Should I Buy a Cheap New AC Unit?
Did You Get a Great Deal on a New AC Unit or Did You Get Had?
The Cost of the Lowest Price New AC Unit Installation
Phoenix, AZ where my company Magic Touch Mechanical is located (technically Mesa, AZ) is now the 5thlargest city in the country. It is also one of the largest markets in the US for residential air conditioning and heating equipment shipments per the major manufacturers.
There are approximately 2,000 licensed air conditioning companies in this market, and oodles more moonlighters, side-show Bob’s, and other unlicensed companies installing new AC units in this market.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on choosing the right licensed AC company to install your new AC.
Before I get started, I should clarify that there is so much work here, we actually have to turn away potential clients sometimes because we are at maximum capacity – especially in the summer.
Also, this article is applicable no matter where you live, not just in Arizona.
In other words, this article is intended to educate you as a consumer, not solicit Magic Touch or disparage any other contractor in our market. I write these posts in order to help people make the best buying decisions when navigating the confusion of buying a new AC unit.
“Save Thousands on a New AC Unit!” – We’ve all seen this ad, right?
Sometimes, the promise of saving thousands of dollars on a new AC unit installation may actually wind up costing thousands.
Not to say there aren’t legitimate sales, rebates, and promotions that can save you thousands of dollars off of the regular summer-season price. More so, I’m speaking of situations where you’ve gotten a few different contractor quotes and one is thousands less than the others. Trust me when I tell you, you are not getting “the same thing” when this happens. I’ve been working in the HVAC industry for three-decades and can tell you this almost never ends well for the consumer.
It is so frustrating to talk to people who (unknowingly) chose the wrong company to install a new cooling and heating system in their home and are now suffering the consequences. I say “unknowingly” but I think deep down most of these homeowners knew this might be too good to be true and decided to roll the dice anyway. The salesman seemed so sincere, the company looks good on paper and even has great reviews online. They want to believe they just stumbled across an amazing deal.
Hey, I get it! I’m a homeowner and consumer myself. I make purchases from contractors for my own home, rental properties, and commercial building. I too have gotten quotes from different contracting companies and found one was much cheaper than the others. I too want to save money! But, I know better because I see this play out all the time.
The bottom line is there is not enough markup in these installations to warrant a difference of thousands of dollars (or even one thousand dollars for that matter).
It’s most likely not that the other companies prices are too high…it’s that the lower priced company is not going to give you the same quality materials, ancillary parts, and install quality as they were.
Something is Wrong with My New AC Unit
The most common situation I see is; a homeowner that chose a contractor based on the fact that “they were a thousand-dollars less”, and later discovers the hard way why they were so much less.
Typically, the problems are not glaringly obvious to the homeowner at first. The model numbers match what they were quoted, the install crew seemed nice enough and there were no immediate indications that something wasn’t right.
Then some time goes by, and it becomes obvious that “little Johnny’s room never gets as cool as it once did” … or, “there’s a little water stain on the ceiling now that never used to be there” … or, “the air doesn’t seem to blow as hard or as cold as the previous unit”, or “this unit is supposed to be more efficient but my electric bill hasn’t dropped at all” – or worse “my bill is higher than before” etc., etc.
So, they call the installing company who sends someone out to check things out and they say, “Everything seems fine, little Johnny’s room is on South side of the house and gets more summer sun” … or “you might want to get your roof checked for leaks for that little water stain” … or, “it just needed a little more Freon it should be colder now” …yada, yada, yada. Or, they now say, you need a ____ that wasn’t included with your install, but I can do it for _____. Guess what just happened?
Another year goes by and things still don’t seem right, and now the unit has broken down a few times. The labor warranty from the installing just expired so they call a different HVAC company to do this year’s tune-up.
This company sends out a technician who is much more thorough and he comes down from the attic with the “bad news”, he has a checklist in his hands with a laundry list of problems that explain why you’ve been experiencing some of the problems you’ve been having.
I’ve seen this time and time again, and it still ticks me off because these homeowners fell victim to a good salesperson with the “gift of gab” and believed they were getting “the same thing” the other companies offered them but “for much less money”. Two old adages come to mind that apply just as much to buying a new AC unit as they do to everything else in life:
- You get what you pay for.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Kiss Your Hard Earned Money Goodbye
Most of the people I see in this situation realize quickly they are between a rock and a hard place. There first instinct is to get mad and say something along the lines of; “I’m going after them, they’re going to fix this.” Or, “I’m filing a complaint on them.” The first problem with that is – do you really want the company that did a poor-quality job in the first placebackin your home?
