Replacing an air conditioning system is a big decision, and a big investment. This is not something you should do on a whim, and you should always have at least one or two other opinions and/or bids from reputable and licensed air conditioning contractors.
To be EXTREMELY clear, the lowest bid is NOT the best bid… You, as Americans, have been conditioned to think “cheaper is better”. Think about it, everything you see in the media focuses on lower prices. Very few companies advertise quality, most advertisements are focused on price, and as a result we all started to believe that cheaper was better. When actually, we all know that cheaper, is just cheaper.
Keep in mind there are different energy efficiency ratings available, 14-SEER is the entry level but you can get up to 25-SEER, as you increase in efficiency, you will increase in cost as well. But this comes down to your electric bill, spend a little more up front and you will have dramatically lower electric costs on a monthly recurring basis. R.O.I = Return on Investment – this is a factor to consider, basically let’s say your electric bill is $300 on average right now, replacing your AC system with a 14-SEER might cut that bill down by 20% so your new bills would be $240 on average, if you go with a 2-stage 16-SEER that bill might come down 35% or more, so the new bills would be $195 or maybe less. If you’re saving (let’s say) $100/mo for 3-years, that’s $3,600, so if you had spent (let’s say) $8,500 on the purchase, in 3-years you really only paid $4,900, and add to that the fact that you have a new system under warranty, peace of mind, and we all know the electric rates aren’t going to be getting any cheaper… So realistically in most cases, based on average electric rate increases, most families see about 50% R.O.I. in 3-years, in some cases when people invest into the 25-SEER systems we’ve seen 100% R.O.I. in 2-years or less. These are things to consider, and again back to “cheaper is better” – well, no it’s definitely not because cheaper is actually more expensive in this case…
There are a lot of air conditioning companies in Tucson, but very few of them are true service companies, meaning that most of them are focused on selling, not servicing. True service starts with the way the phone is answered, some things to think about are:
Do they have a business phone or are they just using a cell phone?
Do they have trained staff to answer the calls?
Do they even have an office?
You wouldn’t believe how many people are out there running around unlicensed working from their truck using a cell phone as a main line. There is nothing wrong with being a “very” small business, but there IS something wrong with being a very small business that isn’t properly licensed, insured or bonded, operating in a highly regulated industry.
Air Conditioning is highly regulated for a reason, it can be a dangerous situation for someone who is unqualified or under qualified to be working on high pressure systems, gas furnaces, low voltage and high voltage electricity. That person can be a danger to themselves and also place a homeowner or a family in great danger.
This, again, is not a situation where “cheaper is better”.
So the first thing to do when considering air conditioning replacement is to know who to eliminate from bidding, some tips are:
Are they a licensed contractor? Have you gone to AZROC.gov and verified their license? Do they have proper insurance? Are they bonded? How many employees are working full time in their office? What certifications do they offer? Is this business an upstanding member of the local BBB? An upstanding member of the Chamber? Have you “Googled” them to read about their online reputation? Are there reviews online? What are their business hours? Do they work after hours and on weekends?
Once you have narrowed down the vendors who you will accept bids from, keep in mind that when someone is in your home selling you something, they’re going to bring their A GAME, they’re going to look sharp and sound intelligent, and a lot of promises will be made.
Don’t be pushed into signing anything, take your time. Research… MAKE SURE you understand the guarantees and warranties, are they offering satisfaction guarantees or are they just offering a low price? What is the labor warranty? Everybody has a 10-year parts warranty, there is nothing impressive about offering something that a manufacturer is liable for, what is the VENDOR liable for?
Did all the vendors offer to do a heat load calculation as part of the sale? Now for a twist, so they did a heat load, did they do it as part of their “sales process”? Meaning did they sit there in your home, taking up your valuable time, doing all kinds of measurements and plugging information into a software program, doing computer drawings of your home, and selling you on the fact that they are doing something special for you? Next twist, DID THEY DO ALL THIS FOR FREE?
Yea, that would be called a dog and pony show…
Here’s the real deal when it comes to heat load calculations, they are time consuming and they need to be accurate. You have to do accurate measurements of every conditioned room in the home, you have to account for windows and what type of windows (single pane, double pane, etc.), you have to measure insulation values, you have to account for shading, carpet and flooring, the construction of the home itself, is the outside adobe or siding, what is the roof made of, what color is the roof, how many appliances and what type of appliances, are there skylights and how big and how many and what are they made of, where are the ducts run (attic, sub floor, etc.), what is the insulation value of the ducts (the “R value” R4, R6, R8, etc.) are the ducts sealed and if so how tightly, there SO MANY variables in determining a proper heat load… It requires an ACCA approved software (Air Conditioning Contractors of America – the largest HVAC association in the USA), it requires a mechanical drawing of your home which provides heat load and air flow requirements PER ROOM. It takes HOURS to do properly and it is definitely not something that a qualified contractor will do “for free” UNLESS they know for sure that they are going to be awarded the installation project. This is NOT something you want some sales guy doing. At Strongbuilt Plumbing & Air we offer the heat load calculation as part of the installation of the new system, we have trained installation engineers do a “pre-site” of your home to make sure we have the proper size system and also to make sure we have a full inventory of all the things we will need to complete the job properly.
Is it free? NO – but the cost of the heat load calculation is deducted from the total invoice after installation, so ultimately it is a no cost service, but it is not offered as a free service nor is it offered during our initial consultation. If we do a heat load calculation and the client elects not to install the system, or they buy a system from another vendor, then there is a cost for that service, although we have never had a situation arise where we got as far as the pre-site and heat load calculation and had a client cancel.
If any of your vendors skipped over the heat load calculation, or didn’t offer a heat load calculation, then you should write them off.
