You don't need the weatherman to tell you that it gets hot in Richmond. And it feels great to come inside from summer's heat and feel the cool, dry air from your air conditioner. But what do you do when it breaks? You can only take off so many clothes before it is considered illegal.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard homeowners say, "I will wait until it dies." The unfortunate thing is that an air conditioner usually "breaks" when it is running the hardest, or when you need it most. And on those 90+ degree days, these same homeowners would gladly give their right arm for air conditioning NOW!
And, it is at this moment, as the house begins to heat up, and the extra humidity swirls around you, a homeowner needs to be as calm and cautious as ever, before they make that decision (hopefully a good one!) that will last for the next 10 to 15 years.
10 for Buying an Air Conditioner
Tip #1: Find a licensed, insured and qualified contractor.
I know that seems like a no-brainer, but there is always a "friend who does this work on the side for so much less." It is not just the A/C system that you are buying. You are also purchasing the contractor's experience to do the job correctly, his insurance if there are any unfortunate accidents during the installation, and mostly his staff of employees. Ask friends, co-workers or relatives whom they have used and are comfortable with (besides, the good contractors love referrals!).
Tip #2: Ask questions.
There have been so many advancements in the HVAC industry over the last 20 years. And unlike the automobile industry, the consumer does not have the luxury to "test drive" a new air conditioner. So, the decision to replace your A/C system is one that, once the unit is installed, will last for the next 10 to 15 years. So, ask questions. Make sure it is what you want and need. If you are unsure about anything, a good contractor will welcome the questions and give you honest answers.
Tip #3: Set an appointment.
Do not get a quote over the phone! In order to get the best system for your needs and your home, a contractor must inspect the location of the equipment and the physical layout of the house. This tip alone can safeguard against any "hidden" charges after the installation has begun or any sizing issues.
Tip #4: Get a load calculation performed.
The size of an air conditioner is not arbitrarily chosen and put in a house. A qualified contractor will perform a Manual J load calculation standardized by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). This load calculation measures the heat loss and heat gain inside the building envelope. Knowing this, the contractor can size the system appropriately so it is not over or under sized. Keep in mind, if you have made any structural improvements (like new windows, adding insulation or a new addition), these can alter the original load calculation of the house.
Tip #5: Have your ductwork inspected.
If ducts are damaged, improperly installed or the wrong size, they can cut your system's ability to heat or cool by more than half on hot or cold days, when you need it the most. A 30% return duct leak on a hot or cold day can decrease your heating or cooling capacity by more than 50%! That may sound extreme, but it's not an uncommon condition. Some contractors will upsell high efficiency equipment to emphasize your comfort. If you install a 15 SEER A/C unit on a leaky duct system, it could be operating as low as 7 SEER.
Those are 5 of our Top 10 Tips for buying a new air conditioner. Stay tuned for tips 6-10, and let us know in the comments: have you run into any bad situations with purchasing a new a/c unit?
Tip #6: Understand that you will need to make a sacrifice: Equipment, Service or Price.