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Thread: HVAC contractors

  1. #1
    Senior Member jp1's Avatar
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    HVAC contractors

    Now that we're first time home buyers the fun begins. Our new place, shockingly, does not have A/C. Unlike in western San Francisco where you can count the days that get over 80 on your fingers most years, up here in central Marin county it's quite a bit warmer (which was one of the reasons we decided to move up here.) Also, the furnace in this place is original, so it's 43 years old and likely on its last legs, not to mention inefficient. I had originally intended to wait until we were a bit more settled before starting this project, but it's supposed to get up in the 90's for six or seven days in a row starting friday or saturday. Obviously we won't have a new system installed that quickly, but it's leading me to think that we may as well get this taken care of.

    My question is, how does one go about selecting an HVAC contractor? Never having owned a place before I've never had to hire any sort of home improvement company.

  2. #2
    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jp1 View Post
    Now that we're first time home buyers the fun begins. Our new place, shockingly, does not have A/C. Unlike in western San Francisco where you can count the days that get over 80 on your fingers most years, up here in central Marin county it's quite a bit warmer (which was one of the reasons we decided to move up here.) Also, the furnace in this place is original, so it's 43 years old and likely on its last legs, not to mention inefficient. I had originally intended to wait until we were a bit more settled before starting this project, but it's supposed to get up in the 90's for six or seven days in a row starting friday or saturday. Obviously we won't have a new system installed that quickly, but it's leading me to think that we may as well get this taken care of.

    My question is, how does one go about selecting an HVAC contractor? Never having owned a place before I've never had to hire any sort of home improvement company.
    One method is to get on Nextdoor for your neighborhood and ask who does good work in your area.


    As an aside, Nextdoor is based in the San Francisco area, not that that has any relevance here.

    I don’t know how DH selected our last HVAC installation, but we put in air-conditioning downstairs and a new furnace. It was one of the big companies, that I know. For something that sizable you want to get an estimate before you hire the people.But if HVAC is like any of the other contractors, they are backed up for months. I don’t know if they are or not.


    If you find us a case, then I would just go with whatever large licensed and bonded company in your area who can do your job in a reasonable timeframe.

    I could quack on a bad major HVAC installers and plumbers and etc. when we were doing our gut rehab city house, but it’s not relevant to your situation. DH wanted to do a lot of the work himself and so he had to work with smaller companies who let him do that.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Tradd's Avatar
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    I'd also ask around with any folks you know.

  4. #4
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    I would hire our son who is HVAC/electrical/refrigerant certified and works in this full time. He gives us a better price than anyone and I trust him completely. He still makes good hourly wages from is - there’s no middle man.

    Is there anyone like this in your friend/family circle?

  5. #5
    Senior Member SteveinMN's Avatar
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    We just went through this in the past year (on both houses).

    The equipment in your house is very old (and, in some cases, non-existent). It's likely the house has seen significant changes in configuration (rooms opened up, rooms closed, basement finished and livable, fans added, etc.) so someone eyeballing what's there and converting that to current efficiency equipment could lead to inappropriate sizing that does not leave you feeling comfortable in the house when it's running.

    You should get what's called a "Manual J" calculation. This looks at the house, siting/sun exposure, the air that moves through the house, etc., and determines the size of the equipment you need. tbh I had to press this point with the contractors I contacted (they didn't feel it was necessary), But since I had added insulation in the ceiling, two bathroom fans, and a range hood, and the house had a livable basement that was just concrete block when the original furnace was sized, I wanted a Manual J. Tell them to do it to humor some old people (that's what I did).

    You want someone who knows local code and who will pull permits for you (and close them after inspections). It helps if they're familiar with the type of house you're in. You should check your local power utility to see if there are rebates on certain models -- for me, rebates made a 92% furnace just a couple of hundred dollars more expensive than an 80% furnace, so check them out.

    Consider that there may be some diminishing returns in efficiency. Here in Minnesota, we don't use the A/C all that much, so buying the most efficient air conditioner that exists will have a very long payback time. On the other hand, we use the furnace at least 6-8 months out of the year, so increased efficiency there can make a real difference for us. It sounds like the situation may be the opposite where you are.

    What doesn't really matter is the name on the furnace. There are only three or four manufacturers these days and many of them use components from the same suppliers. They manufacture the same box (60K BTU 92% efficient) and put a different nameplate on it (literally, this is all Daikin does). Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that -- it means you don't have to buy their fanciest brand to get the same basic design and parts as the top-of-the-line. There will be some features reserved for the more expensive lines, but, really, no one is going to care if the furnace says Daikin or Amana.

    What matters more is the quality of the installation. Pretty much every contractor will have a preferred brand. Pick the contractor that asks questions and seems the most thorough (or who will do the Manual J for you). Then pick the brand they support. They get the best training on that brand, they should move enough of them that they have some priority/leverage if there's an issue, and they can offer warranties that non-trained/certified installers cannot. The boxes themselves are all pretty much the same. A Trane, a Carrier, a Daikin, a Rheem -- they'll all work for you.

    A mid- or low-line furnace installed by competent technicians will function better and leave you more comfortable than a state-of-the-art furnace installed haphazardly. Get references. Get multiple bids if you can.

    I'm loathe to trust Angie's List and HomeAdvisor but you could check with the BBB to see if the company addresses complaints well. There's also a site called Consumer Checkbook that may exist in your area and seems to offer untainted reviews of contractors; you might check them out, too. If you can call your county inspection team, try asking them if there are any contractors with whom they've had issues in installation. They won't be able to recommend a contractor, but they certainly could tell you that Acme Plumbing and Heating has not passed several inspections.

    And go from there. Good luck!
    Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. - Booker T. Washington

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    If you had a home inspection done, you could ask the home inspector. I would also ask my realtor for people they like. We just did that when we needed someone to repair the polebarn after tree fell on it.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Rogar's Avatar
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    I added AC to my 50's home a few years ago and had three places offer bids. Each had a little different take on the layout and favored brands. I've had pretty good luck with Angie's list for other tradesman projects.

  8. #8
    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tybee View Post
    If you had a home inspection done, you could ask the home inspector. I would also ask my realtor for people they like. We just did that when we needed someone to repair the polebarn after tree fell on it.
    Contacting the inspector is a really good idea!

  9. #9
    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    Make sure that the warranty is registered. My AC with a 10 year warranty quit last summer on a major holiday after 5 seasons. The contractor that I use for everything - electrical, gas, plumbing and AC- came out, verified the warranty and had the problem resolved in two days. With no registered warranty, the cost would have been $900. I was told that one of their customers had a brother who did a 'favour', free installation, for his sister but did not register the warranty.
    “The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964)

  10. #10
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    Obviously there’s two opposite ways to go here. Ha!

    I choose to trust my son and self insure. I don’t have any warranties on anything related to our house, including the house. I figure my son saves us enough that we can self insure. And he can fix anything. But we buy way below what we can afford (about 30% the price of what banks want to loan us), we buy 50-100 year old homes, we buy small and simple homes with easy maintenance, and we expect a few things to need replacement now and then. It’s part of our long term budgeting. We like to keep our house payment at about 15-20% of our net income.

    The others have great advice if you’re going in the other direction ... buying a big new house at a price closer to what you are approved for from the bank. Then I can see warranties, etc.

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