When it comes time to replace your heating or air conditioning system, how do you choose? Which brand names are the most reliable? Which are the cheapest to run? Here is a basic overview, but most important is how to buy, not what to buy.
Believe it or not, you want to buy the way the government buys most things. Call your local BBB and choose 3 to 5 contractors who have been in business at least 10 years. You are going to set up “sealed bidding” for the job.
This means you are going to take advantage of the free estimate that almost any reputable HVAC company will give you. You are going to ask for their best price and you are not going to tell any of them where their bid is in relation to other bids. Tell them you are going to go with the best overall package – including the warranty – and not necessarily the best price. If they want to promote a certain brand, then they need to be able to tell you why.
The inside scoop is that all major brands these days are pretty good, yet they all will eventually break down. Do not choose an air conditioner that has many non-standard features. When those units break down, the parts will be expensive and hard to find. Most of all the major brands use the same parts, believe it or not. You want to make sure that the one you buy falls in this category. Not only for parts availability, but also because you do not want some technician, in the future, working on your unit if it has special parts which he has never seen before.
The general consensus is that Rheem and Trane are among the best out there. Rheem is solid, simple and easy to work on. The workmanship on Rheem is typically first rate.
Trane is excellent, but tends to be higher cost. Your bidding process can take care of that however. If you become convinced that you must have a Trane, then have all your bidders bid with Trane.
Carrier comes from the ICP family, which is United Technologies. They also manufacture Payne, Day & Night, ComfortMaker and Bryant. Payne is somewhat of a builders grade unit and has the lower price to match. The Carrier and related lines are generally reliable, but watch out for non-standard set-ups. You will thank me in the future.
Goodman is now made by Amana and actually can be an excellent value for the money. Goodman is trying to overcome their spotty reputation from the past, and are putting out very good units these days.
York, Nordyne, Lennox are a few other well know brands. All of which are acceptable.
The real key to your long term AC happiness is how and by whom will the unit be installed. You could have a 5-star unit, but if it is improperly installed you will end up with a performance which is worse than the worst unit out there. When you have your top 2 bids, ask them to tell you, in detail, about who would actually be installing your unit. Ask about their experience and their training. You are about to spend big money and you have the right to ask these quesitons.
There are very specific procedures for the proper installation of a unit. If your contractor is green or if he cuts corners, you will wind up with a system which doesn’t efficiently heat and cool your home.
A heating and air conditioning system for a typical 1 story 1400 square foot home is going to cost around $5000 if you get a reasonably good deal. Don’t be afraid to accept a scratch and dent unit if it still comes with a full warranty. It is an easy way to save thousands. Let your bidders know that you would accept this.
To summarize, start with only qualified bidders, set the parameters for the bidding, allow them to sell you on extras to improve their bid and do not tell them where they stand until you’ve made your choice. Narrow it down to 2 and get the credentials of the actual installers and you’ll have your answer.