Tag Archives: replacement

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.

Deciding To Repair Or Replace Your A-C System When Money Is Tight

To stay current on trends, we monitor several air-conditioning and heating industry blogs and HVAC email lists.  In them we are reading that a lot of homeowners are asking their local service company to do just the bare minimum to keep their AC or heating system running.  In recent blogs, we have written on related topics, such as:

a- Initial installation cost may not be highest cost item of owning a heating and air conditioning system over its life. It could be electricity/fuel costs or even a combination of maintenance and repair costs. 
b- Alternative sources of financing, such as a local community-chartered credit union. In those, a person does not have to work at a job related to the credit union. Rather it is based on residency or some easy-to-meet requirement.
c- $1,500 Tax credits, manufacturer or utility rebates or financing for purchasing a new a/c and heating system.

Given the current squeeze on household budgets, the request to avoid a major purchase or to minimize cash outlay is certainly understandable.   Of course, if someone is requesting the minimum repair, chances are they are not calling for service until their system fails to cool or heat properly.  However, If the system is old enough that replacement parts can no longer be sourced, or if a major component such as a heat exchanger or AC compressor has failed, even the minimum repair estimate may large enough to cause a cost/benefits dilemma with your current system.

When facing a major repair or even a modest service work on an older heating and AC system (generally, 10 years is considered old, especially in regards to efficiency), we are listing: 

Seven Useful Questions For Repair Or Replacing Your A-C Heating System

1- How long do you plan to own your home or building?
2- How much have your repair bills averaged costing over the past 1-2 years?
3- Do you believe electricity and fuel costs will tend to go down, stay the same, or go up?
4- What other repairs might you be facing in the near future, other than the issue at hand right now?
5- How much would you save on your monthly utility bills in electricity and gas costs with the new system?
6- How much are the total rebates and tax credits available on a new system?
7- How many months will it take to pay back the cost of the new AC and heating system? After that initial payback period, how much will I get in return each month as a return on my investment?

If there is literally nowhere to turn for the funds to give you a choice, then you may only have to keep your cash outlay as low as possible. However, if you do have choices, making the decision to go with more efficient equipment could pay a monetary return of and on  your investment.  Your local HVAC service company should be able to answer questions 4, 5, 6, and 7.  With these, you should then be able to make a well informed decision.  We welcome your comments and experiences.

 

Crowdsourcing re: How To Get Three Bids On A New AC & Heating System

We are seeking our reader input on the topic of getting three bids, proposals or price quotes on replacement AC and heating equipment.

Essentially, we want to hear your experiences on the two main ways to get bids: (a) contacting one company that has a contractor network and has three (or some predetermined number of) contractors to contact you, versus (b) selecting and contacting contractors directly yourself.

In addition to items you want to write about, we would like to know the following:

  • Who set the appointment?
  • What went well?
  • Where did problems arise?
  • Would you use the same process again?
  • What, if anything, would you do differently?

At the same time, we would like to hear your experiences how specific items that are not addressed or emphasized on many bid proposals can affect the outcome.  In particular, how the existing equipment such as ductwork, wiring, etc. was handled.

We look forward to hearing from you and helping others learn from what went well (or otherwise).

Tax Credit of $1,500 For New Heating and Air Conditioning Systems

As a provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, homeowners can now receive up to $1,500 in tax credits when they install qualifying high-efficiency heating and AC  equipment into an existing home.

Difference in a tax credit and tax deduction
Before going further, we will point out that this is a tax credit, not merely a deduction. Basically, a deduction reduces the amount your tax bill is calculated from. A tax credit offsets the amount of taxes you owe.  In all cases, talk to your tax advisor before taking action.

The act allows 30% of the amount invested for qualifying equipment and during specific dates in calendar 2009 and 2010, up to a maximum credit of $1,500.  This means that qualifying expenditures can be up to $5,000.  Although the focus in our blog is on HVAC equipment, the total credit also applies to certain types of energy efficient windows, doors, insulation, solar water heaters and other energy saving items.  At the risk of belaboring the point, one credit covers all these categories, not one credit per category.

Special provisions for geothermal heat pumps
If you are considering a geothermal heat pump (or solar water heater) we are hearing that there are some extra stimulus incentives, including higher allowances and more years to qualify.  Ask your tax adviser and contractor for the details.

Get the details in writing
In reading air conditioning and heating industry news and blogs, there is some confusion over which replacement equipment qualifies (or which efficiency standard to rely upon) for the efficiency standards of the act.  This is not unusual for the early stages of a new tax credit and the complexities of the U.S. tax code.  Because of this, we advise you to get the details in writing from your contractor or tax advisor as to whether (or not) any purchase you are considering qualifies for the tax credit.

Our wish is that you enjoy more comfort, lower energy usage, and lower monthly bills.

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.

