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Heating & Air News

10 Tips on How to Buy an Air Conditioner

Posted by Rich Krider on August 18, 2017

Air Conditioner in SummerYou 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.

In all my years as a consumer, I have never found a good quality product that is reliable and durable, that was installed by the highest trained company with a long parts and labor warranty, all for the cheapest price in town! Two out of three is the best anyone can hope for. So, what is most important to you? Do you prefer a high-quality, dependable product made with strong, durable materials, built to last a long time, or is it crucial for you to have a reliable, certified and efficient service company that takes pride in their work and your home to install it? Or you might just want to get the lowest price you can? There are no wrong answers because every situation is different. So, be prepared before your decision: which one of these three are you willing to sacrifice?

Tip #7: Do not pay in advance.

Some companies, or "friends in the industry," will demand that you pay in full prior to installation. Do not do this, no matter how good the deal is. In most companies, it is customary for a fractional down payment upon agreement, with payment in full upon completion of the job. Financing is available with approved credit.

Tip #8: Important considerations: 13 SEER minimum efficiency standard and R-22 Refrigerant.

The 13 SEER minimum efficiency standard went into effect as of January 2006, raising the minimum efficiency of air conditioners from 10 SEER to 13. Also, the refrigerant of the past (R-22) is gone. Under the terms of the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion, as of 1/1/2010, HVAC manufacturers were no longer allowed to produce equipment containing R-22 refrigerants. The new environmental safe refrigerant R-410A alternative is the new industry standard.

Tip #9: Get as many estimates as it takes.

We are all conditioned to get three estimates and then make our decision. But, what if you have picked three "bad" companies - which one do you pick? My point is that you should keep interviewing companies until you find that company that will provide the equipment and services, for a reasonable price, that meet your criteria. It may only take one, or it may take ten, but it will be worth it down the road. Spending the time now in this step will save you a lot of money down the road.

Tip #10: Make sure your system is on a maintenance schedule.

Customers tell me all the time, "The unit is brand new; I don't need to have maintenance!" Think about it this way: in one month an A/C unit in the Richmond heat will run the equivalent of 30,000 miles in your car. You wouldn't dream of going that far without an oil change, let alone a tune-up. Getting a new system serviced twice a year is just as important, if not more so. Dirt is the #1 cause for all system repairs and breakdowns. Make sure your investment lasts as long as you expect it to.
 

Buying an Air Conditioning System

 
So, there you have it! Our top 10 tips for buying a new air conditioner. Questions? Feel free to contact us online or give us a call at (804) 798-1371!
 
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Topics: hvac tips, air conditioner, repair or replace, ductwork

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