Spring is here and that means another summer is just around the corner. This is also the time of year people start thinking about adding or replacing the air conditioner to make sure this summer is more comfortable than last year was. But where do you begin? How do you know you are making the right choice for your home? Most importantly, how do you make sure you don’t get ripped off? These are all great questions homeowners ask all the time.
Choosing the right contractor
The first and most important thing is your contractor. Do your research. On line reviews are great, but look for an recommendation from someone you know who used that company. Not all contractors are the same and neither are the technicians. Make sure you feel comfortable. Here are some good questions to ask and things to look for.
- Do they have the required MECH IV licensing to perform service here in the Pikes Peak Region? This is a special license to our region. The high altitude has dramatic effects on both your furnace and the air conditioner.
- Is the technician in your home NATE certified? This is a technical certification of competence that requires regular ongoing training to maintain. While it is no guarantee of quality or skill, it can demonstrate a solid baseline of knowledge.
- Will the person providing you with an estimate be involved with the installation? Generally, the larger companies have completely separate install crews. That can mean broken promises and later upcharges for “unforeseen issues”. If the person generating your estimate will also be involved with the installation, it can make for a much smoother process with fewer surprises.
What you need to know about equipment brands
Next up is the age old question: Who makes the best unit? Are you ready for the answer to a question that has baffled home owners for eons? The answer is “Whatever the preferred brand is of your trusted, licensed and vetted contractor”! That’s it. The truth of online reviews for heating and cooling products is that people’s overall happiness is in most cases determined by the quality of the install rather than the quality of the equipment. I like Trane equipment. Bob likes Carrier Equipment. Homeowners like working equipment.
Ok folks, stay with me now… It’s time for some technical stuff.
Terms you need to know before talking to a contractor
SEER – This stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. It basically goes like this. The Higher the SEER rating, the lower the cost of operation but the higher your initial investment.
TONS – Technicians and contractors will often refer to the TON size of your outdoor condensing unit. This is short hand for the BTU rating, or amount of cooling created, of your system. 12,000 BTUs equals one TON of capacity. In very general terms, you need 12,000 BTUs of capacity for every 600 sqft of conditioned space. There are many other conditions that contribute to the proper sizing of your unit. A quality contractor will perform a load calculation to ensure the right fit.
Single Stage, Two Stage and Variable Speed – Modern air conditioning units come in a number of configurations these days. A single stage unit is the AC we are all familiar with. It comes on, it goes off. Two stage units will operate at half their capacity during the cooler parts of the day. This makes for more consistent temperatures inside your home without the hot and cold spikes most people are familiar with and does it all while using much less energy. Variable speed units are the Rolls Royce of AC, allowing you to maintain exact temperature controls at all times while using far less power and much quieter operation.
The last question I get asked a lot is “Do I have to replace my furnace too”? The answer is, not always. But if your furnace is more than 10 years old, it is likely that the added work and stress of running the AC will shorten the life span of your furnace. You can generally save money when installing both at the same time too. So if your furnace is less than 30 years old and your contractor tells you you MUST replace the furnace too, get a second opinion just to be safe.
Getting the best deal possible
Here is my last tad bit. Want to know the best time to get a deal on a new AC unit? It’s now in early springs. While the temps outside hover right around perfection, no one needs us. So in order to entice homeowners to do their planned upgrades now, many contractors will offer special promotions and discounts.