Helpful Steps for Choosing a New Furnace or to Replace Your Central Heating System

What types of fuels or sources of heat are available to your home or building
Before spending too much time researching heating systems, you must determine which fuels or external heat sources are available to your home or building. This will provide the initial list of choices you have.  For example, if gas is not readily available, gas/electric dual fuel heat pumps are off the list.  Further, if surrounded by solid rock close to the earth’s surface, then you are much less likely to consider geothermal heating.

Your climate: number of days with high temperatures below freezing
If your location has many days of sub-freezing high temperatures, this will likely cause an all electric heat pump to be in auxiliary heat mode more than you would want. If the source of that auxiliary heat is strip heating (electricity) there may be better alternatives.

Type of construction of your home or building: basement, attic space and existing heating infrastructure
If your home or building has existing piping or ductwork already in a floor, basement or attic and it is in good condition, you will need to factor this in your decision.

We recently were told an account of a homeowner in Montana who had piping for radiant heating in their concrete slab.  The piping sprung a leak and, assuming it was all bad, the owner got bids to bypass the old piping and a new system.  A quick excavation revealed a nick in the old piping system that dated back to its installation, not degradation.  So, uncovering the cause saved an unnecessary expense.

If you are considering the re-use of existing ductwork, be sure that your price quotes or bids address the condition of the existing ducts.  Include interior condition as well as sealing against air leaks.

Forced air systems vs. radiant heat: personal comfort and preferences
Do you prefer warm or hot air blowing into your rooms from  a forced air system or gradual warming through radiant heat?  Within the blowing warm air category, if there is an all electric heat pump involved, the air that comes out of the vents into your rooms will not likely be as warm as the air from a gas furnace. If you are cold natured or have respiratory issues or allergies, these factors could also affect your decision.

Length of time you plan to own your home or building, if known
If you know you will be there many years, this could affect the type of system you select. Reason: a future owner might not place the same value on your type of new system as you do.  With fuel costs mostly going up,  a higher efficiency system is still recommended, though.

Training, experience and integrity of installation companies you are considering
As written elsewhere on our website, the quality of the installation of your furnace or heating system will likely prove to be a bigger variable to your indoor comfort and satisfaction than the brand of equipment  you select.  Go here to read a quick list of tips on how to select a heating and furnace contractor.

Four parts to the cost of ownership of the life of a system
Over the life of your new furnace or central heating system, there are four types of costs to consider. You can read our blog post in May 2008 to learn more details about these.

  • Initial cost of installed equipment
  • Energy efficiency: cost of fuel or energy to operate the system over the life of the system
  • Maintenance cost over the life of the system
  • Life span and replacement cost at end of life of system

We hope these tips will help you stay warm and enjoy lower energy usage and bills!  Please post your experiences.

How To Finance A New Heating and Air Conditioning System

With utility costs going up every month and credit getting harder to find, we want to offer suggestions on how to finance a new heating and A/C system for your home or small commercial building. Making a smart decision to replace your broken or inefficient HVAC system can deliver more comfort and lower your heating and cooling bills every month. Using a cost savings estimator tool (all of which must make some assumptions to cover unknowns), you can easily figure out the payback period for the new equipment. (We wrote about those in our blog two months, in August). Since a heating and AC new system should last much longer than the payback or break-even period, you can get a return of your investment and on your investment.

Heating and AC System Financing Through Your Installer
The first place to look for financing is through the company that installs your furnace and A/C system. For many reasons, you must pick this company very carefully. It is by far the most important decision you will make towards your comfort, costs, and overall satisfaction with a new HVAC system. The local company that installs your system will usually have financing programs from the equipment manufacturer. They might also have arranged third party financing through a local or national lender. Examples of programs from a manufacturer would 12 months same as cash. As in all financial and contractual matters, be sure to read the fine print, front and back, of all documents. Also, pay special attention to the requirements for paying on time and penalties if you were to be late with payments.

Check Out Your Local Credit Union for HVAC financing also
Another, often overlooked, source of financing is through a local credit union. Credit unions have a long history of lending locally. They typically have lower fees and are usually more customer oriented than commercial banks. For a long time, most credit unions were only available through employers. However, in recent years, there are credit unions that are generally available to anyone in the community. This category is called community chartered credit unions. To find one in your area, use a search engine and enter a credit union and your city or a community chartered credit union or visit the NCUA website.

If there is not a community chartered credit union in your area, you might be able to get access to one by joining a organization. As an example, in our hometown of Austin, there is a really good credit union for the University of Texas. Originally opened for faculty and staff, now anyone in the community can be a member by joining the nearby food coop.

Utility Company or Other HVAC Rebate Programs
Regardless of where you finally get financing, remember to ask about rebate programs. These are often from your utility providers, but can also be local, state, or federal programs targeting your area. You might start there first and see if they list lenders who are approved to apply the rebate program.

We look forward to reading your ideas and experiences on this topic.