Dirty Little Secrets

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I am surprised and saddened by the number of homeowners who are fooled by contractors that present a proposal, bid, or estimate, for a heating and/or air conditioning system, that is intentionally designed to hide information. These clever deceivers use a variety of means to write a proposal lacking important information that could help homeowners determine which heating and cooling system would be the best choice for their home.

These fraudsters could represent a one-man shop, a small company, or they may even appear on behalf of one of the “big box” stores. The mammoth retailers have discovered that they have the potential to sell scores of new heating and air conditioning products. Sadly, for unsuspecting homeowners, these Goliaths will have a variety of subcontractors installing this equipment. This agenda will certainly benefit these huge air conditioning brokers, but may not be nearly as beneficial to a homeowner.

Too often, after providing a homeowner with a proposal for heating and/or air conditioning work, the homeowner will show me another proposal – from one of my ‘so-called’ competitors. The usual question is “Why is your price higher?” A better question would have been “Why is their bid so cheap?”

The cost for any heating and cooling system is based on a variety of factors including: materials, equipment, labor, permits, taxes, and hopefully some profit. If there is a significant price difference there is surely a good reason.

Why is there such a difference between proposals from some contractors? I have found that the reasons are usually; 1 – Installing a mediocre brand of equipment, 2 – Cheaper duct materials, 3 – Incorrect duct sizes, 4 – Improperly sized refrigerant lines, 5 – Installations that are done without regard for industry-accepted installation practices.

These shoddy installations may have even passed an inspection from a city inspector, (providing that permits were actually obtained), however, were the systems installed in a way that would have been approved by the equipment manufacturer? I bet not!

Remember, the building and safety departments usually have no jurisdiction governing duct sizing or refrigerant line sizing. Yet if these two key components are not correctly sized, the true efficiency of the new system will not be achieved, and the equipment will likely fail prematurely.

Many factors will determine if a new system has been installed properly. Read the proposals very carefully. You’ll need to be a detective to discover what items were not fully described, or not included at all.

Basically, the differences will come down to:

How long do you want your equipment to last? You may be drawn in by the initial lower price, but don’t think for a minute that a mediocre product will last as long as a quality brand. A properly installed, name brand system should last for twenty to twenty-five years. Cheaper brands – considerably less time.

How much money do you want to save in electricity costs? A properly installed, high-efficiency system will lower your utility bills. The savings will be negated if the refrigerant lines are not properly sized, the ducts are not properly sized, or if the equipment components do not match.

How many repairs will be done to this improperly installed system? A new system, that was installed properly, should provide years of trouble-free service without the need for frequent repairs. This is not the case with poorly installed systems.

Also, make sure to check out all contractors who have provided you with an estimate with the California State Contractors’ License Board, www.cslb.ca.gov. They will give you good information about hiring a contractor.

Jim Berry was a heating and air conditioning service technician prior to becoming a Sales Consultant for Kahn Air Conditioning. Kahn hosts free monthly workshops to help homeowners learn more about heating and air conditioning systems. For questions regarding heating or air conditioning, send an e-mail to Jim at info@kahnair.com.