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November 02, 2009


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We did exactly the same with a new generator. The main thing that we do when talking to tradesmen is make sure always, always, always that you get an estimate in writing. If there are mistakes or it looks amateurish then we don't proceed with that firm and this has held us in good stead over the years.

Maybe I'm an idiot? 10 yrs ago I had the gas utility company replace my 2 gas furnaces & AC unit after it failed. They also sold me the equipment--they offered 3 different models of different prices and efficiencies. The price was fine (around $3000 installed), the install was seamless, and it's all worked great since then.

Gas is tricky and I'm not sure I'd trust a contractor over the gas utility guys, no matter how well recommended they were. I'm also not sure I'd know enough about furnaces to pick a reliable one anyway.

So now I'm wondering....is it stupid to just go with the model/install that the utility company recommends? If your furnace fails in the winter, it's not like you have more than 1 day to figure it all out.

Very minor point; Reading your post you refer to the Furnace/Boiler as a "heater". I get the idea you're not too technical, but it's sorta like refering to a car as a "people mover". Other than that a great post.

furnace - please use furnace.

theCase and Pete --

For you two, I changed it to "furnace." Thanks for making me technically correct. ;-)


Gracias mi amigo!

Could you detail how you decided which brand to purchase? We replaced our furnance a few months ago and went with a gov tax credit elgible 95% Heil because of the value that the brand provides. Of course we could have spent more with a better known brand, but we were not convinced more money would get us more. So far we are pleased but Feb in Chicago will be the real test. We upgraded from a 80%, but I'm not expecting to save much more than the 15% effeciency rating or about $150 per season. Our heating bill is one of the downsides of a large open floorplan, at least our a/c bill is very low to help moderate our annual HVAC bill.

Jeff --

They all had specific brands they recommended (sold) and since we recognized the winner's brand as a "name brand" (Carrier), we went with that. But I must admit that it is difficult to compare/contrast the oprions, brands, etc. on a highly technical unit that you buy once every 20 years.

I'm sorry to bring this up, but it's a very important point. 13 SEER may not be sufficient efficiency to get you the tax rebate. From what I understand it must be 14 or 16 SEER in order to qualify for the rebate info. I'm using this link for that info: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index#c3

Daniel --

Good point -- it's not enough for the rebate. But it's enough to handle the cooler summers in Michigan. $5,000 of the total bill was for the furnace (which does qualify for the tax credit at the full $1,500) and the rest was for the AC unit (which does not qualify since it's only a 13 SEER.)

Good catch/qualification.

Excellent. You made the perfect choice for your region and got the best of the rebate.


You made an intresting point on when you negotiated with guy #2 and then told him the lowest price which he matched on the spot. He made a negotiating error... by agreeing so fast he left you unsatisfied because you felt you should have asked for a lower number. Upping the price without proper justification was negotiating mistake #2.

No wonder you didn't go with that outfit!


One more point - be sure to consider the long term costs of operation and maintenance. If you live in an area with cold winters or hot summers of any extended duration I strongly encourage you to buy if not at least evaulate high efficiency units. If one just goes on initial cost alone the dealer will sell the cheapest which is not the most efficient. YOU WILL SAVE MONEY IN THE LONG RUN with high efficiency.

Regarding brands, we've found Lennox to be the 'Honda' of HVAC - excellent quality, highly efficient and decent pricing. Lennox now has a solar assisted AC unit! If you are looking for a cheaper brand then try Armstrong.

We have a standard 4-br 2-story 15-year old subdivision house in central Indiana. In October 2008 we got an estimate on a replacement gas-fired forced-air heating system, and again in Oct '09 with the new tax figures. (We also have AC that uses the same ductwork, and we only use gas for heating hot water and the premises.)

I took the average gas bill since we bought the house in 2004 and subtracted the summer peak average that represents only heating water. My conclusion was that even if a new high-e system cut our cold-Wx heating bill by 100% (yes, 100%!) the payback period on a new furnace would be ~8 years. No Fortune 500 company would make that capital investment and neither did I.

