Replacing your home’s heating or cooling equipment costs thousands of dollars. Even on chilly days, such expenses can get you hot under your collar. Therefore, it makes sense to properly maintain your current equipment and make good repairs when necessary. To make sure your heating and air conditioning systems are working properly, they need to be properly installed and maintained – and you need someone to turn to if problems arise.
The Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook of Heating and Air Conditioning Reviews for Quality and Price will help you find a competent contractor. Through a special agreement with Patch, you can access Checkbook’s updated reviews of Checkbook’s local HVAC services for quality and price for free through April 10 at the link below: Checkbook.org/PatchSFB/HVAC
In Checkbook’s surveys, several companies were rated “superior” for “overall quality” by 90 percent or more of their customers surveyed. But not all contractors are up to the task: some scored far fewer points and received favorable ratings from only 60 percent or fewer of their surveyed customers. Checkbook also found huge price differences. For example, to replace the control board for a Rheem gas oven, Checkbook’s undercover buyers were offered prices between $ 325 and $ 785. As a replacement for the condenser fan motor for a Goodman heat pump, prices ranged from $ 300 to $ 1,040.
Comparing repair prices is difficult because you will likely need to contact a company first to diagnose the problem. Since most companies charge high minimum fees to show yourself, you will likely have to pay something to find out the price of the repairs.
Before planning a repair, ask companies about their minimum fees and hourly rates. Since most repairs are time and material dependent, this information can give you an idea of which companies are likely to be the most cost effective.
Once a company has diagnosed your problem, they should provide you with a fixed written price to fix the problem. If the repair estimate is no more than a few hundred dollars, you can get the company to do it right away. If the estimate exceeds about $ 500, consider seeking additional quotes from other companies.
If you need new equipment it is worth looking around. Have several companies prepare written proposals. While getting multiple deals on new equipment can save most consumers thousands of dollars, most don’t bother to do so. Differences in design can affect how quickly and evenly your system heats and cools your home, how much energy it uses, how much noise it makes, and many other problems.
If you are considering purchasing new equipment, you are skeptical of claims of cost savings from a more energy efficient system. There can be significant savings – and there are compelling public interest reasons to install efficient equipment – but some companies exaggerate selling new or more expensive systems (more efficient equipment costs more money). Have multiple companies make suggestions, document how much the new equipment will reduce your energy bills, and ask questions. You can calculate your own estimates using the Department of Energy’s Home Energy Saver tool at hes.lbl.gov.
For a clear home, Checkbook estimated how buying new appliances with different energy efficiency classes would affect energy costs and found the following:
· For ovens, it usually makes sense to pay an extra cost for a more efficient oven versus buying a minimally efficient model. The resulting energy savings through more efficient devices quickly “pay off” additional acquisition costs.
· Since all new central air conditioning must be fairly energy efficient, in this area it usually doesn’t make financial sense to pay more for a highly efficient model.
If you are replacing both your oven and air conditioning, consider purchasing a hybrid system that uses an air source heat pump backed by an efficient (over 90 AFUE) gas oven. Such systems offer low energy costs, but because they cost much more upfront than standard oven-A / C combinations, their energy savings will take longer to offset these additional costs.
· Geothermal heat pumps offer the lowest annual heating and cooling costs, but these systems are extremely expensive to purchase and install – typically more than $ 24,000, even when generous tax and utility company incentives are taken into account. However, because of the energy savings and long lifespan (roughly twice that of traditional devices), it makes financial sense to consider these once you know you will be around your home for a long time.
· Look for energy saving features like variable speed fans and two stage burners.
· If you are planning an expansion or want to improve the heating or cooling conditions for a room or an upper floor, consider a ductless system. With these devices, which are common in Europe and in hotel rooms, you can control the temperatures in just one room. And because they use very little electricity and don’t lose a lot of the energy that air carries through pipelines, they are very energy efficient.
Investing thousands of extra dollars in high efficiency equipment doesn’t make sense if your house is drafty, poorly insulated, or if you set your thermostat to a tropical temperature in winter. Before upgrading your equipment, make sure your attic is well insulated and plug any easy-to-fix leaks (advice on these topics can be found on Checkbook.org). The best way to reduce home energy bills is the obvious one: pull down your thermostat and get a programmable thermostat and start using it.
Heating and air conditioning services are likely to push for annual professional maintenance visits, and many will offer a maintenance contract. Such frequent professional service may not be required if you carefully perform the most important maintenance task: replacing air filters when they are dirty.
Pay by credit card, whether you need repairs or a new device. If you are unsatisfied with the work, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.
Bay Area Consumers’ Checkbook Magazine and Checkbook.org is a non-profit organization that aims to provide the best service and the lowest prices to consumers. It is supported by consumers and does not take any money from the service providers it evaluates. You will have free access to all Checkbook reviews of HVAC services in the region through April 10 at Checkbook.org/PatchSFB/HVAC