Thursday, August 02, 2007

New Central Heat & Air System — Advice?

Well, gang, it's come to this. I'm so close to finally completing my Emergency Fund and Liquid Savings Goal ... and it appears that that money is about to serve its purpose.

For the second time in perhaps 5 or 6 years, our central gas furnace / AC unit is dumping water down its rear wall when the A/C is running. This is bad, as the water runs down the rear drywall, collects on the foundation beneath the unit, and then flows out beneath our carpet (though not far).

The repair undertaken the previous time — cleaning some sort of fins deep inside the back of the unit — lasted for this many years, which I probably should be thankful for. But this hasn't been the only needed repair in that time.

The current unit, a Comfortmaker, was installed sometime in the early 90s, so I'd guess it's about fifteen years old. I've been told that the initial install was ... uh ... substandard, just from visual inspection, because the output/ducting right above the unit isn't really big enough to handle what the Comfortmaker can pump out. There are a couple of other visual items (and if I can see these things, you know they're obvious) that would point toward this, also.

Anyhow, my instincts tell me that I've put off this Expensive Homeowner's Adventure about as long as I can. It's probably time to bite the bullet and install a new central heat 'n' air system.

Any tips or ideas from readers? Things to look out for?

I can assure you: I'm all ears.

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— Posted by Michael @ 10:38 PM


Friends in the business. I have a friend that works at an AC manufacturer and was able to get a unit a little over cost. Once I got the unit I had a hard time getting a dealer to install it because they get more of a markup on the units than they do the install. Also AC theft is getting popular these days since copper is so expensive so they think you stole it if you didn't buy it from them. Luckily it turns out my brother in law has a friend who owns an AC dealership and he did the install for about $500. The whole ordeal only cost me $2000 which would have normally cost $5000. Great news too since I'm selling this house and didn't want to dump more money into it.

So it really helps to know people to save money. If you don't know people, wait till the off season like the fall. Summer is prime season so the markup is high. You can negotiate with AC dealers, they have a huge margin on top of the AC price to work with.


I can't offer much help to get a good deal up front, but I can offer some installation advice.

My HVAC company sent out some Mickey Mouse subcontractor for the installation and it was awful. They almost fried the whole thing after wiring it up wrong. They busted up some things in my crawl space and didn't bother to tell me. I had to have to "real" company come out twice after that b/c of things the subcontractor "couldn't do". There were also several "discrepancies" b/t what the salesman told me would be done and what they thought they were doing.

I've had some other bad experiences with sub-contractors, so now whenever I call utility-type companies, I tell them not to send sub-contractors. I'm sure they're not all bad, but if I'm paying for a "reputable" company name, I expect reputable work to be done.


Thanks for the tips. The first estimate came in yesterday. For a mid-line Lennox system (2.5 tons, 30k BTUs) with install and all necessary updating to the house, he quoted me $7,995. This is at the VERY high end of what I was expecting, given that our home is just a smidge less than 1,200 sq. feet.

I'll get at least 2 more bids before I settle on a decision.


I don't know too much about A/C units, but having just completely replaced the A/C, furnace, coil, and compressor in my 2/2 ~1200 sq. ft. central Florida home in late June (at the height of summer and just a week and a half before I had to hand over a few thousand bucks for my wedding...figures, eh?), I can at least tell you how much our system cost and some of the specs since my house size sounds similar to yours.

Our house was built in 1980, and it is very possible that the A/C was the original installation or maybe the second unit installed. I noticed that water was seeping into the hallway carpet from the unit in early June, and a quick look at the unit revealed enough water damage to cause us some concern. A visit from a local A/C service company told us that:

a) The pan that collected the condensation from the unit was corroded and leaking

b) Our wiring was not up to code--the builders had put the A/C on the same circuit as half of our living room, which explained why the TV and all of the home entertainment gadgets would flicker every time the A/C kicked on.

c) Just repairing the corroded part would cost almost $1500 in labor and materials because the unit was so old that replacement parts were no longer available and the entire unit would have to be taken out just to get to the rusted pan.

d) The state of Florida would be phasing out R-22 refrigerant A/C units within a few years, so upgrading to a higher-efficiency Puron system would be a good move in the long run. Of course, replacing JUST the A/C unit and not the coil and other components would defeat the purpose since the efficiency rating was only as good as that of the weakest component.

After a few days of research and price quote calls on my husband's part and OCD number-crunching on mine, we decided to go ahead and replace our entire system with a 13 SEER/39K BTUH Carrier Comfort Series Puron A/C. The total cost for the A/C, coil, furnace (baseline 80% AFUE rating; we barely use central heat here in Orlando, so this wasn't a major concern), all piping, new programmable thermostat, permits, 2 year service agreement, tax and labor was $4072. We paid one of DH's friends who is an electrician an additional $150 to correct the shared circuit issue.

I knew that some local utilities and power companies offered rebates to homeowners who upgraded to higher-efficiency A/C systems, so I check with my electric company. Unfortunately, they didn't offer a rebate (boo!), but we still qualify for a $300 federal income tax credit.

For what it's worth, our new Carrier unit runs like a champ and keeps a house this size more than adequately cooled. (Honestly, I would like it to be just a little LESS cool, but DH is apparently half polar bear.) I do think that if we could get a full system in the middle of June in FLORIDA (where the A/C folks are slammed 10 months out of the year) for $4k, you can certainly do better than the quote you received.

Good luck with your decision!



Thankyou thankyou thankyou for the informative comment!!!

Our third estimate came thru this afternoon. At this point I believe I'd prefer a Carrier system, as the only person I know who worked in the HVAC field gave that brand his personal recommendation.

Our second quote came in at $6,630. That'd be for a Carrier system w/Puron, 13-14 SEER, 80% AFUE, and all that. Pretty similar to yours, I'm surmising. This A/C company has a good name locally, and has been around since about the dawn of time.

The third quote (today) came in at $6,093. Basically the same Carrier setup. This company, however, is only six years old. That's my main concern with them; plus they're a pretty small outfit.

To his credit, the third estimator is the only one of the three who caught a snafu with our outdoor electrical setup and got its repair written into the quote.

I need to make a decision on this over the weekend, I'm thinking. I've put it off, and the last thing I need is for our A/C to crap out in this nasty string of 100+ degree days.


Have you checked with your homeowner's insurance company? If it's covered, it could save you a lot of cash.

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Thoughts on my personal finances, goals, experiences, motivations, and accomplishments (or lack thereof).

My financial life began turning around when I took responsibility for it.
— Dave Ramsey


Start (2005-12): ~$21,900
Currently: $0
[About Our Debt Paydown]


Savings Goal: $15,000
Currently: ~$15,115
[About Our Liquid Savings Goal]