Feeling hot? How one homeowner saved big on A/C repair

Feeling hot? How one homeowner saved big on A/C repair

Angie’s List member Len Deerkoski of Rockville, Md., owns a rental townhome in Charlotte, N.C., surrounded by townhomes identical in design, age and equipment.

Yet unlike his neighbors, Deerkoski couldn’t keep his third floor cool. “I kept asking my [previous] HVAC contractor, ‘How come my neighbors don’t have a problem and I do?’” Deerkoski says. “They said, ‘Oh well, that’s the way it goes with air conditioners. You just have to get a whole new system.’” Estimated cost: $5,000 to $7,000.

Deerkoski sought a second opinion from highly rated McClintock Heating Cooling & Electrical in Matthews. The technician spent more than an hour working on the system and found a missing screw causing a damper to block airflow to the third floor. Total cost: $400. “I was prepared to buy a new system,” Deerkoski says. “This guy found a small thing and passed up a $5,000 sale. I was super impressed by it.”

Most homeowners want the same two things from a heating and air conditioning system: year-round comfort and energy efficiency. McClintock company owner Rob McClintock and other highly rated experts say homeowners can achieve both, often at a cost below expectations. The key is to not settle for a one-size-fits-all solution.

Getting a thorough inspection may reveal less expensive solutions. For example, customers often complain about hot and cold spots, says Gary Robinson, co-owner of highly rated Bayside Heating & Air Conditioning in Clearwater, Fla. “The problem usually is in the ductwork,” he says. “It could be a simple thing: The cable man crawled over a piece of ductwork and maybe crushed part of it. It could be loose joints, where the air is going into the attic rather into the home.”

Ductwork repairs can range from under $100 for sealing a few joints to $2,000 or more for new ductwork, he says. Routine maintenance, such as charging the refrigerant and cleaning the coils, can cost less than $100 a year. And just because the unit is cooling doesn’t mean it’s OK, Robinson says. “If the refrigerant is a little bit off, it will still cool,” he says. “But that machine is working harder and running longer. Homeowners really won’t know at all until they see their power bill.”

McClintock says an upgrade from a 20-year-old HVAC system to a new system will reduce heating and cooling costs up to 30 percent. The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, which rates the system’s efficiency, typically ranges from 13 to 23, with the higher the better. Prices start at $4,500 for a mid-level system with a SEER of 15, he says.

Robinson says the heat-load calculation should be included in the installation cost. If not, ask for it. His partner, Tom Provatas, says this calculation looks at the house size, number of windows and other factors to ensure the HVAC unit is the right size. “Too small and it runs all the time,” Provatas says. “If it’s too big, it cools too fast and there’s not enough air exchanged to remove humidity. The air has a damp, clammy kind of feel.”

For more information, visit the Angie’s List Guide to HVAC Maintenance.

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