How much do you know about your central air conditioner? Most homeowners know very little, and I was more like you until my HVAC system stopped working about a month ago. I know the concepts of how we keep our homes comfortable, having written articles about heating and HVAC systems which is more important in New England. When we bought a house in Arizona, I knew it was time to learn about air conditioning but like most homeowners, I procrastinated.
Living without air conditioning for a month, with temperatures hovering around 110º Fahrenheit, taught me a lot!
This article covers the most important lessons I've learned about owning a central air conditioner (heat pump). Some things I already knew but didn't take seriously enough. Other things were new and nasty lessons I hope you can avoid, by learning from my experience dealing with a dead compressor, which is the heart of every central air conditioner. The lessons are shared in chronological order as that's how you might also experience them.
Never Trust a Home Warranty Company to Maintain Your Central Air Conditioner
While the Arizona house might be the 15th house we've bought, it was the first time we asked the sellers for a home warranty. My reasoning was straight forward. We were buying a twenty year old house and having run a handyman business, I knew that's when many critical home systems need to be replaced. And moving to a new area meant it would take time to build a support network. It seemed we had the perfect scenario for why there are home warranties. I didn't want to have to pick a new HVAC company and central air conditioning system all at once.
We started to see a pattern, as it took First American three months to install the failed compressor last year, and we weren't go to live through 2 more months of 95º in our home. It's now been a week since I escalated to First American headquarters and we're not surprised that we haven't gotten a response from them.
Pick Your HVAC Company First & Then Your Central Air Conditioner
It's much easier to find information today, because almost everything is online. The question is what to search for … and the right approach isn't the obvious one. You want to buy the highest quality central air conditioner you can afford but the effectiveness of this equipment is subject to the quality of the installation, and the ongoing service of the system.
So here are the steps taken to pick my new HVAC company, as I knew it was important to hire a very reliable company because the high temperatures (up to 120º Fahrenheit) in Arizona are so brutal. I'd already found several companies I wanted to check out, when researching the price of freon (R-22). (Read: The R-22 Freon Pricing Story Not Being Told)
1. Identified three HVAC companies based on articles they shared on their websites, offering advice on freon prices.
2. Vetted the three companies using the Better Business Bureau and Yelp (the first time I've used Yelp this way).
3. Scheduled four companies to get estimates to replace our upstairs HVAC system. We did this after waiting three weeks for our home warranty company, First American, to repair the existing system which we knew had reached end of life. (Read: Can You Trust a Home Warranty Company? to get the details)
4. Researched system size when the first two estimates were not consistent. The first estimate was for a 5-ton system while the next two estimates called for a 4-ton heat pump. This map and table, along with All Systems Mechanical's Consumer's Guide: What Size Central Air Conditioner Do I Need for My House, told me we only needed a 4-ton system. There are also calculators to help you estimate cooling and heating loads, like this one that also helps you project costs.
5. Researched central air conditioning brands as the third estimate was for a York system, in contrast with the Trane systems recommended by the first two companies. The decision was pretty easy with this repair history published by Consumer Reports. York wasn't even included in the heat pump ratings and Trane was in second place for heat pumps (what we have) … plus our old systems that had lasted 20 years, were Tranes.
6. Picked the HVAC company that demonstrated the most attention to detail, and was able to schedule installation of our new system three days later. After living with temperatures 90º and higher for almost 4 weeks, our new central air conditioner started cooling our upstairs yesterday afternoon.
Get Your Central Air Conditioner Serviced Annually
Wondering why you should invest in one of these plans?
You might think an HVAC service plan is like your homeowner insurance but it's not. HVAC plans are more like paying for car maintenance monthly, so there's no cost when you take your car in for checkups where they change the oil, rotate the tires and perform lots of checks to make sure your car is running efficiently, with optimal safety.
With an HVAC service plan, here are the key benefits (review the details of Day and Night's plans):
- Lower utility bills – when your HVAC system runs more efficiently, and that means lower utility bills.
- Longer HVAC lifespan – with annual tune-ups and timely repairs, so your system reaches or exceeds its' projected lifespan.
- Planning for replacement system – because these systems are expensive. You'll have time to research, save up and schedule a new system before there's a failure and emergency replacement which isn't fun.
Build a Relationship with Your HVAC Company
You and I won't ever be experts in the heating, cooling and ventilation our homes need to keep us comfortable. That's why you want to build a relationship with your HVAC company. Then you have someone to call with any questions you have about your HVAC system. These questions might be concern about a funny sound your system is making, a problem setting your programmable thermostat or advice on which type of air filter you should buy.
Of course you can always research your questions online, including coming back to Home Tips for Women … but there's nothing like having a discussion with someone who's an expert. Even I find myself using my network of home professionals across the US, and when I wrote my article, How the Best Home Air Filter Can Save You Money, was frustrated because my network in New Hampshire where I had my handyman business can't imagine what life in the dessert is like. Now I will call Day and Night Air and talk to Jason, their service manager!
If there's anything here you don't understand, or disagree with, please leave a comment below and I'll respond the same way.