent a variable where advantage or shortcuts might be taken.  Any proposal for a new system should address the ductwork. This includes whether ductwork will be definitely replaced, if there are any variables or contingencies (if mold is found when removing old equipment, for example), and specific  costs for each scenario.

The whole house approach to HVAC

In summary, central heating and A/C equipment relies on the ductwork to deliver the conditioned air and not waste it. Be sure to take the whole system  — the air ducts, the ductwork and the envelope (the places where your house meets and interacts with the outside environment) –into account when you plan and budget improvements to your HVAC system.

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.