Warning: Don’t commit to any Heating and A/C Contractor until you read this.
Where do you start?
While you are shopping for new equipment, you’ll probably be told to ask for three things: what brand, what size, and how much. Those are the three magic questions for most HVAC (that’s what we call our industry – Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) salespeople. That’s because they know that those are the three things that the average consumer learns to ask.
Most people don’t know the critical role that installation plays in the durability, comfort level, and efficiency of their system, so a brand is chosen and the deciding factor ends up being whether you like the salesperson and the price. The sad fact is that studies done by the United States Department of Energy and the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy document that the overwhelming majority of HVAC equipment change-outs are done without regard to proper sizing, ductwork and the home’s interaction with all of it. National studies have shown that 82% of residential HVAC systems are delivering an average of only 57% of the equipment rated capacity.
That means most households are paying an average of 43% more for heating and cooling their homes than need be. If the average annual utility bill for heating and cooling a South Jersey home is $2417.00, that equates to a whopping $1039.31 that is going needlessly into the utility companies’ bank accounts instead of yours. If you heat with oil or LP gas, it’s even worse. Keep in mind, this is average. You may be paying more or less. The only way to know for sure is by testing.
So, here’s something strange: even if you are not shopping for the lowest price - - you may end up choosing it. Why? The variables between equipment and installations make shopping a confusing process and most people are left comparing the only column they really understand - - the price! Why not? Every company says they are the best, their brand is the best, and they will install it the best.
If indoor comfort systems were just wheeled into your home like a new washing machine and plugged in, shopping by price would be a great strategy. But there’s a lot more to installing an indoor comfort system than just plugging it in - - and that’s where companies differ. Dramatically.
Who is the manufacturer?
If you are shopping for a new car, once you decide on the make and model, you can pretty much shop for price. All the cars at all the dealerships are made by the same people, in the same factory, under the same conditions. But what if each dealer had to assemble the car himself ? Suppose your new Ford was shipped out in thousands of pieces in a giant box, and each dealer had to build each car from scratch in his garage? Do you think there might be a difference in the quality of the finished product between dealers? Do you think one dealer might start skipping a few things here or there to lower their costs so they could be cheaper than the next guy? Same make, same model, but would the end product be the same? Would you get what you paid for? How would you know?
In the HVAC industry, that is how your system comes. In boxes. Lot’s of ‘em. And it’s not just a question of putting tab A into slot A. The contractor is the ultimate manufacturer of your system. There is a great deal of technical expertise that is required to properly and safely install these systems. We can show you any number of jobs where improper installation has caused comfort problems, service headaches, and shortened equipment life. Like the counterflow gas furnace in Woodbury Heights that was installed upside down. Or the oil fired warm air furnace in Thorofare that was too big for the house to begin with. The airflow through the unit was choked almost in half, which led to premature heat exchanger failure. TWICE!! In 12 years! Or the air conditioning system in Washington Township that allowed 45% of the air to by-pass the cooling coil, which led to compressor burn-out in 4 years! Guess what? The installing contractor replaced the compressor. It burned out again in 4 more years. They wanted to replace it again!! These jobs were all installed by reputable contractors that are supposed to know what they are doing!
How do you know?
As a consumer, how do you know who will do the job right? What is your assurance that the work will be done correctly and safely? What guarantees will your contractor give you? Will they unconditionally guarantee your satisfaction, no matter what? Will they give you protection against a “lemon”, whether it’s a factory defect or an installation mistake? Will they recommend a maintenance program that will keep your system like new for years to come? Do they charge enough money to ensure they will stay in business to continue to meet your needs, or will they be among the 63% of the contractors in this industry who go in and out of business within three years because they don’t know how to run a business? Or cannot afford to recruit, continually train, and keep the best technicians in the industry. Technicians that are highly skilled and deserve to make a good living and support their families the same as you want to support yours. Technicians that come into your home to keep your family comfortable and safe. Contractors that do not charge enough to do the job correctly most often take it out of the backs of their people. They do not pay enough to have the best working for them, so they constantly have sub-standard employees come and go, and you never know who’s coming into your home. There’s never any standardization or consistency to the way the job gets done. That’s what causes the types of problems we mentioned earlier.
Although we have not addressed the technical side of our industry - - here are a few questions to start considering: Can a cooling system be charged accurately with airflow being 30% low? Can an oversized cooling system remove enough humidity by running in short, fast cycles? Are the lives of the components in that system going to wear out sooner than normal because they are running two or three times more than they should? Does an oversized furnace cause similar problems on the heating side? And can that stress create holes in the heat exchanger that can allow dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into your home to poison your family? Does a room have even temperatures if the airflow isn’t correct to that room? Could a return grille be quiet if the velocity passing through it is twice as fast as it should be? How can a filter work when the manufacturer specifies 400 FPM (feet per minute) velocity and the air is actually going through at 910 FPM? If it is not being measured, they are only guessing. Period.
What is the answer?
EDUCATION. Your indoor comfort system is the most expensive equipment in your home. Treat it like an investment. The longer it lasts and the better it runs, the more profitable it becomes. Take the time to seek out information, ask questions and become an informed consumer. The better educated you become, the better decision you will make regarding your indoor comfort investment.