Cheap can be good, but we ask, “Why is it cheap?”
From the lowest-priced HVAC manufacturer to the highest, the range in actual cost to the contractor is no more than $500. Then why are estimates from different companies all over the place?
Imagine you’re buying a home theater system. You research the brands and purchase the best flat-screen, HD TV. You bring it home and hook it up to some rabbit ears and a boom box — you’re not going to get the experience you’d expected. In reality, you wanted an experience, not just a TV. It’s similar with HVAC.
3 Ways to Lower Costs
- Do job faster
- Do less detailed work
- Use fewer or lower-grade materials
All HVAC contractors pay pretty much the same price for units they install. That’s why, even if you narrow your choice down to a few models, you still can’t compare HVAC companies by cost alone. It’s the other variables that are the difference between simple buying a brand and getting a solution.
Is the highest price the better bargain? Not necessarily. Make sure you know what you’ll be getting for your money.
Warranties & Maintenance
Almost all manufacturers give the same basic warranty on their equipment — 5-year parts only. What about labor? That goes back to the installation and your heating and cooling company.
Parts & Labor Warranties
The manufacturer can’t control the way their equipment is installed. That’s why they give absolutely no labor warranty. The manufacturer makes every dealer sign an agreement stating that a dealer will provide at least a 1-year labor warranty. The dealer is then reimbursed for the parts only and the labor costs come out of their pocket.
A lot of HVAC companies (especially smaller companies) don’t add any “cushion” into their price. They want to sell everything as cheap as they can. That sounds great to the customer, but when equipment starts failing under warranty, it’s the customer who ends up paying the price.
Be careful when your salesperson starts talking about warranties. It’s easy for them to say you’re getting a 5-year, 10-year, 20-year, or lifetime warranty and just gloss over the fact that their warranty is for that parts only and doesn’t include labor.
4 Warranties to be Aware of :
- Compressor (on an air conditioner)
- Heat Exchanger (on a furnace)
Caution is required when a product is sold with ‘inexpensive’ and ‘long warranty’ as selling points. Long warranties are usually used by lower end manufacturer’s to compete with superior products. If you keep experiencing breakdowns in extreme weather and need to bring the repair guy out — it’s a small consolation that the failed ‘widget’ is covered.
You can also purchase an extended warranty. These are sometimes offered by the manufacturer and almost always by the dealer. Extended warranties usually provide an additional 5 or 10 years of parts and labor coverage. Of course, what good is a 5 or 10 year warranty if you need service every other week to fix something? Choose quality before warranties.
Be aware of specifics when your salesperson starts talking about warranties- – they’re often very vague about their offer. Make them put everything in writing, including the times that warranty service is available and how long you’ll have to wait for service if it breaks down during the busiest time of the year (see find a company and questions for help).
Some heating and cooling companies also offer preventive maintenance plans. We strongly recommend that you make use of these.
Preventative maintenance is to your heating/cooling system what oil changes are to your car. Not only will it help your system run better and last longer, but you could also void your warranty if the system is not maintained properly.
A lot of heating and cooling companies offer prepaid maintenance plans that cost less than what you would spend for individual tune-ups. Look for someone that has a good program. It’s usually worth the investment.
Utility companies across the country offer rebates to reduce their overhead by reducing consumption. Accept the rebate only if it is for the type and size of unit you need.
There’s a way that many HVAC companies qualify for a rebate that causes more harm than good. Cooling systems (evaporator coil and condensing unit combinations) are rated by the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) — which are determined by one of two ways.
- The manufacturer — who makes their own coils and condensing units — must run the systems in their facilities and provide a SEER rating to the ratings publisher, ARI.
- Third party manufacturers make coils that supposedly match with any brand. Since they can’t be physically tested with every possible unit on the market, computer-simulated ratings are submitted to ARI. We find that this rating is often falsely inflated.
These inflated ratings (#2) qualify for rebates at a much lower upfront cost than the manufacturer’s properly matched set (#1). But the customer usually pays more in the end, because the coils turn out to be much less efficient and often harmful to the rest of the system.
The worst part is that the efficiency ratings do not consider proper matching of duct sizes. A properly matched furnace, coil and condenser doesn’t amount to much if the duct sizes won’t accommodate their proper airflow.
