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  • Home air conditioning and heating replacement

    I would appreciate the group's thoughts and experience regarding this question. It is sort of a financial question so hopeefully, the admin approves it. I have a 25+ years old HVAC system in our condo in southern California. It is apparently leaking and we have decided to replace it rather than doing a short term patch. The quotes we have recieved vary from $7k-$14k. I understand this is high season for A/C replacement but we are in no immediate rush as it is still doing a marginal job, although it could fail anyday. So here are my questions:

    What is a good price for replacing HVAC system in California?
    Should I stick to premium brands (e.g. Lennox, Trane, American Standard Carrier, Bryant) or go for a budget system (e.g. Goodman, AC Pro)? The difference seems to be >$2k in costs.
    Given the mild winters of southern California (lowest it gets is 40s for a few weeks and at nights), should I go for a heat pump instead of a furnace? I am told it is more efficient and given the direction of California, natural gas prices could go up in upcoming years.
    Does anyone have an experience with the Costco Lennox referral program?

  • #2
    I can’t speak to California prices but I feel like I’ve read that most major US brands are ultimately manufactured with very similar, if not the same, components by the same companies. I think this is one of the times where the installer matters more than the brand but I’d still stick with a major brand.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by CordMcNally View Post
      I can’t speak to California prices but I feel like I’ve read that most major US brands are ultimately manufactured with very similar, if not the same, components by the same companies. I think this is one of the times where the installer matters more than the brand but I’d still stick with a major brand.
      Ditto. I would focus on the installer. Not everyone will have supplier contracts with every brand. Suggest getting 3 bids. They should all end up at the same sizing. That controls the time it runs which actually control how much humidity is removed.Too much results in a low run time and too much humidity. “Tuning” the air ducts gets the right distribution. Take what ever brand your installer can give you the best price. Most installers can get you a brand you ask for, but not at the same dealer price. Best equipment at wrong size or poorly installed sucks. Value of installation is critical.

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      • #4
        Southern California may not need heat efficiency as much. We are in Northern California (Bay Area) and installed two heat pumps. One is a MrCool DIY unit for the master bedroom; Costco currently has three models on their website. We installed it ourselves and saved a few thousand dollars.

        We also installed a Mitsubishi heat pump for the rest of the house.

        Both heat pumps use inverters so they are much quieter and energy efficient. They also have variable fan speeds. These two features keep the temperature fluctuation minimized. There is also very little noise when the condenser starts. The MrCool unit is actually quieter than a fan. Decide if you want to use existing duct, or go ductless, which is much more efficient.

        Most of the brands you mentioned do not make inverter type heat pumps and Trane contracts out the split heat pump manufacturer to Mitsubishi. Lennox may (by recall) contracts the inverter heat pump to Gree.

        Other inverter split heat pumps to consider are Daikin, Fujitsu, Midea, and Gree.

        Furnace burns natural gas therefore changes the moisture and air content; given your current furnace is 25 years, likely it is an atmospheric burner. The all electric heat pump is safer in there is no emissions inside the house. The "feeling" is also different, as the heat given out by a gas furnace may be higher than body temperature, and in the heat pump, about 84-90F depending on setting so it may actually feel "cool" during the winter but more comfortable. For this reason, some HVAC installer may recommend adding a "heat strip"; this may increase the cost of electricity and installation significantly and may not be needed in Southern California. We certainly did not need it in Northern California.

        Installation is the most important so find a reputable installer. Also know the rough difference of the units; single speed compressor (no!), variable speed for compressor (so so), variable speed for the air handler (yes), inverter (yes). A basic Goodman single speed compressor with single speed air handler would be the least expensive, loudest, and most temperature fluctuation.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by WanderingMD View Post
          I would appreciate the group's thoughts and experience regarding this question. It is sort of a financial question so hopeefully, the admin approves it. I have a 25+ years old HVAC system in our condo in southern California. It is apparently leaking and we have decided to replace it rather than doing a short term patch. The quotes we have recieved vary from $7k-$14k. I understand this is high season for A/C replacement but we are in no immediate rush as it is still doing a marginal job, although it could fail anyday. So here are my questions:

          What is a good price for replacing HVAC system in California?
          Should I stick to premium brands (e.g. Lennox, Trane, American Standard Carrier, Bryant) or go for a budget system (e.g. Goodman, AC Pro)? The difference seems to be >$2k in costs.
          Given the mild winters of southern California (lowest it gets is 40s for a few weeks and at nights), should I go for a heat pump instead of a furnace? I am told it is more efficient and given the direction of California, natural gas prices could go up in upcoming years.
          Does anyone have an experience with the Costco Lennox referral program?
          This situation just happened to me 2 weeks ago. I live in SoCal and our HVAC system went out after 18 years during the mini heat wave. I always need AC otherwise I’m dying. I live only 8 miles from the ocean but in the mountains so the heat collects in my neighborhood. I had a 3 ton unit and a 4 ton unit replaced along with both furnaces. Job took 2 full days. Final price was 21k. We installed the Trane units as I read on consumer reports about them and did not have much time to seek out other bids. A friend in the neighborhood used Costco with the Lennox brand and paid 18k, he was not happy with the third party installer or the service provided. Next replacement will be my 18 year old water heater which I am doing proactively next week. Nice to have that emergency fund to use and not have to worry about major expenses setting you back.