The risk is that the system could fail. First of all, the sales rep claims the average service life is 15 years. (Does anyone know what the word "average" means?) The other point is that the risk of a failure resulting in the need for total system replacement, as opposed to a $250 service call, are worth taking.

What am I missing?

Flyover - you are right on. A service call is always the best bet. Where you live the high eff may not work. One more thing, it is very important to get multiple quotes and let each contractor know this. As someone who has been in this business I know there is a LOT of room for them to work. You have both installation and equipment mark ups. The equipment markup is significant.

Also remember that you have the ecomony in your favor. With residential new home construction (RNC) in the tank you have leverage in negotions. These HVAC guys get a lot of work from RNC and are now desparate for cash flow. While maintanence may be the cheapest you may not get the bargains available now.

I got a new furance about 6 months ago, they all wanted to install their choice brand, when i pressured them a bit about what they had in their house, it was never the brand they were pushing, and I ended up with a different brand then my favorite vendor was pushing, so ask questions about other brand options!

here is some info from an a/c man from texas 100+ deg heat that has worked on everything from window units to 1500 ton chillers. as far as brands go rheem is the best for residential small tonnage stuff. reliable and easy to get affordable parts for and best bang for the buck and last time I knew they were made in NW arkansas and not china/mexico like most janatrol ,hile or other no name units. and as far as trane linox and carrier they are the cadalac of ac units , expensive that only the dealer can get parts and usually the dealers/contractors are only one to each region so not much competition. For workmanship goes any a/c company worth its salt usually completely replaces the copper lines going to the outside unit and uses sheet metal to transition from the new unit to the existing ductwork. FYI I am large tonnage industrial and not a backyard jockey I just help friends do residential on the side. hope this helps

We had our AC and Heat done in June of 2007. Total cost of around $5-6k. Live in Charlotte, NC.

Had four companies come and do estimates. One of them had been servicing our units since we moved here, and we love the service tech they would send us... and he only lived 3/4 mile away. They were actually one of the most costly.

Home Depot came out... Most expensive.

Another local company came out, and had the best prices. They quoted me no name 12 seer units running R12a refridgerant. When I didn't choose them (or anyone) right away. They sent out their "closer" to the house to try to get the sale. He proceeded to use scare tactics about R12a being phased out and that it would be hard to sell our home as we'd have to disclose that to potential buyers ( a lie by the way). Being in sales myself, I sniffed out his bull. He didn't have a good answer for why they even quoted me systems that use R12a in the first place. Best thing I did was went online, found a popular HVAC forum with real HVAC techs and relayed my story... I got a huge amount of feedback. The next Monday I called the dealer up and told them not to call me again. :)

The HVAC company we did go with had the middle of the road price, offered a 13 SEER Trane. They were the only company that actually measured the house, checked vent count and location and factored in the windows, and which way the house faced... They sent four trucks out the day of the install, all arriving at the proper time for different stages of the install. We had AC back on that very night versus the two days they quoted.

Take your time and shop around. DO NOT always take a neighbor's reference at their word. Your neighbors could have been push overs, or have gotten a sub-par install or price and never know it themselves.

Fantastic article. As the client services manager in an HVAC company, I'm the guy who shows up with the sales pitch. This article gives some excellent tips on choosing the right contractor. The EPA estimates that 70% of HVAC systems are installed incorrectly. Picking a reputable contractor is critical.

In our expirience (based on 25 years in the industry) here are the brands to look at. Keep in mind, some of the brand names listed below may be exact equipment duplicates (like Carrier and Bryant) or they be different levels of build grades (Maytag [high end] vs Gibson [builder grade]). It's still good equipment, just doesn't have all the fancy (read: money saving) stuff.
- Carrier (aka Bryant)
- American Standard (aka Trane)
- Maytag (aka, Frigidaire, Broan, Gibson, Kelvinator, NuTone, Philco, Tappan, Westinghouse)

Brands to stay away from and why:
- Lennox (Equipment changes so rapidly and is built so specifically that generic replacement parts are not available. Once the factory stops making a part, it's no longer available and you're out of luck, regardless of the warranty.)

