Shopping Around


We have had some issues with our A/C and HVAC system recently. Twice our A/C has tripped the electrical breaker because it is getting older and drawing too much power. And our HVAC system does not blow enough air into our son’s room, so on hot days even with it running his room does not cool down even though the rest of the house does. It did turn out that our HVAC system (A/C and heater) was installed in 2007 so it is moving towards the end of its life and is way out of warranty. So I did what I normally do and schedule people to come out, check on it, and gather quotes for fixing the system. My rule of thumb is to get three quotes and pick a reasonable option, not always the lowest but the one which makes the most sense for us. Also it costs $60 or so for someone to even come out for an hour which is fine but it is not free and it takes up a small bit of my time to show them around the house and answer any questions they have.

  1. The first quote we got was about 22K and the rationale was, ‘your system is very old and broken, you have asbestos in your ceiling, so everything needs to be replaced’. This was quite a shock to us but the technician explained his logic, showed us pictures of our system and how it was breaking down, and show us some new systems we could buy. This worried both Sneha and I a lot because it was much more than we were hoping to spend at the current moment, we just installed solar panels and want to conserve cash. Honestly we freaked out a little after getting this quote.

  2. The second technician arrived yesterday, looked around, and quoted us for about 2K. He thought our system could limp along for another while longer if we did some smaller fixes and maintained what we had. We are excited about the prospect of paying 10X less than the first quote even if it means our system will only last for another few years. Also I guess I have a similar approach to HVAC that I do towards cars, I would rather run them into the ground before buying a new one, and do as much maintenance as possible. Sneha and I were both relieved today and are leaning heavily towards this option.

  3. The third technician comes today and we will see what he or she says.

I guess I just wanted to appreciate the art of shopping around, having a market of HVAC companies that provide services, and following my rule of thumb which is to try to always get three quotes for things with high price and quality variability. I did the same thing when installing closets and installing solar panels, and those quotes had much less variance but still I think I chose a good contractors and am super happy with those decisions. It is annoying and time consuming to shop around, I have to put in much more effort, but the reward is evident in this case (HVAC) because of the high variance of prices / suggestions. We will probably go with the lower cost maintenance option and we will so how long we can stretch out the life of our HVAC.

As a side note I also understand why buying a new house is more alluring because all of your systems are brand new and you dont have to worry about stuff like this. That being said I would rather fix up an old house and pocket the difference, but that is just me.