When’s the last time you replaced your air conditioner, furnace, or another major piece of HVAC equipment? For a lot of people reading this, the answer will be “never.” For others, it was several years or even decades ago.
The average homeowner replaces their HVAC system less than two times in their entire life.
Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that I talk to hundreds of homeowners every year who are unfamiliar with the HVAC industry. Specifically, they’re unfamiliar with the options available to them, and the differences in things like installation process, maintenance, and financing options.
All of this starts at your in-home estimate. It’s at this stage that you can learn everything you need to know to make the right decision for your home.
This article will walk you through the steps that happen at every estimate. It’s my job when I come into a home to educate you on what equipment will best match your home’s size and your specific comfort concerns.
While I can’t speak for all contractors, the process we have here at Fire & Ice is designed to benefit the customer at all times, and much of what we do is considered best practices for the HVAC industry. You should make sure the contractor you hire is following a similar process.
Before Your HVAC Appointment
Before the appointment, I’ll check the auditor’s website of whatever county your home is in. This gives me some basic, public information such as square footage and the year the home was constructed. While this information isn’t sufficient to properly measure a home for a new HVAC installation, it’s the first step in the process.
I’ll also prepare informational materials on various products and models. If a customer asked specifically about a piece of equipment, brand, or model when they called to schedule the appointment, I’ll be able to prepare information on those particular items.
We’re also always prepared with measuring tools, information on Fire & Ice, a thorough questionnaire that we’ll walk through with you to uncover specific needs, and safety gear.
Lastly, you’ll receive an email from me shortly after the appointment is scheduled, as well as a confirmation email either the night before or the morning of the appointment. Often, these emails will include educational materials from our website. If you have time to read or watch them, it often makes our conversation more productive. The more you know going in, the more confident you can feel in a decision.
While most of these steps should be standard across the industry, as we’ll see shortly, not every recommended step is taken by every contractor.
Manual J Load Calculation
The parameters of a Manual J Load Calculation could be the subject of their own article. This is a process that allows us to properly “size” a home for a new HVAC system.
Just as importantly, the Department of Energy and Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) both recommend this calculation. At Fire & Ice, we only use calculation processes approved by ACCA.
What’s included in the calculation? Windows, walls, doors, floors, ceiling height, whether or not the garage is conditioned, whether the home has a basement or is on a slab, and several other factors. Each of those can have sub-factors as well.
For example, the number and size of the windows suggests a certain amount of energy loss, but the type of window matters as well. Single-paned windows won’t be as efficient as triple-paned. Additionally, even something like what side of the home the windows are on can matter quite a bit. Energy will escape out of windows facing east or west at significantly higher rates than north/south, due to their orientation to the sun. There are many other examples like this, which is why no two homes are exactly alike in load calculation.
The entire process will take an HVAC representative a bit of time, and they’ll be both inside and outside for different parts of the calculation. Each of these steps is necessary to ensure accuracy.
Depending on a customer’s concerns, this can also include things like sizing individual rooms that are “problem areas,” or checking the humidity levels in the home for air quality purposes.
I've heard from customers that some companies will perform the load calculation before visiting a home. This simply isn’t possible to do accurately. At best, you’re working with incomplete information and estimating several important factors. At worst, you’ll end up with an improperly sized heating or cooling unit.
This is one of the most important steps of the entire process and should not be skipped or rushed.
[Editor's Note: Roger’s not joking when he says this could be its own article. Check out our article on Sizing Your Air Conditioner, Heat Pump, and Furnace for all the details on the Manual J Load Calculation process.]
Ductwork and Load Calculation
If you’ve had an addition to your home, or even if the previous HVAC system was improperly sized or installed, you might have ductwork that’s insufficient to manage a modern system.
All HVAC equipment moves air, and the “size” or power of a system only matters if the ductwork is adequately sized to manage the airflow.
Many homes have no issues in this regard, but probably one in five that I visit has some aspect of the ductwork that needs modification to ensure proper efficiency.
For homeowners who don’t realize how the ductwork relates to the equipment, this can come as a surprise. Being prepared to discuss your ductwork with an HVAC representative is a smart way to avoid that shock.
Information You’ll Receive at Your Estimate
Following this, I’ll generally have a conversation with the homeowner. Either before or after the load calculation, I’ll walk through our questionnaire that will identify problem areas or areas of concern, and will gather information that will help me to present options.
You’ll also get any information you need on price, payment, and financing options.
This is also the point where I’ll talk a little bit about my expertise and that of Fire & Ice. I’ve been in this industry for over 30 years and can tell you that not every company operates the same way. Differences in service, installation and overall value can be very pronounced.
So if it helps, think of this stage of the appointment as an opportunity to ask questions about the company, as well as its installation and employee practices. If your system is going to last 15-20 years, you’re picking a company that will be a long-term partner for you.
Assessing Your Comfort Options
Now we drill into specific options. This part of the conversation is highly specific to your needs. We try to create custom solutions for each home, and don’t have a “one size fits all” solution.
In addition to the main equipment like air conditioner or furnace, I’ll also usually present indoor air quality options (IAQ). These can include dehumidifiers, humidifiers, and other air purification products.
These aren’t for everyone, but that’s part of why we go through the questionnaire. If your house is very muggy, for example, or you have family members with terrible allergies or who are immunocompromised, IAQ products can become a “need” instead of a “want.”
It’s important to me to say that none of it is high-pressure. We do have plenty of customers who are ready to make their investment that day, and they’re scheduled for installation before I leave the home. But we want you to feel comfortable with your decision, so the final decision often comes later after you’ve had a chance to weigh your options and discuss with other family members.
High-pressure sales can work, so it exists in almost any industry. But we don’t believe in doing business that way. If you ever feel pressured at an estimate, it’s a red flag.
Next Steps: Choosing the Best System for Your Home
If there’s a big need and a homeowner is ready to buy, we’ll work through their financing options on the spot to secure a payment method. But it’s not uncommon for the decision to wait a bit longer.
Following the appointment, I’ll sometimes follow up with additional information, especially if there was a topic we discussed in detail that wasn’t covered by our standard informational materials. Our online Learning Center is a great resource, so this information is often in the form of an in-depth article or video.
If you choose to go with Fire & Ice, there are a few final steps that we always do that I think are very important.
- Our installation processes are always to manufacturer code, and we commission and test all equipment to ensure it’s running properly.
- We always pull the proper permit(s) so that the county can perform a safety inspection of the equipment. This safeguards you, and gives you the peace of mind that your system was installed properly. Some insurance companies also want to have this inspection for safety purposes, which can save you money there.
- We are one of the only companies that perform a final quality inspection (FQI) 1-3 weeks following an installation. The FQI is just another level of security for you, since we make sure everything was installed properly and continues to run efficiently.
If you have any other questions before your appointment, Fire & Ice representatives are always on call