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szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
5/1/12 5:05 p.m.

So, we woke up on Sunday morning to no heat (it's still been just cool enough in the night that we're running a little bit of heat). Called the HVAC tech, who came out and diagnosed a dead control board on the air handler, and a dead control board on the outside unit. Quoted repair is ~$1050 all in.

Now, the heat pump and air handler date from 1995, so we figured we would get a quote on replacing everything. The sales lady just left us with a quote of over $7k!! The quote includes a Lennox 16 SEER 2-stage heat pump, and matching air handler plus installation, minus a $2000 discount and a $500 rebate from the manufacturer.

So, questions in order are:

  1. Repair or replace? I am leaning towards replace because I don't want to throw $1000 into a heat pump that may last another year or another 10. Also, if I ever have to recharge the thing Freon is NLA.

  2. Is the 2-stage heat pump worth it over the single-stage 15 SEER variety? I am reading conflicting reports on teh Intarwebz.

  3. Am I being gouged on the price? If I need to be looking at other brands, what brands should I ask about?

Since even the blood thread drew out an expert, I figure this ought to be easy for the GRM crowd. Thanks!

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon MegaDork
5/1/12 5:55 p.m.

How big is the unit? I just got a Rheem 13 seer 3 ton 'package' unit for $3700 installed. If yours is 3 to 4 ton I'd say you are getting raped. A 15 seer probably will not pay for itself (i.e. the extra upfront cost) over its expected 10-16 lifetime. In my case it wouldn't.

If your old unit is from 1995, it's R22 which has been phased out in favor of R410. R22 will get more expensive and harder to find so maybe you might want to replace the whole thing.

Dunno about the 2 stage unit. Hopefully someone more intelligent will chime in on this.

szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
5/1/12 6:01 p.m.

Whoops, sizing might help, wouldn't it? The quote says a 3-ton system.

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon MegaDork
5/1/12 6:06 p.m.

$7k for 3 tons is out-frickin-rageous. I was quoted $5k for a 15 seer. Shop it around. Here's something I learned in my last house: if you have vaulted ceilings then add another 1/2 ton capacity, no matter how hard the installer whines. You will have better comfort and lower bills. BTDT.

szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
5/1/12 6:10 p.m.

Yeah, I thought that number sounded a little high. Getting a couple more quotes over the next few days. We only have vaulted ceilings in 1 room (approx 200sqft addition to a now 2000sqft house). I think the old unit's a 2.5 ton though, so we're already adding another 1/2 ton.

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon MegaDork
5/1/12 6:12 p.m.

Then that should be OK. Oversizing a unit will make it 'short cycle' and it won't remove enough moisture from the inside of the house, making it stuffy.

szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
5/1/12 8:45 p.m.

Anyone know about the two-stage units vs. the single-stage?

motomoron
motomoron Dork
5/2/12 5:28 p.m.

After I'd nursed the 20 year old Carrier split system on our old house along w/ annual recharges from my tank of R22, set of gauges and sling psychrometer, it was finally time to throw down on new stuff.

I solicited quotes from 5 places, and told every one of them when they showed up:

  • I want to replace the system with Carrier or Trane high efficiency equipment.

  • A manual J load calculation has to be done for sizing.

  • That's what I'm going to buy. Don't try to sell me anything else. Don't tell me what size system I need on the basis of what's presently installed.

The first 2 guys popped the cover of the outside unit and pronounced "It needs a 3-1/2 ton". The 3 guy used the "stand across the street and hold up your fist - if it covers the house it's 3 ton - if it doesn't it's 4 ton"

Guy #4 came in, listened to what I wanted, inspected the present equipment and ducts, asked if we were planning on installing new windows/insulation than asked if I could give him a hand measuring for the load calc - he said he hadn't done one in a while and would have an answer in 2 days.

He called back and quoted around $2200 for a 3 ton carrier Infinity system installed (about 6 years ago) I booked him, he was on time and did a beautiful job. In fact, before he did ours, my parents system crapped out and they had him do theirs. Same deal

I'm about to have the guy replace the main system in our new (project) house.

So, have a load calc done and find out for real what size system you need.

DoctorBlade
DoctorBlade Dork
5/2/12 6:24 p.m.

Same here, really. My repairs were $611, total. But then they were a sharp bunch.

szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
5/2/12 8:44 p.m.

I wasn't here when HVAC guy number 2 came today. Apparently he was much more thorough than HVAC guy number 1, but his price came in even higher. HVAC guy number 3 is in tomorrow, then number 4 on Friday. We'll see how this pans out...

