questionsneed some quick air conditioning help

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...Continued...

If it was the house I was living in, I would ask two more companies to give me estimates too. However, I do not want to inconvenience my tenants any more than absolutely necessary.

How do I know if I'm being ripped off at $4,500 if I cannot get a second estimate?

This is in hot/sunny Florida so time is of the essence. We cannot be without A/C too long or we will die :)

I trust my fellow wooters and the woot community more than anyone else. Please give me whatever information you can to tell me if this is an appropriate price or not.

I think they will be installing a generic brand but I'd pay a little more for a Carrier, Rheem, or Trane. The tech recommended against a Ruud and said Trane isn't any better but you pay more for the name.

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I would look into a split ductless system, they are easy to install and tremendously smaller so if you want the condenser in the attic, it probably would only take the one guy. The other good thing is that they are very economical. The units are more expensive than a traditional unit but install is cheaper especially if multi-man install is required.
I know some people that use these in old bungalows at the shore.

An example of a unit ( not necessarily a good deal) http://www.pexsupply.com/Flex-Multi-Split-Ductless-Air-Conditioners-1680000

they even have these new systems that hide behind art http://www.pexsupply.com/LG-LA096HNP-9800-BTU-Art-Cool-Ductless-Single-Zone-Mini-Split-Air-Conditioner-Heat-Pump

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@philosopherott: Thanks for your quick response.

I'm not sure I could use one of those ductless units. Both the add-on room and the patio contains 100% glass exterior walls. The interior walls are brick but the other side goes into the main part of the house. Seems I'd have to do some construction to replace some side glass with a regular wall and I don't want to go that far with this until the house is vacant.

The zone cooled by the defective A/C unit is the orange colored area in the picture below.

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Is it feasible for you to be present during the quotes, instead of your tenants?

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Sounds like a really nice house. Would your renters be comfortable letting you be there while they are at work to receive the additional estimates? How about calling a couple of other companies and telling them the basics, and asking for a simple, non-binding phone estimate. If they give you a substantially better price on the phone, make whatever arrangements to have them come out and give a binding estimate. Check with the Better Business Bureau and any professional associations. Sounds like we need to ship some folks to your area. Our rental occupancy rate is about 95%.

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@thumperchick and @moondrake:

Yes, I can be present but I cannot be left alone at the house without them being there.

I like the idea of calling companies and getting a non-binding price over the phone. I think I might try that but I doubt they will be willing to do it. Can't hurt to try though.

Regarding the Better Business Bureau (BBB), I do not trust them any farther than I can throw them. I noticed that companies can have thousands of unresolved complaints and still get an A+ rating as long as they pay the BBB their annual fees. I experienced this with a home warranty company and I ended up having to sue them for the costs to cover defects that they refused to cover. I won so that proves they were in the wrong. They had thousands of similar complaints registered and unresolved but still had an excellent rating. I will never believe anything the BBB has to say about a company after that experience.

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@cengland0: About the BBB: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I have seen the exact same thing. Horrible companies that do nothing about complaints, but are members in good standing because their check cleared.

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It's my understanding that the horizontal line between the orange rooms and the yellow and green rooms represents a brick wall. Could you use one (or two) small split system(s), mounting the inside half of the system(s) on that brick wall?

Admittedly, those are large rooms. Getting adequate airflow from the interior wall, to blanket the entire room, might be a stretch.

What do they plan to replace in the attic? The entire air handler? Perhaps you can find a replacement/retrofit system where they would need to replace only the evaporator coils in the attic, using the existing ductwork and blower. That might make the job a little less intrusive.

Of course in order to design the coils for the optimum temperature drop, they would need to know the airflow rate of the existing blower. It's not trivial. But I have seen systems marketed that were designed for installation inside a forced-air heat system. The entire outside unit, plus just an evaporator coil for inside.

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@cengland0: My husband is an HVAC contractor and I will show him your scenario when he comes into the office.

Have you considered a dehumidifier? I'm no expert but I know Florida tends to be humid which places a heavy load on the A/C.

You are correct to be wary of HVAC companies. My husband has given many "second opinion" estimates and he tells me horror stories of companies trying to sell people expensive equipment when they may only need something cleaned.