If a rebate is offered on equipment in the size, brand and efficiency level you want — and your contractor thinks it’s right for you. Consider it a bonus.
Secrets of Installation Codes
Pretty soon you’ll start to realize that most of what you already know about purchasing a new HVAC system (size, brand, etc.) won’t really help you that much. It is the stuff that you don’t know about that really makes the most difference.
There are a lot of city and state codes that must be followed when a contractor installs an air conditioner or furnace. How many of those codes are you familiar with? Do you think the contractor knows that you don’t know the codes and requirements? One of the ways HVAC contractors can lower installation costs is to skip required steps in the installation.
Don’t assume that all codes will be met. Don’t assume that all permits will be “pulled.”
Please take time to ensure the work is being done properly. You are your own best inspector.
As we stated in the previous section, in order for a system to work right and give you the rated efficiency, it has to be matched and installed perfectly. Anybody who installs HVAC equipment should follow the same codes and requirements to make it sure it works correctly. If one company is selling their equipment for $1,000 less than the others, it might be because they’re cutting corners. They’re not cutting corners that make them more efficient; they’re cutting corners that make your purchase less efficient.
There are a number of common ways “discount” companies cut corners. Here’s a list of the most common shortcuts below.
Neglecting to install an electrical disconnect – One way HVAC contractors cut corners is neglecting to install an electrical disconnect (switch) and another type gas safety shutoff to meet code.
Not correctly installing a new flue pipe and its connectors – A lot of furnaces require a new flue pipe to bring them up to code. This is incredibly important! It’s used to vent poisonous gas out of your home. Amazingly, that’s one of the biggest cost-cutters a company will use. A flue pipe also requires proper clearance, pitches, angles, sizes and materials that are easy to ignore when your trying to put in a fast, cheap system.
Using “uncased” evaporator coils on their installations – They stock one small size coil that will fit just about anywhere. These coils are simply set in place, regardless of the way they fit, and then boxed in with sheet metal. Most of the time this is done because it allows the heating and cooling company to use a “one coil fits all” system. Instead of stocking 10 or 15 different coils, the company can just stock one and make it work on every job. A lot of installations are done this way because it’s fast and cheap and the customer doesn’t know any better. Insist on a “cased” coil from whichever company you choose. There can be no surprises when everything’s in plain view.
Here are some other items that can be ignored by some HVAC contractors – either intentionally or through ignorance:
- A level slab for your air conditioner (the concrete or plastic pad it sits on)
- Proper evacuation procedures for the recycling of refrigerant
- Refrigerant lines (which must be sized to your new system)
- Combustion air for your furnace
- Service accessibility
Contractors can also save money by hiring cheaper, untrained labor, using less expensive materials and doing lower quality work.
As a consumer, you have no idea what’s really needed, so you’re really at the contractor’s mercy. That’s why you must find a company that you can trust!
Cities and states have codes and inspectors to protect us and make sure everything is done right. The problem is, a lot of HVAC contractors don’t pull the necessary permits so no one knows the installation is being done. Even if they do, some of the systems never get inspected. In some states, even if they spot something, they don’t even notify the contractor of the violation. They just add it to their record and leave a red tag at the job. It may never get fixed.
Codes are good. They make everything safer. Yet even if a company abides by all the city codes, that doesn’t necessarily mean the system will work at it’s best. An inspector’s job is to inspect for HVAC codes – not the check for quality standards. The codes are primarily in place to address concerns for minimum safety. They do little or nothing for the consumer from a standpoint of efficiency or longevity of the system.
Make sure you find a HVAC installation contractor that you can trust to get the job done right. Total Comfort always makes sure to obtain the proper HVAC permits and follows state and city HVAC codes. The safety and comfort of you and your family is our number one concern.
When looking for a HVAC company to do your installation and maintenance, make sure to ask about all of their home heating and cooling guarantees. Your best protection is to get everything in writing.
Make sure you ask what kind of policy they have regarding your satisfaction. Forget warranties and service agreements. What will they do if you’re not happy with their work?
Some companies offer complete money-back guarantees. Others promise to replace your new HVAC equipment with another brand.
If the HVAC company is a member of the Better Business Bureau, they may belong to the Customer Care program and “Pledge to Arbitrate”. If they do, you are more likely to reach a satisfactory conclusion if you’re not happy with your new system.