I was tempted to say this is unfortunate for us, but I think it’s a much bigger challenge for the homeowners. This is a true statement but is this whole picture?
For a major home purchase, we have been taught to get three estimates, maybe some referrals and if the lower priced guys are “in-line” with their pricing and the “gut-check” makes it feel OK to go with one of those competitive bids. Let’s face it… if it’s a major brand and the price is right, we’re buying cold air right? How much difference could there be?
There is a lot of truth in all of this, but it is missing some major elements of reality that most homeowners are just not aware of. Experience, customer service, and warranties are overused words, but they take on new meaning when you are actually doing major surgery on arguably your most major financial investment. Comfort, convenience, and indoor air quality are a critical element in your quality of life as well.
We see a lot of crappy jobs that work OK. That is an issue but not the biggest issue. If it is the “right job” but is sloppy, well insulated and works OK maybe the best price is the best deal. That is not what concerns me, although workmanship does matter. It’s the stuff you can’t see that will take you to the cleaners. It can destroy your budget, your comfort, your health, and your sanity and much of it is not in the three-bid decision making process. It’s just not there and you need to ask some important questions that many companies do not address because they either don’t know or don’t care.
I am frustrated by that but on the other hand if the homeowners do not care maybe I stress over this for no reason. I shake my head in despair when I see a nice piece of equipment and a nice installation in a totally inappropriate application. It happens all the time and I just do not get it. Why would the homeowner allow that to happen? I think they just do not know any better and often these are smart, business savvy people who just do not have the time or expertise to figure out what questions to ask and to recognize critical elements that where never even discussed.
The largest cost of replacing your central air conditioner is not the initial purchase – it is the lifetime cost of operation. Unless you plan on doing upgrades or replacements every few years it is hard to argue this fact. Coupled with the health and quality of life considerations it makes sense to be looking beyond the initial cost and focusing on what you really care about… “The Cost of Ownership”
When I say central air conditioning, I am really talking about whole house comfort systems. Today this makes little sense to limit ourselves to just cold air. However, the details of that comment are a topic for another post. What are the questions we should ask when making this especially important financial and comfort decision? Let us start with the end in mind and focus on what our real objective is: comfort and savings. If would hope it is that order because if comfort is not the most fundamental objective, what is the point?
These questions are pointed and somewhat open-ended. If your contractor representative cannot answer them without giving you confidence that he cares and can really understand and deliver on these issues, then you should keep shopping.
The tough questions:
- How will the new system enhance my comfort and quality of life?
- Are there health issues associated with this conversion?
- What will my yearly cost of operation be? How do you know?
- How can I bring down the total cost of ownership?
- What things other than the actual mechanical systems you replace will have an effect on its ability to deliver on comfort and economy?
- What are the details of the warranty?
- How long is it?
- How much does it really cover?
- Who is responsible for that coverage?
- Are the manufacturers of this equipment going to be around if I need parts down the road?
- What will be my annual out-of-pocket expenses for maintenance?
- How will we control the temperature in the individual living spaces independently?
- Can we humidify, dehumidify, and clean the air with this system?
- How hard will it be for me to change the filters and do basic homeowner maintenance?
- How do you know it is the right size? Is it the same size as the old one? Is bigger better?
- What options do we have in terms of moving to another kind of system that solves not only this immediate concern but maybe solves a few other things as well?
- Why is this system ideal for my home and my lifestyle?
- How much flexibility do I have in fuel choices should the fuel cost environment change while I own this system?
There are many other questions, but, in general, the biggest mistake I see homeowners make is to NOT ask about options and focus solely on the price of “the box.” To replace or do a basic cookie-cutter system is usually a mistake and to just blindly take the lowest bidder is almost always a mistake. The initial cost is generally a small part of what you really end up spending, and by having a quality installation of the correct “system” for your home, you really ending up getting the best value.