In July 2004, I received an e-mail from a valley homeowner whom I had met earlier in the year. The subject line read: “Foolish Decision”.

The short story is that I had provided this homeowner with a proposal for a new heating and air conditioning system, earlier in the year. The crux of the e-mail was that she had chosen another contractor to perform the work. Summer then arrived, and the system wasn’t working as she had expected.

This other contractor installed the new system, with new ducting. The brand that was installed is not too important, although it was a more ‘standard’ product than what I had proposed. It was also a 3½-ton system, which is less capacity than the 4-ton system I had included in my proposal.

In our business, we have a procedure to determine what size equipment (3,4,5-ton, etc.) each house needs to heat it and cool it properly. It is called a Manual J Load Calculation, and it is the accepted industry standard. It is not possible to determine, with any certainty, what size heating and cooling system should be installed without performing this calculation! The program takes into account square footage, window sizes and type, insulation, orientation to the sun, and several other factors. The program also calculates the correct duct sizing.

The homeowner wrote that her new system was “grossly inadequate”. I had measured her house, and completed the Manual J Load Calculation, prior to presenting my proposal. This was the reason that I had suggested a 4-ton system. Whether or not the other contractor performed a Manual J Load Calculation isn’t known. She also mentioned that the cost was far less than what I had quoted her.

In the e-mail the homeowner wanted to know if we would conduct a test of her new system to find out why it wasn’t working well. She also wanted to know how much it would cost to replace her brand new, “inadequate” system.

When I called the homeowner, she told me that the she had placed several calls to the other contractor, who said that the system was doing all that it could, and that there wasn’t anything else that he could do. I offered to examine the installation, at no cost, to determine the cause of the problem. The homeowner only wanted to know “How much would it cost to replace the 3½-ton condenser with a 4-ton condenser?” I informed her that replacing the condenser with a larger one may not necessarily solve her problem, and that the entire installation would need to be examined, before I could offer a suggestion as how to best solve her problem. I have not heard from her since I made that offer.

It’s a sad but true story.

I have cautioned homeowners for many years, to base their decision on a contractors’ reputation, and also to get lots of information. Ask if you can visit some of their current jobs. Ask to speak with homeowners who recently had work done by them. Make sure that the Manual J Load Calculation has been completed, and ask to see the results! Most important: Don’t base this decision on the lowest price quote that you’ve received!

Has this homeowner learned her lesson? I’m not so sure. I’ll bet that she will spend more fixing her ‘bad decision’ than the price I originally quoted her for a superior quality, 4-ton system.

We seem to have adjusted our buying habits to allow for the acceptance of products and services based on low prices rather than quality work. I, for one, don’t believe that this tactic pays dividends in the long run.

Filters and ducting will be discussed in detail at our next Homeowners Workshop. If you are interested in attending, please call (818) 886-2600 to make a reservation. There is no cost to attend, so join us for a cup of coffee and some useful information.

Jim Berry was a heating and air conditioning service technician, prior to becoming a Sales Consultant for Kahn Air Conditioning – A Member of the Chambers’ Home Improvement Cluster. Kahn hosts free monthly workshops to help homeowners learn about heating and cooling systems.
For questions regarding heating or air conditioning, send e-mail to

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