Who can install central air?

Egg on sidewalk.jpgOK, we're on stay-cation, but we have hearts. So when S. sent us this sweltering distress call, we had to put it out there in hopes that someone in the crowd can help him:

He asks:

I've no AC at my place and I'm really cooking right now. I have ducts and pipes all over the house to install central air conditioning, but I'm looking for a contractor to put the system itself, e.g. a condenser and compressor to run cold air all around the house. Was wondering if AOA reader had somebody to recommend

Anybody have any thoughts?

Photo: flickr user Lori Greig

Comments

Family Danz is great.

haven't used them myself, but one of my clients RAVED, absolutely raved about Main Care. And this someone is a very picky lady.

Thanks guys, I'll call a few contractors and share my experience.
And thanks for featuring a portrait of me above.

We've used Adams Heating and Cooling with great success.

Besides good work, they show up on time. And all the little things, like always shutting doors and my child safety gates behind themselves so no one escapes. (A pet peeve of mine!)

http://www.adams-heating.net/

I've had great experience with Crisafulli Bros.

We used Main-Care, who had been our heating contractor. Showed up when they said they would, did what they said they would, charged what they said they would. That's what I look for in a contractor.

I second Family Danz. They solved a huge high-efficiency heating mess installed by Appollo. When I had oil heat, Long Oil was great - hated to give them up. Think they do cooling too!

We used Bourque in 2007 - they were professional, neat and efficient and didn't try to oversell us more capacity than we needed.

Roland J. Down does excellent work.

However, get several estimates and let them know your shopping price. Don't be affraid to negotiate; it's a big ticket and they all have wiggle room.

Thanks for all the suggestions. I’m typing this quick summary from my now air-conditioned house. Long story short, I went with Bourque AC. Long story long below.

I scheduled appointments with Family Danz, Bourque AC, Main Care, Roland J Down and Crisafulli Bros about a month ago (all of them, I’m OCD like that). They all suggested a split system, i.e. an outdoor metal cabinet housing the condenser and compressor and connected to my existing furnace by 2 copper lines through my brick wall. The second part of the system is an indoor evaporator sitting on the furnace. A new high-voltage line runs from my electrical cabinet in the garage to the back of the house. All these companies take care of the permit required to do this work. The whole installation takes 1 day. An estimate takes about 15 to 30 minutes.

A few things to keep in mind. The size of the unit depends on how much you need to cool. Obviously, too small a unit will not cool your house properly, while too large may not remove humidity properly (from what I read). The efficiency of the unit is an important parameter as well and affects cooling costs. The corresponding SEER rating needs to be at least 13, with high-end system ranking 16 and more. However, since a split-system works hand in hand with an existing furnace, it doesn’t make sense to buy a very high-efficiency AC unit if said furnace doesn’t support features like variable-speed blowers, for example. Also to consider: how quiet the unit needs to be (especially if you install it under your tenant’s bedroom window), and how long the warranty is.

My notes below. This is only based on one appointment with one specific employee from each company. It doesn’t reflect the company as a whole, so you may hear different stories. I mention prices below, for comparisons purposes, but it really depends on several different factors, including the size of your house, SEER rating, brand and potential discounts or special offers.

All contractors showed up on time.

All contractors took detailed measurements and photos, except Roland J Down who ended up oversizing the unit (hence the cost). Crisafully Bros took measurements with a laser; the only way to beat that is to put it on a shark. All contractors failed to measure the size of my doors though: turns out, not a single AC unit would have made it through the house to the patio (see below how it was done).

Offers:
- Family Danz offered an expensive model TRANE SEER 14 for $4400 (clarifying for me that a SEER 15 model wouldn’t make sense with my furnace) and a cheaper PAYNE/BRIANT model for $3800, both sized at 2.5 tons. He offered good cash discounts.
- Bourque AC was the only one not to make me any offer right away. He told me he would get back to me by email, and did so within 6 hours, with a CARRIER unit for $3300, sized at 2.5 tons.
- Main Care offered a CARRIER Performance series for $3700, sized at 2.5 tons.
- Roland J Down offered a LENNOX/RHEEM unit (not as good a brand as TRANE/CARRIER) for $3900, alas sized at 3 tons. He forgot his brochures/paperwork and took weak measurements, ending up oversizing the unit (an price). Oops.
- Crisafully Bros offered a TRANE/LENNOX XB300 for $2950, or a better XR13 for $3500, both sized at 2.5 tons.

Warranty:
- Family Danz: 10 years manufacturer + 1 one year part/labor.
- Bourque AC: 10 years manufacturer + 1 one year part/labor
- Main Care: 10 years compressor, 5 years housing unit + 3 years part/labor
- Roland J Down: 10 years compressor, 5 years housing unit + 1 year part/labor
- Crisafully Bros: 10 years , 10 years housing unit + 1 year part/labor for XR13, 10 years compressor + 5 years housing unit + 1 year part/labor for cheaper XB13

Extra constraint: I already had an evaporator left by the previous owner in the attic. I was curious to see who would offer to use it. Most of them didn’t want to, explaining that they wouldn’t be able to guarantee the SEER rating anymore, or to offer the proper warranty. Valid arguments. Bourque AC considered my evaporator but argued it would required a R22 Freon condenser, which were discontinued since 2008 (turns out it wasn’t exactly true). Main Care accepted to use my evaporator and shave some $ off the bill, clarifying my evaporator could would accept *both* R22 Freon and the new type of refrigerant. At the end of the day, I didn’t use that evaporator, so you can grab it for free if you are interested.

I ended up considering Main Care and Bourque AC: good vibe, good brands, decent warranty, not too expensive. They both took the time to explain a thing or two about AC. Main Care had a longer warranty, something I was worried about. I pondered my options, but since I’m going to run this AC unit only 2 months a year and that it is not *as* critical to be fixed in a timely manner as, say, the heating system, I figured one year part/labor would be fine. The hourly repair rate after that year isn’t bad. As I pointed out that Main Care was offering a CARRIER Performance Series, Bourque AC offered a better CARRIER unit as well. They were *very* responsive by email, which is a big plus for somebody as phone-challenged as me.

Bourque AC showed up a week later with a truck. Unfortunately, not a single contractor had taken measurements of my doors and the unit never made it through the house. Fortunately, we found another way in and they offered to come another day to move to unit to the patio (it required to go through somebody else’s property). A few days later they finished the connections. Has been working flawlessly since then and it’s pretty quiet.

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