Purchasing a new HVAC system can be confusing. There are many manufacturers, contractors and options. The industry has terminology that is like a second language to most consumers. Here is a group of the most often asked questions. We hope you find it useful. If your question is not listed, just call us at 804-748-6728 or drop us an email.
My friends are advising me to get at least three prices on my new HVAC system. What should I expect?
Depending on what equipment the companies quote, expect a range separated between high and low of at least $3,000.00.
The variables are due to the equipment quoted and the quality of installation you will receive. Those are the only two variables.
Inexpensive equipment will heat and cool your home. What you give up with this decision is longevity, energy savings and enhanced comfort and indoor air quality. Inexpensive, "builder grade" equipment normally fails in 3 to 10 years. The only way manufacturers can achieve the lower price is to reduce the costs associated with building the equipment. Examples of this include outsourcing the coils. The coils in both the indoor and outdoor unit are the Achilles heel of all systems. The copper or aluminum, depending on what the manufacturer uses is only a sixteenth of an inch thick and under constant pressure from the refrigerant. Even a pinprick leak can cause an expensive failure shortly into your "great deal." Manufacturers also cut back with cheaper materials in other components as well. It makes the price look great up front, but just wait until you have to make repairs.
The other factor influencing price is the quality of the actual installation. Do you know what is the most important day of a heating and cooling system? The day it is installed. If the equipment is not installed by trained and qualified professionals, it will fail when you can least afford it to go down. Are the installers NATE (North American Technician Excellence) certified? If not, it is most certain that their skills are very limited and antiquated. If you choose a physician or dentist and do not care about their training, then do not worry, just hire the low bidder and take your chances.
Highly trained and qualified installers and technicians are the key to any equipment's performance. There is a cost associated in employing them that does affect the price you pay.
That all makes sense to me, but the low bidder included a 10 year parts and labor warranty. Why should I care? They will replace all the cheap equipment if it does go down.
Good point! Go for it if you are one of the lucky ones that always win thousands in Las Vegas.
Heating and cooling system failures occur 90 percent of the time on the hottest days of the summer and the coldest days of the winter. Most of the low bidders are very small, many times one-truck operations. Warranty work is not profitable, so they put you at the end of their list. We know because we make repairs for new customers who call us since they cannot get a response from their original installer. Those warranties do not seem like such a good deal when your sweating, freezing or the installer is out of business.
How do you determine what size equipment my home needs?
Properly trained HVAC contractors will preform a "load calculation" on your home. This calculation is governed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, Manual J, 8th Edition. It is the ONLY way to make sure that your new system is properly sized for your home. The calculation requires taking accurate measurements of your home and collecting data such as window sizes and types, insulation, roofing materials, floors, walls, and even the direction your home faces. If a contractor does not provide you with a written load calculation, he or she is just guessing when recommending equipment for your home.
Bigger is better, right?
Not in the case of air conditioning equipment. If your load calculation indicates a 3-ton heating & cooling requirement and your contractor intalls a 4-ton unit for example, you are headed toward high humidity during the summer, increased probability of microbial growth and dust mites in your home. Since the equipment is bigger than what is required, it will come on when the thermostat makes a cooling call, run for a very short period of time to cool the space, then shut off. It will never run long enough to properly dehumidify. The air in your home may be 68 degrees, but it will feel sticky since the humidity levels are now elevated. High humidity makes us more uncomfortable than high temperatures. Ask anyone who lives in Arizona. Mold and dust mites require moisture to flourish. Dehumidification removes the moisture they need to live.
What is SEER, and what are my choices?
SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It is a way of rating a systems energy usage and allegedly, efficiency. A federal law went into effect in January of 2006 that prohibits HVAC manufacturers from building units less than 13 SEER. Although the intentions of the new law are good, it does not mean that you will automatically save the energy you believe when you invest in your new or upgraded system. According to the EPA, a 20 percent duct leakage will result in a 50 percent reduction in SEER. Most duct systems have leakages of over 50 percent. As a result, the perceived energy savings go right out the ducts. Units range from 13 to 21 SEER and the prices are relative to the SEER rating. The higher the SEER, the higher the initial investment, but the faster you will recoup the investment in energy savings. Be sure to have your ducts inspected by a Certified Air Diagnostician prior to making an investment on higher SEER equipment that may not benefit you.