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon MegaDork
5/3/12 7:07 a.m.

Over $7k for a 3 ton split? Wow. Are they replacing the ductwork too, or what?

RossD
RossD UltraDork
5/3/12 7:37 a.m.

I was doing a rough numbers crunch using an estimating book and the $3000 for a 3 ton fan coil and air cooled condensing unit sounds about right.

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 SuperDork
5/3/12 7:38 a.m.

I'm guessing these prices are on the way up along with everything else (but rest assured, there's no inflation) but $7k seems high. The $2200 price noted above seems crazy low. We paid about $4500 for a 2-ton Trane system about 2 years ago. There were some small ductwork mods included in that number.

If you go with a very high-efficiency unit, you're going to pay a good bit more up front. Try to find the sweet spot for efficiency vs. price, probably around 15 SEER. You might pay a little more in electric bills over the life of the system, but that 2-stage unit is going to set you back up front.

Also, be aware that the 2-stage unit is going to pretty much be running all the time, if that matters to you.

And don't get Bubba to do it. You want to be sure the installer is well experienced and the company will stand behind their work if a follow-up visit is necessary.

Otto Maddox
Otto Maddox SuperDork
5/3/12 8:39 a.m.

When you guys are quoting prices, are these the prices for replacing everything and switching over to the new freon?

szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
5/3/12 9:19 a.m.

Curmudgeon - no ductwork involved in that 7k quote. Contractor #2 came in at $10k(!!!!!) for a Carrier 16 SEER 3 ton split system.

1988RedT2 - any recommendations on a contractor? I believe you're local to me...

chaparral
chaparral Reader
5/3/12 3:51 p.m.

The Trane price list I've got shows the XL20i (20 SEER) as costing $2250. Obviously, installation will add a considerable sum to that, but I'd continue shopping around for an installer that doesn't come in at five times that number!

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon MegaDork
5/3/12 5:46 p.m.

3 ton split unit, ICP/Carrier/Tempstar:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/3-Ton-Heat-Pump-15-seer-Complete-System-ICP-Carrier-Tempstar-Model-/190582376048?pt=Air_Conditioner&hash=item2c5f984670 Appears to be an R410 setup.

$2695.00. My package unit ('all in one') was installed for $3700.00 including all parts/labor/plastic 'pad' and disposal of the old unit. Considering there was no copper in the old unit, that wasn't a bad deal. My old house, I had a buddy across the street who worked for a HVAC company, I bought a split from him and we installed the whole thing in about 4 hours, including evac/charge.

Even if the unit cost $4k, I can't see $3k for installation. Two guys taking, say, 6 hours, that's $500/hour or $250/hour each. My attorney makes $275/hour.

z31maniac
z31maniac UberDork
5/3/12 5:56 p.m.
Curmudgeon wrote: 3 ton split unit, ICP/Carrier/Tempstar: http://www.ebay.com/itm/3-Ton-Heat-Pump-15-seer-Complete-System-ICP-Carrier-Tempstar-Model-/190582376048?pt=Air_Conditioner&hash=item2c5f984670 Appears to be an R410 setup. $2695.00. My package unit ('all in one') was installed for $3700.00 including all parts/labor/plastic 'pad' and disposal of the old unit. Considering there was no copper in the old unit, that wasn't a bad deal. My old house, I had a buddy across the street who worked for a HVAC company, I bought a split from him and we installed the whole thing in about 4 hours, including evac/charge. Even if the unit cost $4k, I can't see $3k for installation. Two guys taking, say, 6 hours, that's $500/hour or $250/hour each. My attorney makes $275/hour.

It's like the plumbing company recently that wanted $900 in labor to replace the water heater and put a pan under it.

It's like they are only trying to get 1-2 jobs a month and live off that.

SVreX
SVreX UltimaDork
5/3/12 9:02 p.m.

Why are you looking at a 16 SEER?

You are paying a premium for an efficiency level that it is highly unlikely you can effectively utilize unless you live in a super-insulated house (statistical probability- I'd guess about 3%).

You are buying a bill of goods. Either you've bought into the pitch from the HVAC salesmen, or you've been reading too much on the internet.

The air infiltration from your insufficient windows, bad sealing at the floor plates, and leaky ductwork will have an efficiency loss that will ruin any potential for savings. Here- I'll prove my point... If your house is on a slab, I'll bet the ductwork is in the attic, outside the building envelope. If it is on a crawlspace, I'll bet your crawlspace is not conditioned. If either is the case (which it is), it is completely impossible for you to utilize a 20 SEER efficiency level.

Plus, the unit will NEVER pay for itself in energy savings.

