March 22nd, 2016

If your HVAC system is on its last legs, breaks down frequently, and isn’t keeping your home comfortable, it may be time to replace it. According to a study published by National Association of Home Builders and Bank of America, the average life expectancy of a ducted heating and air conditioning system is around fifteen years. Because furnaces last a bit longer than air conditioners, the AC units are often replaced first, which is unwise, because you always get the best performance and comfort when the entire HVAC system is replaced at the same time. Factory matched systems work better than “field matched systems,” and when rebates are offered by states and utilities, they usually require AHRI factory matched systems to prove they meet energy efficiency requirements.

1. Get the Right Size System – Older homes may not have the correct size system. We have found furnaces installed that were more than twice as large as is required for the home. Oversized equipment cycles too frequently, shortening its life, and won’t provide the same level of comfort and indoor air quality as a correctly sized system. Your contractor should tell you what size system your home needs, and should be willing to do a “Manual J” load calculation on your home to determine the correct system size.

2. Buy High Efficiency – Buy the highest efficiency equipment you can afford and that will work with your home. The labor component of the HVAC installation is essentially the same for a standard efficiency system vs. a high efficiency system, but the higher efficiency system will usually more than pay for itself over its life span. Often you can cut heating and cooling costs by 30% or more using high efficiency systems! Remember, you only have to justify the difference in cost between the standard system and the premium, high efficiency one. Buying the high efficiency system is almost always the right move.

3. Buy IAQ at the Same Time as Your New System – Indoor Air Quality components like humidifiers and high efficiency air filtration systems are common add-ons to HVAC systems. Most contractors will discount these additional items when installing a new system. Ask about add-ons when you are sitting at the kitchen table with the contractor. You may be able to get your IAQ products at a great price during your new system install.

4. Which Brand of HVAC System is Best? – While most manufacturers strive to make a good product, name brands matter because the major manufacturers choose which contractors get to sell their products. The smaller less exclusive brands don’t have as much oversight over who installs their systems. Since the quality of the finished HVAC system rests predominantly in the hands of the installer, a dealer who sells name brand products and is subject to manufacturer’s discipline is more likely to do high quality work.

5. Choose the Right Contractor – Choosing the right dealer/contractor is the single most important factor affecting the quality of your HVAC system purchase! When you buy a television or refrigerator, you unbox them, plug them in and they work. Not so with an HVAC system, which must be designed, customized and fabricated for each individual home. A conscientious, quality oriented contractor will take the time necessary to ensure your system is installed properly, using the right techniques and ancillary components. For example, things as small as the type of brazing alloy used, replacement of the line set, properly setting the condensing unit on a pad set on compacted stone all have a dramatic, long lasting impact on the functionality, quality and durability of your HVAC system. A good contractor will evaluate your entire system, including your ductwork, Indoor Air Quality, ask questions to determine your individual needs, and make recommendations that will best suit you, your home and your lifestyle.

6. Check References and Reviews – Today, consumers have a lot of independent sources for contractor reviews. Look at trusted sites like the BBB, and Google+ where people have to use their real name to leave reviews. Ask friends and neighbors about their experiences, and ask your contractor for references from satisfied customers. Other factors that indicate quality contractors are length of time in business, industry certifications like NATE, BPI and participation in state, utility and manufacturer’s rebate programs. If the contractor touts their 24 hour service, call their number after hours and see how easy it is to reach them. When you call the contractor during normal business hours, do you get a person or a machine? The relative ease or difficulty with which you can reach a contractor before the sale will help predict their responsiveness after the job is completed.

7. Licensing, Bonding, Insurance and Sales Agreements – Make sure your contractor is properly licensed in their field. In New Jersey, HVAC contractors have to have a special LMHVACR license, which supersedes the Home Improvement Contractor License formerly required. In Pennsylvania, contractors must have a valid Home Improvement Contractors License. While the minimum required liability insurance to maintain a license is around $500,000, responsible, established contractors have much higher coverages. Insist on a written agreement for the work to be performed. Your agreement should include both start and completion dates. Most consumer contracts for home improvements are required to have a three day right of rescission, although you may want to waive that right if you need an immediate emergency replacement.

8. Permits – For the most part, HVAC replacements, Water Heater replacements, and other major mechanical installations require a permit issued by your local building department, and must be inspected after the job is completed. This is to protect homeowners and make sure the work is done correctly according to code. Licensed contractors must sign permits as the “responsible party” so that if a violation is found, they are required to correct it. If a contractor asks you to sign the permit application, or tells you no permit is needed for an HVAC replacement, you should steer clear. Permits are a necessary part of the project, and contractors who don’t want to file permits may have something to hide.

9. Maintenance Plans – All manufacturers require that their equipment be properly maintained to provide the longest life, reliability and efficiency. Find out what type of maintenance your system requires. Most contractors will offer some sort of a maintenance agreement to properly maintain your system after the install.

10.Warranties – Compare manufacturers and contractors warranties. Most manufacturers require the contractor to offer at least a one year labor warranty, but often, longer warranties are available.

If you are facing a large repair bill it is wise to consider the life expectancy of your HVAC system when deciding whether to repair or replace. If you’ve been told your equipment is unrepairable, or had a repair estimate that seems too high, we offer Free HVAC Second Opinions in our service area. Call us at 609-448-1273 or fill out this online form to learn more.

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