Tag Archives: price

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.

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.

Flat Rate Pricing in Home A/C and Heating Repair

We frequently get questions from homeowners about repair costs for their central heating and AC equipment. In this post, we will give some basic definitions so you can understand cost related terms when you hear them. Basically, there are two pricing models, flat rate pricing or labor (time) and materials. First we will outline some features that all HVAC repair work has in common.

Trip and Diagnostic Fees
Known in the industry as “T & D” fees, among other names, this is the cost for the phone representative or dispatcher to make your appointment and get the repairman and truck to your house or building and diagnose the problem. No matter which pricing model covers the repair work, you are unlikely to get around the T&D fee. With gas at around $4 a gallon, the trip portion of this cost is mostly going up. Depending on the time of year and part of the country you are in, this cost ranges from about $50 up to $100 or more. When you call in to schedule the work, this is the number you will usually be quoted. The second part of the work, once the problem has been diagnosed, usually follows one of two pricing methods:

Labor (time) and Materials
This type of pricing, also known as “parts and labor”, has become less common. With this pricing structure, you “get the news” of the actual cost you will pay upon completion of the work. Under this model, you would be quoted the hourly rate of the repairman or repair crew plus the cost of the parts, refrigerants, and supplies. The most common concern about this model is that it focuses a lot of energy (not always positive energy, either) on how long the repair takes, especially if the repair truck has to go for parts, etc. In theory, the homeowner bears more of the risk or receives the benefit of lower labor cost, depending on whether the repair drags on for hours or goes really quickly. This is a good model to use if you know for sure that the repairman is technically competent, fast, focused, and honest.

Flat Rate Pricing
In the flat rate pricing model, the repairman has a manual that tells them how long it should take to fix the problem that has been diagnosed, usually to a fraction of an hour. He or she takes this standard number in dollars, adds the price of the parts and tax (if applicable for your area), and the total is the flat rate price you get quoted for the whole repair. Whether the repair actually takes less time or more time than the repairman’s book listed, your total cost was known and agreed to ahead of time. This method rewards fast workers and tends to reduce squabbles with customers over repair time. The main challenge: some companies provide pay incentives for volume and speed. These incentives can distract workers from being as thorough as they might be in the labor and materials model. Not finding all the problems leads to what are know in the HVAC industry as callbacks, which are unfortunate for the homeowner and repairman.

Having said all that, the flat rate model tends to be used more often now. You may not have the option for the labor and materials anyway. Under all scenarios, you should now be able to understand price quotes better and ask the repairman if he/she checked the whole system for problems or assumed that the problem they found first is the only one present.