Yelp is a good place to check references, free (unlike Angie's List) and free of extortion (unlike the BBB).

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That seems like a very reasonable offer (I had two units I had to replace last year). Given that this unit is 23 (!) years old, you have more than gotten a fair value from it: compressor units really can't be expected to last more than 10-15 years, less in FL where they have to work hard.

I don't think you are going to get a better quote. I agree that it would be worth calling a couple of other vendors with the general spec and get a general quote: I expect you will find they are all more or less in the same region, and any money saved would be more than offset by the time it takes.

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Only other thing i can think of is one of these http://www.homedepot.com/p/Haier-12-000-BTU-Portable-AC-CPN12XC9/202675403?N=c4m4#.UVr1cb8QtI0 until you do a tenant swap. Then have the fix or replacement done when the space is vacant. I know my parents used something like this as their vacation house air conditioner for like 4 months a year for 3 years b4 they ever had a problem with it. Also it gives you a buffer as a landlord to give your renters this in the case of an ac break down in the future. Would be good if your ac ever went on the fritz. Gives you wiggle room so who ever is fixing is not holding your comfort hostage as a way to gouge you.

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@cengland0: I think I want you as my landlord .... seriously ..... Anyway I would call for some estimates any company worth their salt will at least give you a ball park. Then just talk to the tenants it sounds like you are a super reasonable landlord so they are likely going to be pretty cool about it.

When I have a cool landlord I have always been cooler about being interrupted. Of course I am happy to let them do work on the house even when I am not home. Matter of fact I go out of the way to let them know when I will be out of town on vacation or other things so they can feel free to come and go as they need. Anything they repair/fix makes it a nicer place for me to live so I am all for it ...

of course maybe I am weird.

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One other thought. Since there's an attic over the two rooms in question, is there a gable end, or is there a sloping roof over all three sides? If there's a gable end, could you create an access panel there, so the contractors don't need to go through occupied space to get into the attic?

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I just had a new 2 ton unit installed a few months ago and it was $4200. So $4500 for a 1.5 does sound expensive. My house is a two story just north of Dallas, TX and the unit I was replacing was for the downstairs. But the air handler lives above the kitchen and has to be trudged up the stairs, into my office, into the closet and through the half-size door into the lower part of the attic. I don't know how much prices vary from region to region, but since we are both in regions where A/C is critical I would assume similar price levels.

I always check Angie's List for projects like that. I have only had one bad experience with well reviewed contractors, but it was more on the professionalism rather than the price (punctuality, cleanliness while working).

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If my landlord were fixing stuff, I would absolutely let them be there in my place so that I could pay my rent! Anyway, I'm a fan of getting a few more ballpark quotes before scheduling the work.

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@djbowman: I'm sure the tenants would allow me to be there without them but I refuse to do that. It's all a matter of liability. They could claim that something is missing and I was the only person they left alone. For that reason, and that reason only, I will never enter the house without the tenant being present too.

Once I pick the company to install the unit, I've already received permission from the tenant to give that company their name and number to coordinate the install. If they decide to leave the installation company there by themselves, that's up to them.

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@cengland0: As a former tennant, can you give the tennant a choice of them not being there for the estimate, they will want the Air soon enough.

Explain you would like a 2nd estimate. I know 1 landlord that there is no way I would approve, but we had some issues with him walking in when ever he wanted and we had to establish boundaries. The others we would trusted so much we would ask him to escort the AC tech.

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@crowbite: The gable end would have been a good idea if it had wood paneling but it's a stucco house.

Regarding what they plan on replacing in the attic, that's the air handler. The older units took a different version of Freon than what is compatible with the new compressors. Both units will need to be replaced.

This does bring up a horrible issue though. Getting the new air handler up into the attic will probably require them to remove sheetrock from the ceiling because the attic entrance is probably too small to get a new unit through.

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@scmtim: Thank you very much for sharing the prices you paid, that is extremely helpful. I might want to upgrade to a 2 ton unit anyway. The amount of glass in those rooms is excessive and the current A/C works very hard to keep it cool.

