HVAC Tucson

HVAC Tucson is a bit of a pet project website that has been put together not by any commercial entity or local Southern Arizona Heating and Cooling company.  Instead, it has put together by an individual consumer (me), who was recently forced into learning more than expected about home furnaces and air conditioners as our furnace suddenly stopped working this winter and we realized it was time for a full HVAC system upgrade.  What I thought might be a service call that would cost me a couple hundred dollars ended up costing me a lot more money than that… to tune of well over $6,000!  And while that amount sounds like a lot (and it is), it could have easily ended up being closer to $10,000 if not for some due diligence.

HVAC TucsonAt the same time that this home maintenance surprise was coming upon me, our son in college was moving into a new home (a used mobile home purchased by his grandmother).  As it turned out, there were issues with the furnace there as well, and we learned that a mobile home furnace is not entirely the same beast as what we were dealing with in our own home.  In fact, mobile home furnaces are quite unique in their own right and you need a special understanding of them if you want to deal with one appropriately.

So this website was born out of these near simultaneous experiences  and what amounted to essentially a layman’s crash course in A/C and home furnace ‘stuff’.  I dealt with a number of different companies in the process, getting different bids and doing some research online, and my sincere hope is that by sharing my experiences here, other Tucson homeowners (or where ever you might live), might come across this information and save themselves a bit of time, effort, and hopefully some money too!

The first thing to address is the HVAC acronym; it stands for Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning, and refers to the technology and equipment involved in maintaining temperature comfort in both buildings and automobiles (though we won’t be addressing any vehicle issues on this website for now).

Your heating and cooling system can be one of the biggest investments in your home, and your home is oftentimes the largest investment an individual makes, so you can see the significance of these systems and why you want to make sure you get them right when buying or repairing them.  Also, the use of these climate control systems account for as much as 55% (or more) of the typical home’s energy use and utility bill.  Making sure you have the most efficient and long lasting units in your home can pay off big time for you in the long run in lower monthly bills.

Enter the World of HVAC Tucson

While it was the furnaces that drug me into the world of HVAC, living here in Southern AZ many people probably think we’re more in need of an air conditioner or other cooling system than any kind of heater.  While it’s true that having some kind of air conditioning in Tucson is a necessity in the summer, a winter here without heat can definitely be too cold to tolerate (fortunately the year that my furnace went out we were having a mild winter).

With Arizona’s dry climate, many people use evaporative coolers in the summer to keep their homes comfortable.  However, when the monsoon rains come in and the humidity rises, these folks may be wishing they had invested in a central air conditioning system (and they might find themselves spending more time at the office or at school, in a nicely air conditioned environment!) While most modern buildings are now built to accommodate this kind of central ‘all-air’ air conditioning, trying to retro-fit an older building with a new, replacement system can be quite difficult and expensive.  The main reason is that replacing the ductwork on older systems isn’t conducive to the new, modern, high efficiency air conditioners.  It doesn’t mean it can’t be done… it’s just a word of warning if you’re out shopping for bids from various A/C contractors.  Make sure they let you know if and how much work would need to be done to get your ducts to work with a new system.  The good thing is that once you have new duct work in place, you’ll get much better performance from your AC unit as well as your furnace, no matter what brand you decide on.

Speaking of brands, before we go too much further, let me give you a list of some of the top equipment manufacturers you might come across in your search for a new home heating and cooling system.  A few of the better known brands are: Carrier, Bryant, Payne, Trane, Lennox, York, Luxair, Everest, Rheem, Ruud, Amana, Crown, Frigidaire, Gibson, Goodman, Noritz, Water Furnace, Climate Master, Florida Heat Pump, Bard, Hydro Heat, Lochinvar, Maytag, Weil McLain, Crown, Utica, Dunkirk, and Burnham.  These companies are well known for furnaces, A/C units, humidifiers and de-humidifiers, water heaters, filters and programmable thermostats.  Basically all the things involved in keeping you comfortable in your home.

HVAC Tucson: A very quick and basic overview of the way your furnace works:

Your home furnace generates its heat for you by combusting fuel inside the burner (the fuel used is typically natural gas here in Tucson, Az, but other heating fuels include oil, electricity, geothermal to name a few).  The heat that is produced from this combustion is used to heat air within the heat exchanger, which then uses forced air to push the warmth through the duct work to the various area of the house.

You air conditioner works in a similar fashion except that instead of heating air in the heat exchanger, it uses a coil to cool the air before pushing it through the ducts to cool the house down.

When you’re shopping for a new furnace and or complete HVAC system, one of the key things to look at is its efficiency rating.  One that you’ll see referred to a lot is the SEER, which stands for the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating.  Another is the AFUE or Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency.

For a system that is rated at 75% AFUE, this means that for every dollar spent on the operation of the system, $.75 is going to the actual generation of the heat for your home.  Older units used to operate around the 60% AFUE range, but today you can get them closer to the 95% range.  You gotta love how technology helps make things more efficient these days!

Of course to keep the value of a unit in check you need to make sure it’s reliable.  You don’t want to need to be making service calls every other month and getting billed for them.  Most new furnaces come with excellent warranties for both labor and parts.  You want to make especially sure of the length of warranty on the heat exchanger for the furnace and the compressor on the cooler since these are the parts that do the most work, would be most likely to fail, and would cost the most to replace.

As with any large investment, especially when it comes to home improvement, you need to do your research before making any final decisions.  This research needs to cover not only the equipment you may be purchasing, but the company that will do the installation work as well (assuming they will be the ones to do the service and repair, if necessary).

For example, how long has the company been in business in Tucson (or your particular town or city)?  What kind of training and certification do their techs have and are they recognized within the HVAC industry with organizations such as ASHRAE?  Are they listed with the Better Business Bureau?*

A small caveat here…

I’m not so sure the BBB rating is all it’s cracked up to be.  You see, in order to get a rating from them, you need to be a member (in other words, you need to pay them).  It seems like a serious conflict of interest to be getting a review or rating from a company that is taking money from you.  Furthermore, despite the fact that they use the word “Bureau” in their name, they are in no way associated with any Government agency.  I’m not saying that their ratings are worthless… just that you might want to take them with a grain of salt, if you haven’t been already.  OK, end of mini-rant!

You’ll also want to get at least 3 quotes for estimates on the job.  In my experience, the 3 quotes I got ran from about $6500 up to about $9300 for pretty much the exact same job.  While they were planning on using different equipment from different manufacturers, we were still comparing apples to apples.  And while each of the sales guys that came over to give me a bid was professional and friendly enough, some took more time to give me further advice and tips, pointing out other opportunities for saving energy when heating or cooling your home.  For instance, I learned that keep the new cooler circulating air continuously would use less electricity and cool efficiently than running a ceiling fan in multiple rooms.

At the time of the writing of this article, we are approaching the end of 2010 which means the end of the tax credit opportunity that was offered for buying or upgrading to a new, high efficiency system (in 2009 the federal tax credit was up to $3000, while it was cut in half in 2010 to $1500).  There may still be some rebates offered through TEP (Tucson Electric Power here in Tucson… check with your local energy company to see if they offer any rebates in your area), but we are still waiting to see if they get additional funding for that.

So, take your time and get at least 3 bids for the job before writing any checks!

There is plenty more to learn about heating & cooling systems and HVAC equipment and systems in general, and as this website grows we’ll expand into them.  Our sincere hope is that you’ll find the information here helpful to you in your efforts to make a decision on your own HVAC needs, whether they be residential or commercial in nature.  HVAC Tucson is here to help our neighbors!