- Goodman (aka Amana, Janitrol, Kenmore, etc) (Cheaply built, but the real issue here is the lack of support from the manufacture. We have more problems getting replacement parts that aren't pre-damaged and the folks in the supply house just don't care. Some people have great success with these systems and they last for 20-30 years. Others replace them within six months. It's a gamble.)

Another money-saving tip: Some contractors (us included) sell a parts AND labor warranty with the system (ranging from 5 to 12 years). See if any of that warranty is optional. Usually the labor portion of the warranty costs the contractor extra and you could save a bundle by declining it. Once again, this is a gamble, but might be one worth taking.

Ernest --

Good comments.

All --

FYI, I forgot to mention that a week after the furnace was installed, the city came out and checked the installation work (for whatever reason). They said it was great and that they rarely had a problem with the company we used.

I don't understand how a replacement furnace can cost $5000. It's a burner, fan, and control board. Just don't get that. To me it seems it should only be about $2500 max with labor. Oh well.

lol, this is some funny stuff....R12a refrigerant? nobody told u anything about R12a refrigerant...it does not exist in residential. You may be talking about R22 refrigerant, which is being phased out. Equipment will no longer be made after this year which uses it. Most likely u mis understood( which is usually the case) R22 will still be available ( as is R12) but it is going to skyrocket in price. As for the 70% of units being installed incorrectly, it is actually about 90% and it usually has to do with undersized ductwork. People YOU ARE GOING TO GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!!! Do some better research before you go on bad mouthing these service techs!!!!!!

Before making any purchases, one should consult a heating and cooling expert.

I received two competitive bids. One is a Rheem with a two-phase air conditioner, the other, a Trane with a single phase. How important is this difference? I live in the desert where air conditioning is the major cost.

Also, where can I find information about the quietness of the two brands? Noise is an important factor in my choice.

I live in SE Michigan and am considering replacing my 25 year old furnace and AC before the tax credits run out. I was wondering if you could name the company that you were so satisfied with? Or can you at least tell me if it is the company that has been family owned and operated for over 40 years and has 70 trucks servicing the area? Thanks.

Susan J --

They are in Grand Rapids only...

I am also looking for a furnace in SE Michigan (Downriver). Any recs? I have several estimates set up for this Friday (11/26/10), and after at least a dozen calls have found sales reps who are like Goldilocks and the Three Bears - too hard, too soft... still looking for "just right." Thanks for the thorough article and the informative comments it generated.

JT --

We used Kentwood Plumbing and Heating if that helps. They were good at the start and have been so afterwards as well.

Good luck!

We live in Charlotte, NC. Our furnace was 14 years old and our house is same age. After looking at 3 HVAC companys we chose B&E Air and Heat. They were close to our house. The have been in busness for a long time. They did another house on our street. The job took only one day. They had a city inspection the next day that passed. Its been 2 months now no problem. The price was the middle of 3 companys.

We live in Ontario, Canada and are considering replacing our 20+ yr old forced air electric furnace with a Tappan 1QDrive ultra high efficiency heat pump + furnace. We do not have gas in our area so will stay with electric.
Has anyone else installed this product and if so, how satisfied are you?

I just bought a new furnace/ac and there are several new things. I had a ~14 year old gas furnace and +35 year old A/C! The fan was noisy on the furnace, the a/c was expensive (old).

I looked for a variable speed / 2 stage gas furnace and new A/C for a house of ~1300 sq. ft. (Rock Island, Il.).

Cost was $7675, minus $750 manufactor's rebate, minus $500 gas and electric rebate. Duct work to match old, clean up old ducts, re-install humidifier, and move the furnace location several feet.

The variable speed fan is very quiet...I don't hear the furnace running. Note: the variable speed fan increases the A/C efficiency rating! The 2 stage gas furnace is 98% efficiency on the low stage!

A friend's 14 year old house, of +2200 sq.ft. has a much smaller A/C, 1/3 the size of my new unit, and I suspect the smaller unit costs much more to run (than a properly sized unit).

I'll see what my gas and electric bills are over the next year.

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