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@cengland0: Be careful. Tonnage is a function of thermal load, and you can absolutely over size a unit resulting in cold but wet air as the unit doesn't run long enough to dehumidify. A proper HVAC contractor should absolutely know this also. Did they do a load calc?
$4500 seems to be the going rate for an installed split unit (non heat-pump), but I do disagree with the "Trane is crap" statement, and would be cautious of any contractor who bashes brands they don't sell.

j5 j5
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I just called to get my first price quote and was given the following information:

* Wholesale on a 1.5 to 2 ton unit is from $1,300 - $1,700
* There is usually a $500 attic installation surcharge that companies charge
* For labor, they generally charge the amount they pay for the hardware.
* Total cost to replace should be about $3,400 + 500 = $3,900

Now for the interesting part. He recommends that I do not replace the unit and only fix it instead. I was hoping to sell the property in about 5 years and it would be better to install a new one just before you sell the house. This will be faster and less intrusive for the tenants.

He will fix it for $350 and that includes the coolant, new part, and labor.

The first company was going to charge $50 per pound of coolant. This guy said he buys his canisters for around $500 for 30 pounds. Companies usually charge double so that would make it $33 per pound so I was being ripped off on that part of the pricing.

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@j5: Sorry, I didn't mean to infer that Trane is crap. I meant to say that the tech said that Trane is not better than a Carrier and you are paying a premium for the name.

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@cengland0: no worries. It actually depends on the model as to level of quality. The upper end Carriers are comparable to Trane of equivalent specs.
It is hard to find a HVAC rep who would recommend repair vs replace. If you do, you should hold on to them.
The coolant in the older units is being sunset, so price will go up significantly very soon. Make sure there are absolutely no leaks if you have it repaired.

j5 j5
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@cengland0: Sounds like you got a good HVAC company there. As @j5 said, it is very unusual to find a company that will advise repair over replace. And the repair seems like a good price.

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$4500 is the rate for a full install. Not a replacement of a unit or repair of a unit. You're not doing the entire system over again. you're just replacing or repairing a handler correct?

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@triplebud: I really want to replace just the compressor unit but the new coolant that goes into those units is not compatible with the old air handler. I've been advised if I replace one piece, I have to replace the other too. So my initial plan was to replace both the compressor and the air handler.

After talking with another tech, I have decided replacing the whole unit would actually be worse for my tenants so I will be fixing it instead. The main issue is that the air handler is in the attic and the new one is too big to fit in the opening used to enter the attic area. The ceiling sheetrock would have to be removed to get that unit installed and it turns out to be a bigger job than I anticipated.

At noon eastern time today, the unit will begin it's repair. I was quoted $350 for everything and that seems like a deal I cannot turn down. I was prepared to pay $4,500 but wanted to know if I was being ripped off before writing a check so $350 is wonderful news.

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There are actually four main parts to the A/C system. The compressor (which is outside); the condenser coil (also outside); the evaporator coil (located inside); and the air handler (a blower which is located inside). The air handler does not have any freon... it's just a big fan.

Since you were talking about replacing coolant, etc., it sounded as if one of the first three had failed (compressor, or one of the two coils). Those are all part of a sealed system containing freon, and the type of freon has changed over the years.

I was suggesting that you leave all the ductwork and the air handler intact. Replace the other components, including having the new system filled with the proper type of freon. Since you would be replacing only the evaporator coil inside, which is relatively small (it's inside the ductwork adjacent to the blower), the job would be much less disruptive.

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@crowbite: Interesting. So you're telling me that I wouldn't have to replace the entire air handler system -- just the evaporator coil?

That being the case, it could make the replacement much easier because I'm sure that one piece could fit into the attic entry hole.

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@crowbite: I mentioned the possibility of replacing individual components in the air handler when replacing the entire exterior unit. I was told that Florida law requires the air handler number (I think he said IPA number or something similar) to match on both units.

He did say that it's possible to disassemble the air handler completely, bring the individual parts in the attic and then reassemble it. Said that was very time consuming but it's easier than removing and replacing sheet rock on the ceiling.

He finished the job and the A/C unit is functional again. Cost a total of $385 and he said that should last many more years.