What is the difference between the refrigerants R-22 and R410-A?
1) R-22 is being phased out by the Federal Government.
2) R-22 will become much more expensive in the future.
3) Manufacturers have known about the R-22 phase out for years. As a result, investments in newer, more efficient technology has be routed to the 410-A equipment.
4) R410-A is a colder refrigerant in the summer and hotter in the winter than R-22. This equates to better comfort and energy savings.
5) R-22 has already doubled in price this year and will double again by years end.
6) R410-A requires a higher level of training of installers. Best practices that have always been recommended by the refrigerant manufacturers are essential for the proper installation of R410-A equipment. Purging nitrogen throughout the system while brazing, keeping refrigerant lines sealed from outdoor humidity, making sure refrigerant lines do not come into contact with the structure, installing a sleeve where the refrigeration lines penetrate the foundation wall, and maintaining a downward slope to the outdoor unit to provide for a proper oil return to the compressor are just several examples. NATE certified installers and technicians are trained on these and other important, but often overlooked installation details that insure that you get the full life out of your system.
7) R410-A requires a much higher level of training, certification and tools for a proper installation. Most companies have not been able to meet these new requirements, so they try and steer you to R-22 equipment.
For additional information on the R-22 phase out, click here.
Why do so many duct systems leak?
The main reason is poor design and installation practices. At Bradley Mechanical, an in-house Certified Air Diagnostician designs our duct systems. All of the joints in our installations are sealed with mastic, making them leak free. Many duct systems are poorly designed due to lack of education and training. Many are the result of cost cutting measures by the contractor or builder. The duct system is like the circulatory system of our bodies. Instead of blood, we are moving air. If the air can not move properly, the system will be very inefficient, costly and will not deliver the level of year round comfort that you are seeking.
What is the difference between a heat pump and straight AC?
Straight AC does one thing; it removes heat from your home and only operates when the thermostat is set to cool. A heat pump has a reversing valve that will do the opposite during heating season. The refrigerant flow reverses, pulling heat from outdoor air and then delivers it inside your home. In our climate, heat pumps are an excellent and efficient choice.
What is Variable Speed and how does it work?
Variable speed air handlers and furnaces move air at more than one speed. They ramp up slowly providing for virtually silent operation and increased energy savings since they operate at a fraction of the energy required by single speed units. Variable speed can also help overcome some, but not all, duct problems. They can operate at a higher static pressure (see next question) that can allow them to push air through ducts where the air normally would not go. This can help solve situations where some rooms are difficult to heat and cool. Variable speed units coupled with certain thermostats have the ability to automatically switch to a lower speed after the temperature setpoint has been satisfied to pull more humidity out of the air without additional cooling. During the warm weather months, lower humidity equals better comfort. For every degree reduction in temperature, relative humidity will rise 2 percent. If humidity is not controlled, the thermostat may say 68 but the comfort level is poor because it feels sticky. Proper humidity control will make 68 feel cold. The result is energy savings as you will feel more comfortable at a higher thermostat setting. In our climate, we always recommend variable speed systems. By reducing humidity, you increase comfort, energy savings and remove a critical source of indoor microbial growth and dust mites.
What is static pressure?
Static pressure is the blood pressure of your HVAC system. Our bodies circulate blood through our veins and arteries. HVAC systems circulate air in much the same way through the duct system. If there is a blockage in the duct system, the static pressure increases, signaling a problem just like high blood pressure does in our bodies. Once we determine high static pressure, we have other tests that follow to isolate and correct the problem. If static pressure is either too high or low, your system is not able to deliver the air required to properly heat and cool your home. It will also indicate problems that can drastically increase your energy costs.