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          • #6
            Agree with those that the installation is more important than the brand as the components are very similar. Can't speak to CA prices but we paid $6,800 for a full AC/Furnace replacement and some minor reworking of ductwork in southeast. We went with a Trane unit but just discovered that the evaporator coil was leaking. Took 5 days for the company to come replace it as they were backed up and had to get a replacement coil. Apparently, we found what can stop a Trane.

            I'd get multiple quotes from highly recommended companies and go with the best warranty on parts and labor. Also need to consider how long you plan on living there.

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            • #7
              Are you in a part of scal that is dry enough for a swamp cooler?

              Comment


              • #8
                This is a timely discussion, as I am in PHX, looking to replace my 19yo AirCon later this year.

                Can anyone recommend a good site/source to learn about the HVAC options and technologies, so that I'm not ignorant when I get my quotes?

                Thanks

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Trigeminal View Post

                  This situation just happened to me 2 weeks ago. I live in SoCal and our HVAC system went out after 18 years during the mini heat wave. I always need AC otherwise I’m dying. I live only 8 miles from the ocean but in the mountains so the heat collects in my neighborhood. I had a 3 ton unit and a 4 ton unit replaced along with both furnaces. Job took 2 full days. Final price was 21k. We installed the Trane units as I read on consumer reports about them and did not have much time to seek out other bids. A friend in the neighborhood used Costco with the Lennox brand and paid 18k, he was not happy with the third party installer or the service provided. Next replacement will be my 18 year old water heater which I am doing proactively next week. Nice to have that emergency fund to use and not have to worry about major expenses setting you back.
                  We just did a similar replacement this spring. We live in Southern CA. Our units were 42 years old, original to the house. We had replaced everything else in the house and these were our last hurdle. They would break at least once per season and I got tired of doing patch jobs. Like you, we spent right around $21,000 replacing a 4 ton and a 3 ton outdoor unit plus the interior fan/furnaces and they even replaced our last old water tank for that $21k total fee. We switched from Lennox gas furnaces to Trane electric heat pumps. We have solar, I'm not really worried about any cost increase for electric. These new units are MUCH quieter, so I'm very happy, even though the expense was high. I got multiple quotes - I talked to the highest end, highest rated dealer in town just for comparison and got referrals for two others. Went with the one in the middle that I trusted. Our guy talked us out of variable speed, though I believe ours has two speeds - full variable speed added a lot of cost. Where we live it's either blazing hot or nice, so he didn't think we would see the benefit of full variable speed.

                  We have SCE as our electric provider, our July 2021 usage was down about 15% from last year, even though last summer our pool pump was off while we were renovating it and this summer has been hotter. If you are switching to electric heat pump you may need to verify you have wiring for it in place, especially if you are in a condo. We had to run conduit across our flat roof in order to have appropriate wiring for the heat pumps, so that was an extra $1500 or so I think.

                  Our house had swamp coolers in addition to the ancient central AC when we bought it, mounted on the roof. I don't care how efficient they are, they looked terrible, so they had to go, though the previous owner swore they were her favorite since they were so much cheaper to run than the AC.

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                  • #10
                    Thanks so much for everyone's input. We live closer to the coast so the humidity and tempratures are moderate.

                    I think I am leaning away from a heat pump as in our area, gas (SoCal Gas) is much cheaper than electricity (Southern California Edison) and we are not bothered by our current, old furnace or A/C noise levels. We also do not have solar panels. Only one company recommended a heat pump and all the California rebates for heat pumps have run out. I am mainly looking at direct company dealers as I have noticed they offer the best value. They probably have some sort of a discount on the equipment from the company. I am also checking the contractors' Yelp and Google reviews and do not contact anyone below 4 stars.

                    I have noticed the Lennox dealers and contractors to have the most expensive bids ($10k-$14k). Trane contractors and dealers seem to offer cheaper bids despite being a good brand ($8k-10k). Carrier and Bryant dealers have been in the middle of the spectrum ($10k-$12k). For Goodman, I got a $7k quote from one contractor and $11k from another, which is obviously a rip-off. Other brands recommended so far are AC Pro and Day & Night, which I am going to avoid.

                    Most people recommend getting at least 3 bids but so far I am at 10+ bids and still amazed by the wide range of quotes people provide. Definitely not regretting contacting so many companies. The Costco Lennox contractor will stop by tomorrow and I will update the group about their quote and what we end up deciding to do.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Since the OP has got many bids, ask the contractors to provide a "Manual J" calculation. Legitimate HVAC professionals should be able to explain why a particular equipment is chosen.

                      Within the brand, there should be basic to high end models. Ask the contractors to provide exact model numbers and research.

                      Here are two websites to learn about HVAC and home remodeling:

                      https://www.hvac-talk.com/vbb/
                      https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com

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