7 Expectations for Your HVAC Consultation
Most people replace their car more frequently than their HVAC system. By the time you're ready to trade your old AC and furnace for something new, it may have been years since you had an HVAC consultation.
So, what should you expect when you call an HVAC company? What kind of information should you seek? That's what we're going to answer here.
There's no way around it: An HVAC system is a big purchase.
Big purchases can have big consequences, and you want every consequence to be positive! When you start meeting with HVAC contractors, you should set your expectations high. Really high.
In particular, here are 7 things you should expect - and require - from every contractor trying to earn your business.
1. Explanation of the pre-installation process
Some HVAC contractors will say things like this: "Oh, we just come over and take out the old system. Then we'll put in a new system that's the same size. Don't worry. We'll let you keep your ductwork."
If you hear this story or some version of it, thank the contractor for their time and hire somebody else.
This is the old "rules of thumb" approach to heating and air conditioning. It fails to consider unique attributes of your home that can have a profound impact on HVAC system selection. Not only that, it ignores your specific objectives for keeping your home comfortable.
To be worthy of your business, an HVAC contractor needs to follow a rigorous pre-installation process that they're happy to explain to you during an initial consultation.
Furthermore, that process must - and this is not optional! - include an exercise called a Manual J load calculation. To complete a load calculation, the contractor takes several measurements throughout your home in an effort to determine the proper sizes for your air conditioner and furnace.
An HVAC contractor who can't or won't perform a load calculation before recommending a new system isn't the HVAC contractor for you.
Without a load calculation, you could end up with an oversized HVAC system that you regret ever buying. It actually happens a lot. The only time you might not need a load calculation is when you're replacing an HVAC system's outdoor or indoor unit and keeping the other half. When that's the case, the contractor needs to match whatever component you're keeping, regardless of size.
The pre-installation process should also include a ductwork analysis to see whether your existing ductwork is capable of delivering the right amount of conditioned air to all areas of your home. If it isn't, you might need to modify your ducts to ensure the new system works the way it's designed to.
2. Lots of questions
A consultation should be consultative. The consultant's goal should be to help you get the most comfortable, efficient HVAC solution that's within your budget. To do that, they need to ask a lot of questions. Expect to hear questions about:
General comfort during different times of year
Problem areas of the home that are less comfortable than others
Hot spots and cold spots during summer and winter, respectively
Humidity issues, whether high in the summer or low in the winter
Noise levels from the HVAC system and ductwork
Your satisfaction with indoor air quality
Questions like these help the consultant diagnose problems you may be having with the current system and develop an idea of what kind of replacement might work best. If a consultant fails to ask about these things, they're flying blind.
3. A design-minded approach
Can your contractor handle a challenge? Not all HVAC installations are super straightforward. If you're trying to solve a number of problems (like those things the contractor should have asked you about in #2 above), a contractor better have the expertise to design an HVAC system that works for your home.
Design always includes the Manual J load calculation, but there are other things the contractor needs to be able to do as well:
Blower door test for identifying areas of air leakage
Room-by-room airflow testing to determine how much air the system (and the ductwork) need to deliver throughout the home
Ductwork design to ensure the ducts are the right size and length to move air effectively
Combustion safety testing to ensure your furnace and other gas appliances don't leak carbon monoxide into the home
Ventilation analysis to determine whether the home receives enough fresh air (and whether the "fresh" air comes from clean, filtered sources)
Not all HVAC installations require these kinds of tests, but many do. Ask whether the contractor knows how to perform these types of analyses. A contractor who understands HVAC design is far more likely to install a system that meets your comfort goals.
4. Overview of code deficiencies
Building codes change often, and your home doesn't have to be old to be code-deficient in some way or another.
Your consultant should perform a visual analysis of your current HVAC system, including an inspection of ancillary components. Think gas line fittings, the vent pipe, electrical connections, and so forth.
Afterward, he or she should be able to tell you what isn't up to code right now but will be brought up to code following the new installation.
To be clear, this is a basic overview based on visual inspection. Additional code deficiencies may be revealed during the pre-installation or installation process.
5. Ductwork overview
During an initial HVAC consultation, there's no way to know the specific sizes or lengths of ductwork you need. However, your consultant can and should inspect your ductwork to get a sense of things like:
Whether your ducts generally appear to be the right size
Plenum box sizes and positions
Flex duct quality: Are they bent, kinked or sagging?
Mastic sealing or taping at junctions (or lack of sealant or tape)
An estimate of how much airflow (CFM) your system needs
This analysis helps the consultant understand how your ducts may be contributing to comfort problems or making your current system operate less efficiently than it should. While you should expect a more rigorous analysis during the pre-installation process, an HVAC consultant can get a basic sense of your ductwork situation by visual inspection alone.
6. Basic technical overview
Upon further inspection, your consultant should check whether your current system meets basic operational requirements. Examples include:
A simple visual analysis (and possibly a few measurements) will show the consultant whether your current HVAC setup requires some adjustments. This is something you'll want to know whether or not you ultimately purchase a new system from the contractor!
7. Variety of budget-friendly system types and efficiencies
When the contractor presents you with replacement options for your current system, he or she should be able to show you:
Different system types (single-speed, two-speed, variable speed)
Different price ranges for new equipment
Different financing options or rebate offers
There's a lot of choice in HVAC today, so you shouldn't expect a contractor to limit you to one or two different types of systems! The options presented should be tied to the analysis the consultant performed. In other words, the consultant should be showing you equipment options (and possibly ancillary HVAC services) that will help you solve your unique comfort problems!
That's a lot to expect from an HVAC consultation. But it's what you should expect.
When a consultant fails to deliver on any of the above expectations, keep looking. You'll eventually find an HVAC contractor who cares about providing the right equipment and services for your home.
At PV, we always provide this level of rigor and attention during our HVAC consultations at Atlanta area homes.
Our consultants check every box listed above. We don't do things this way because it's cheap or easy. (It's neither). We do it because we want our clients to be comfortable; we want their systems to last as long as possible; and we want to do work we can be proud of.
The way we see it, you should expect nothing less.