Look into a 13 SEER, and a good caulk and seal job. If you want to do it right, pay a couple of hundred for a home energy audit that includes a blower door and duct blaster test before and after the sealing. Fix what is suggested for $500 or less, and pile up the savings.

szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
5/4/12 5:59 a.m.
SVreX wrote: Why are you looking at a 16 SEER? You are paying a premium for an efficiency level that it is highly unlikely you can effectively utilize unless you live in a super-insulated house (statistical probability- I'd guess about 3%). You are buying a bill of goods. Either you've bought into the pitch from the HVAC salesmen, or you've been reading too much on the internet.

Hence the learn me thread. Thanks to all of you for helping me cut through the sales guys' BS, and also thanks to 1988RedT2 for the PM with recommendations. What a terrible process. Will be adjusting what I tell the next contractor...

tuna55
tuna55 UltraDork
5/4/12 7:25 a.m.

I replaced the control board in my furnace a few years back for a little over $75 when I finally found a place online that would sell me one. It's worked ever since. I would recommend the GRM approach.

chaparral
chaparral Reader
5/4/12 9:26 a.m.

I gave a price for the 20-SEER unit in order to show that the estimates he's gotten are extortionate. Jobber pricing is about 15% more than my list.

I'd recommend buying a 15 or 16 SEER unit and then spending at least the price difference between that and the 20 on insulation, caulking, and improved ducts (flex duct isn't very good. flex duct running through an unconditioned attic or crawlspace is even worse). The higher the efficiency of the unit, the longer you will want to keep it, because the cost savings of a new one will not pay back as quickly. If you have a glaring energy waste problem like a cheap window facing south or west, you should go with the 13-SEER unit and spend the money on fixing that instead.

We're not going to be in a natural-gas glut forever. Don't make your choices based on present energy prices; that is a good way to be unprepared when they rise. Run your calculations at your local utility rate; then run them at 25 and 50 cents per kWh.

SVreX
SVreX UltimaDork
5/4/12 5:29 p.m.

You haven't given any specs on your house, so I am working on a few VERY educated guesses based on 37 years of construction experience all over the country.

I am also a certified HERS rater (Google it).

1995 vintage houses in your part of the country do not have the capability of taking advantage of high efficiency HVAC units.

I GUARANTEE you will get more bang for your buck with a properly designed, executed, and tested duct system than you will EVER get with an expensive HVAC system.

The ONLY way to insure this is with blower door and duct blaster testing. Even if you had the best builder on the planet, even if you spent 3 times the going rate, even if your house is made of solid gold. There is STILL only 1 way to measure the performance of the building envelope. Once you've done this, you can make wise decisions about spending your money on appropriate improvements.

Even if you put in a BRAND NEW duct system, you still can't measure the quality and performance of the installation without a blower door test.

I also guarantee you will not recoup your money with an expensive HVAC system, or with window replacement.

If you WANT to replace them, it's a good choice. Enjoy it. If you are trying to recoup your money, it is better spent elsewhere.

BTW, construction professionals like me make a LOT more money on replacing windows and air conditioning systems than we ever can on leak testing and improvements. Which do you think most people push?

szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
5/5/12 12:19 p.m.

SVreX, you make some really good points. Our house is a 2k sq ft Cape Cod, and is actually 1977 vintage, not 1995 vintage. We've had some contractors tell us that reworking the duct system in this house is cost-prohibitive, so making substantive improvements with the intent of ROI is not exactly the intent here.

So here's more on what I am thinking. The HVAC units are near the end of their service lives (or so I am reading on the Internet). I can do 1 of two things:

  1. Spend about $1000 with a contractor to fix the current issues with the units, and hope that it's a good long while before the HVAC units break again. If I have to charge it at any point in the future, that will be an expensive (or just flat impossible) task because it runs on R-22. At some point, the heat pump will reach a point where further repairs are cost prohibitive, which will push me to action number 2...
  2. Spend about $5000 with a contractor to replace the heat pump. This is way more money up front, but I sharply curtail my potential expenditure on HVAC repair for 7-10 years. I will gain a modicum of benefit from a higher efficiency heat pump (not much, but a little bit, which does help).

As old as the HVAC unit is, I am thinking I would rather just replace it now, rather than spend $1k on repairs and then have to replace it anywhere from 1-5 years later. Does that make sense, or am I missing something?

jhaas
jhaas Reader
5/5/12 12:44 p.m.

replacing the indoor AND outdoor control boards is a stab in the dark. hes just throwing parts at it. those boards are not cheap but not $1000.

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