Why is it so important to determine proper sizing of air conditioning units? First of all it determines EFFICIENCY. An oversized unit will draw more power than required, causing higher bills, but also it will do something called “short cycle” which is when the unit comes on and satisfies the temperature too quickly and then shuts off. That is the LEAST efficient use of air conditioning for a number of reasons. You get MUCH better efficiency when the unit runs for longer periods versus on and off because the huge power draw that occurs when it first comes on, plus the ideal comfort system will run for longer periods to remove humidity from the air, if the unit doesn’t run long enough your home will feel very, very humid and uncomfortable (especially during the monsoon season). The other factor to consider in an oversized unit is wear and tear, that unit will burn through parts like “contactors” and “capacitors”, the contactor engages when the unit kicks on, it is a piece of metal that comes down and makes contact with another strip of metal to close the circuit allowing the unit to run. Those metal parts can only make contact so many times before they wear out, an oversized unit will eat up contactors pretty fast. The capacitors are like batteries, they assist in the start up process, then when the unit is running they recharge. If the unit is short cycling and the capacitor doesn’t have enough time to recharge, just like any rechargeable battery, it will lose it’s ability to recharge, and you’ll be replacing capacitors way too often. None of these repairs are “free”, you may be told “it’s under warranty” but that usually means THE PART and then you pay the labor. So sizing the unit is extremely important, and whatever you do DO NOT listen to an HVAC contractor that says something like “there’s a 5-Ton system here so we’ll replace it with a 5-Ton” NO NO NO, bad contractor, MOST homes have AC systems that were installed originally by home builders who installed OVERSIZED systems because “it gets really hot in Tucson better safe than sorry” NO NO NO this is not the logic to use. Even a somewhat undersized AC system will cool a home on a really hot day, but an oversized unit is the worst case scenario for all the reasons I mentioned above. It’s best to have THE PROPER size system installed and the only way to know the size is by taking the time to do an accurate Manual J heat load calculation…
VERY IMPORTANT: You really should check every contractor that you are thinking of hiring to make sure that they are employing people that have gone through a THOROUGH background check, and a drug test. Facing facts, you should KNOW that the people in your home are SAFE. Unfortunately HVAC and Plumbing are the two most popular trades taught in prisons, and that is a fact. Many contractors do not take the time to run background checks or drug tests, partially because those things cost money. It is a sad fact that people with felony convictions on their records will often times work for a lower rate of pay, and many contractors will take advantage of that. Make sure you ask your contractor candidates if they are doing background checks and drug tests!!!
Once you have picked your contractor candidates, reviewed their bids and made a decision on who to hire, you should expect the contractor to request an installation date, and this date “SHOULD” be 3-days after you sign the contract, BUT in many cases the contractors will jump right in and try to get this done as fast as possible. You have a 3-day right to cancel a contract, that is the law. If the contractor offers you a paper to sign, something like a waiver of the 3-day right to cancel, ignore it because contractors do not have the legal authority to waive your rights…
Once they start installing the AC system, in most cases an install should be done within 8-hours, sometimes faster for package units, and also sometimes much faster depending on the efficiency and experience of the installation crew. There are cases which have taken a few days, things sometimes happen, but mostly it should be no more than 2-days.
While the contractor is working, LET THEM WORK… Try not to chit chat too much or distract their attention away from the job at hand.
Keep in mind, not every job is perfect and sometimes things go wrong, let them handle it.
The contractor SHOULD make sure they clean up EVERYTHING when they are finishing up, including vacuum and dusting, your home should be better than when they started, with no mess or debris anywhere. When they are cleaning up, a lot of times people will say “don’t worry about that” or “oh I’ll clean that up” but trust me let them do their job, these are people that take GREAT PRIDE in their workmanship (or at least they should), they should look at every job like a masterpiece, and cleaning is a big part of that, and additionally if they do a great job you should make sure to go out of your way to post a great review.
After an installation is complete, the contractor SHOULD have someone calling you a day or two after the installation to do a “happy check”, which is simply a few questions like “is the unit running and working well for you?” and “did our installation team do good work for you and are you satisfied with everything they did?” things like that.
You SHOULD be given a POST INSTALL QUALITY CONTROL INSPECTION within the first few weeks. This is where a MANAGER or senior level staff member comes to your home to inspect the job and the quality of the installation. Many issues can be identified during that inspection, and the contractor may have to send out a crew to remedy the issues found. This is NOT unusual and there is no cause for alarm, in fact you should be relieved that the issue was found before it became a problem.
What you don’t want is “thanks see ya later” the contractor who installs a system and that’s about the last time you see or hear from them.
You SHOULD receive (what we call) a Born On Book. This is typically all of your warranty paperwork and owners manuals. IMPORTANT: your contractor SHOULD register the equipment with the manufacturer THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, most manufacturers offer a 5-year parts warranty and when registered they bump it to 10-years, so the registration is IMPORTANT and the contractor should handle this for you.
Lastly you should always get at least the first year maintenance included at no additional cost, which is two visits, one for spring/summer and one for fall/winter.
Keep in mind – your warranty is determined by your maintenance and upkeep of the new system, so let’s say 3-years into its life, your new system breaks down, the FIRST question will be “can you provide documentation for maintenance” – count on it… What they want to know is that the system has been maintained, because if you didn’t maintain the system, they will NOT be offering you any warranty… Same as a car really, if you never changed the oil and the engine blows up, the manufacturer will not cover the costs. SO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A MAINTENANCE CONTRACT on your HVAC equipment…
I sure do hope this helps, I know changing an air conditioning system is a big decision, but in Tucson we can’t live without cooling in our homes, so it is a necessary part of our lives. You should always call us with any questions (520) 512-5166.