Keep in mind, I’m not talking about an installation where an innocent mistake was made, that could happen to the best of us. I’m talking about the job where major shortcuts were taken and the equipment was completely and utterly improperly installed.
It’s not a stretch for me to say that as that is often the case with “cheap” AC unit installations.
It’s the Things you Don’t See That Make a Bad AC Unit Install
When it comes to a “plug and play” appliance or device like a refrigerator or television, it doesn’t matter where you buy it because – the installation (who plugs it in) will not affect its performance, operational costs, longevity, or failure rate. For those types of purchases, it would be silly to pay more.
Air conditioning and heating systems are far from plug and play however, and the quality of the installation plays a larger role in all of these areas than the brand or model itself does.
I often tell homeowners they are much better off with the cheapest brand and model equipment installed properly than the best brand and model installed poorly. The former will perform better, last longer, and run more efficiently than the latter.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the maximum supply air static pressure recommended by the manufacturer for my new HVAC system?
- What is static pressure?
- What is the manufacturer specification for superheat when charging my new ac system with refrigerant?
- What is superheat?
- How much less efficient is my new ac unit if the recommended TXV is not installed?
- What is a TXV?
- How would I know if a TXV was installed? How would I know it was installed properly? What if I never knew?
- Why can’t my new ac unit keep up now that it is 110 degrees outside (it worked fine when it was 100 degrees)?
Of course, I’m being facetious when I say to ask yourself these questions. The truth is it’s these types of questions your AC company’s sales person, install manager, installers, etc. should know. The point I’m trying to make is there are a lot of things like this that go into a properly installed HVAC System, and without them being done properly the results can be anything from catastrophic to just poorly performing. The worst cases in my opinion, are when the system seems to cool and heat properly, and the homeowner never realizes that it’s operating half as efficient as they thought it was…and they never know!
The AC Sales Guy Was Very Knowledgeable…the Installers Seemed Untrained
Many companies hire extra installers for the busy season and lay them off at the end of the season. I take issue with this practice for many reasons, but that’s for another article.
Who cares how knowledgeable and nice the salesperson was if he or she isn’t the person ordering, setting-up, and installing your new system? What if your installers haven’t been properly trained in all the nuances of your new system? What if they weren’t trained at all and are considered “labor”?
What if this is a small company and the owner himself/herself is going to come do the install? Do you think the owner who has to wear all the hats has time to get properly trained on how to install every new model and their nuances, how to service every new model, what fan settings are required, etc., etc.?
I can tell you from personal experience, I employ people that specialize in their particular area, be it service, install, sales, maintenance, etc. that know many things I have no idea about as they pertain to specific equipment and models.
Even with the best of intentions, it’s just not possible to wear all the hats and be equally as knowledgeable and skilled as someone who specializes in that area. Would you let your podiatrist operate on your eyes? Why not, both your podiatrist and eye surgeon have a medical degree?
How Much Should a New AC Unit Cost Installed?
Since we get phone calls and E-mails every day asking; what is the price of a new ac unit? I wrote this article which will give you a good idea of what you should expect to pay for a reasonably priced, but quality installation.
Recommended AC Companies to Call for a New AC Unit Installation Near You
I recommend using at the very least these resources to find a qualified HVAC Contractor in your area:
- Angie’s List– As opposed to “pay to play” review sites like Yelp where “advertisers” reviews seem to be overwhelmingly good, and non-advertiser’s good reviews always get “filtered out” to the hidden “not recommended” section; Angie’s List is one of the few review sites that are not anonymous (the company can verify it is a real customer and not a competitor) and very difficult to manipulate since reviews are written by people with a paid Angie’s List membership.
- Better Business Bureau– I’ve seen social media posts where some people believe the BBB is another pay to play site like Yelp. Having served on an advisory committee and arbitration committee for the BBB here in central Arizona, I can attest to the fact that is definitely not the case. I personally never hire a business that has a poor grade or pattern of complaints with the BBB.
- Registrar of Contractors– In most states air conditioning and heating contractors are required to be licensed and bonded. In AZ that agency is the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. In other states they refer to this agency as the (State) Contractor Licensing Board.
I said “at the very least”, but when it comes to HVAC, I would also verify that the company is a current member of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. While this doesn’t verify that the contractor is reputable or competent, it does give an indication that they care about or aim to follow industry standards and best practices. ACCA is the association that creates the standards and best practices of cooling and heating contractors that most municipalities and contracting regulation agencies support and follow.
If you live in the Phoenix area, I know a company that not only checks all these boxes with the highest ratings in Arizona, but also was named by ACCA as the Residential Air Conditioning Contractor of the Year (best in the USA)…Magic Touch Mechanical!