Ask an Expert: a Brief Guide to HVAC Replacements and Repairs

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Sometimes you just need the basic information about your system, without a lot of extra fuss. Today we spoke to Chris Strand, the CEO of Stan’s Heating and Cooling here in Austin, Texas, for a no-frills guide to residential heating and air conditioning replacements and repairs. We covered everything from what to expect from your contractor, to how much to budget for each different kind of job. Stan’s—a member of the Texas Air Conditioning Contractors Association—has been in business in 1954, so they’ve seen every kind of different air conditioning and heating issue you can imagine. Here’s their take on the matter.

Check air conditioner heat or room temperature

What are the most important steps a consumer can take to maintain his HVAC system, especially to maximize energy efficiency?

There are five important steps:

  1. Make sure to change your filters regularly
  2. Clean the outdoor condenser coils twice a year
  3. Have ductwork checked to make sure it is not restrictive
  4. Flush the drain line
  5. Have the system treated for ants at the condenser.

When it comes to basic maintenance and inspection, what tasks can a contractor do that a homeowner can’t or shouldn’t? What specialized tools may a contractor have that help them perform these tasks?

A manometer is needed to check ductwork sizing and gas pressure, and electronic voltage electric meters are needed to check the amp draw on motors and capacitors.

Contractors have the experience needed to evaluate complete system operation and installation issues. That’s why we recommend a precision tune-up and professional cleaning, rather than a homeowner attempting to do it on their own.

What are the most common or typical mistakes a homeowner makes that require the services of an HVAC contractor?

Dirty filters, ants inside the air conditioning condenser, dirty condenser coils, and blocked drain lines will all cause problems. Also, sometimes homeowners need help changing out a thermostat.

Young repairman fixing an industrial air conditioning compressor.

Young repairman fixing an industrial air conditioning compressor.

How often should the HVAC system be maintained by a professional?

Ideally, systems should be serviced twice a year for basic maintenance.

Other than replacing an entire HVAC system, what kind of jobs do homeowners frequently need from HVAC professionals?

Most frequently, we’re called out for basic maintenance, emergency repairs, or to resolve air balancing issues.

How much should a homeowner be prepared to pay for a contractor’s services? Are there fees for service calls, plus parts and labor?

Tune-ups typically cost approximately $99. However, a maintenance contract usually includes two visits for approximately $149. For service and repairs, expect to spend approximately $99 for the diagnostic and a flat rate cost for the repair (on top of that).

What else should a homeowner know to work well with a contractor?

Make sure the contractor offers a 100% guarantee. You also want to be as flexible and nice as possible. On repair appointments, realize that it is impossible to do a time certain (i.e., be precise about the time estimate for the repair), because each repair takes a different amount of time depending on the issue.

fixed point HVAC contract

What should a homeowner expect during an HVAC repair or replacement?

For a repair, you can expect a call when technician is on the way. Also, know that your contractor should wear booties when inside your house, and generally show respect for your home. A contractor should allow you to sign off repair before it is done, and should not expect payment until the job is complete.

For a replacement, the process goes more like this: a sales person looks at ductwork and insulation, rather than just the equipment. The reason for this is that if the ductwork is in poor condition or poorly designed, new units today will not work well. You should receive a call the day before to confirm. Again, the installer will wear booties when inside your house, and they should also lay drop cloths over floors, as well as vacuuming and cleaning any dust or debris when finished. And once again, payment is due when the job is finished.

Generally, how long does an HVAC replacement or repair take?

For a replacement, you should anticipate between five to nine hours. For a repair, it’s typically more like one to three hours.

Is there a certain time of year that it’s better to replace your HVAC?

It’s best to plan a replacement during the off-season, when demand is low. In Texas, that occurs November through March.

What should a homeowner look for after an HVAC repair or replacement (e.g. lower energy bills, improved efficiency, signs it wasn’t fixed?)

For a repair, you should expect the unit to be fixed right the first time. But if there is an issue, expect prompt service and no return charge.

For a replacement, on the other hand, expect better comfort and lower bills.

I think that about wraps it up. Thank you for talking to us today, Chris!

Thank you for having me.

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