In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

Buying a new air conditioner or furnace? Read this first

A few weeks ago I spent $12,000 on a new air conditioner and furnace. Now that they’re installed, what do I wish I would have done differently?

1. Get quotes from several companies before it became an emergency.

I knew last year I was going to replace the furnace and air conditioner in the next few years. I didn’t plan on it being so soon, but I should have started getting bids over the winter. That would have given me several options to choose from and helped me understand the market better. I also would have had a better handle on what the important questions to ask were going into my final decision. Plus, I would have an expectation for what the type of system I wanted to install would cost, keeping in mind total cost of ownership.

2. Do my homework on which brands are a better value or more reliable.

I subscribe to Consumer Reports, but didn’t go through my back issues to look for reliability ratings. I’m not sure why that didn’t occur to me immediately, but it didn’t. I found myself the day before my installation poring through online reviews and forums looking for information. What I found wasn’t super helpful, honestly.

One thing that did come up was the notion that the major manufacturers are largely even in quality of product. The differentiator is very likely to be installation. A poor installation will lead to problems with the system more often than manufacturing defects. I was very impressed with my install team, which seemed to have a wealth of knowledge and expertise. That gives me hope that I’ll be in good shape. (It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve got a 10-year parts and labor warranty, just in case.)

3. Understand the options more thoroughly.

I chose a heat pump rather than a standard air conditioner based on the math and recommendation of the salesman. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely familiar with heat pumps, and I don’t know that I really as able to ask the best questions because of it. I would have liked to dig into the numbers behind the projected utility savings more. What I saw was the output, and I should have been more inquisitive about the input. Because I have tracked my utilities historically, I probably could have provided more realistic information about average or annual usage than what informed the model. That could have swayed my opinion about whether to go with a heat pump or traditional air conditioner.

I also did not read up on the equipment. For instance, I asked whether the thermostat was Wi-Fi compatible and was assured it was. However, the model I got requires a separate piece of equipment to connect to the Internet. Not exactly what I was going for.

4. Get some of the sales pitch in writing.

I may still get some of this information, but I should have gotten it up front. I should have asked for a copy of the utility savings calculation to see whether the system I got lives up to the model. I got a 10-year parts and labor guarantee, which the salesman told me includes all the major parts of the equipment but not minor parts that are $20-$50 and are expected to be replaced as part of routine maintenance. The labor, however, should be covered even for those minor repairs. I should get that spelled out explicitly in writing, just in case.

5. Started saving up earlier.

This is a simple fact. I should have started putting money aside as soon as I realized this was going to be an issue. If I had gotten multiple quotes, I also would have known about how much I’d need when the time came. While I have enough wiggle room in my budget to pay for this over 18 months at 0% interest, that isn’t the optimal way to do it. I will say I recognize that right now we are knee deep in the most difficult financial stretch of our lives. We are paying for college and daycare at the same time, two huge, equivalent costs that will be gone by this time next year. At that point, I likely would have shuffled money toward this purchase (although it wasn’t on my future budget projection spreadsheet yet).

So what did I do right?

On the positive side, there were some things I did right.

1. Ask for extras or upgrades

I had purchased a whole-house humidifier from Amazon at Christmas with the intent to install it myself. I didn’t get around to it yet. So I asked if they would install it free of charge while they were putting in the new system. They agreed, which not only got me out of installing it, but also lets me take back $60 in parts I bought to do it.

I also asked for a free duct cleaning. I have a pile of vents, and those $39 LivingSocial deals only cover a certain number of vents and returns. You have to pay extra beyond that. The deal would have covered about half my vents and just one of my four returns, so it would have been pretty pricey to add the rest. So I easily saved $200 or more by asking for this.

2. Don’t go in cold

I would have liked to do more research, but this isn’t my first rodeo. I knew going in what I wanted in terms of efficiency, as well as what rebates were available from my local utility companies. (The federal tax credits ended in 2016 and haven’t been reinstated. I won’t hold my breath that they’ll be brought back retroactively, but it’s happened before.)

Hopefully you can take these tips and do better than me when it comes time to replace your furnace and/or AC.

For those who have done this, what other things would you suggest people do?

1 Comment

  1. Whymances

    Good tips! I’ll have to remember this as it may come in handy sooner than later. We’ve have a mild leak on and off from the stove exhaust pipe that goes up to the roof. It’s been hard to figure out exact cause. Extensive roof repairs were done last summer so we’re back and trying to figure out cause.

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