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General information

One of the most important investments in your home that you'll ever make is an improvement in your heating, cooling, and indoor air quality systems. These systems are vital to your family's comfort and health. Although it is not glamorous, good home comfort equipment that is correctly installed can increase the value of your home, lower utility bills, prevent costly repair bills, and can even improve some health problems.

Whether you are shopping for a furnace, air conditioner, or air cleaning product, you need to do a little homework first. For example, if you need a new furnace, you should consider the type of fuel you'll use, efficiency levels, accessory equipment (such as a power humidifier), and your household's particular needs. This section of the buyer's guide will help you to get through the process of deciding what you really need so that you can make purchase decisions with confidence.

The number one rule of shopping for home comfort equipment is to shop for the contractor first and then the equipment. Even the best piece of equipment can be next to useless if not installed correctly.

A new furnace or air conditioner is not like a new washer or microwave. You can't just take it out of the box and plug it in. Your new equipment must work with any other home comfort equipment already in place, as well as other systems in your home, such as the electrical system, ductwork, radiators, ventilators, and even the plumbing. Any problems in one or more of these systems could drastically affect the installation and operation of your equipment. For example, if you purchase a new air conditioner, your pre-existing furnace must be able to handle the air conditioner's air flow requirements or there will be trouble. A good HVAC contractor will know what factors to consider and how to harmonize new equipment with your home's particular systems.

 

How to choose a contractor

If you already have a good working relationship with a contractor who performs maintenance on your furnace or air conditioner, then it's best to go to this person for your new equipment. This contractor will already be familiar with both your existing equipment and the particulars of your house and its indoor environment. If you do not currently have an on- going relationship with any particular contractor, then here's what to do:

  • Talk to your friends and neighbors
    If you need to repair or replace a piece of equipment, chances are some of your neighbors have already been through the same experience. Ask them what contractors they worked with and whether they had any problems. If they did have a problem, how did the contractor handle it? How a contractor approaches a customer's concern is a good indication of their attention to service.
  • Look for a community presence
    If none of your neighbors can recommend someone, take a look around your community. It's funny: when you are in the market for a new furnace or air conditioner you'll become aware of trucks and advertising that you never noticed before. If you notice that a particular company sponsors your local little league games or other community events, then that company may be more people-friendly than the next.

 

A word about brand names

When you shop for new cooling equipment, you may be told that Brand A is better than Brand B. In some cases, one brand will offer benefits that another brand does not. However, generally speaking, most air conditioners today are well made and the differences between brands are usually cosmetic. Where the brand can make a difference is if, after the installation, you have a problem with the equipment and for some reason it cannot be fixed by a contractor (such as a minor defect). In this sort of case, manufacturer support is helpful. Most major manufacturers will have technical people— trouble shooters—who are available to the contractor (and ultimately, to the homeowner) to diagnose and fix those problems that are a little out of the ordinary.

Over the past couple of years, the most question we have most commonly been asked about brands concerns a certain air conditioning brand that is usually sold at several hundred dollars less than other brands. Most homeowners are not aware of this brand, even though the company that manufactures it is now the second largest manufacturer of air conditioners in the United States. The point is, even if the brand of the air conditioner is not one you have ever heard of, it is probably still a good unit.