This is What Happens When You Price Shop for HVAC

Thermostat With Dollar Sign

The place was a mess.

One company hired a subcontractor to insulate the attic with spray foam. The sub used the wrong type of foam because nobody was on site for quality control.

Another company installed a new furnace, but it was the wrong size. They also performed the installation without regard to what the spray foam contractor had done.

The ductwork wasn’t properly sealed. Air was leaking out everywhere.

And then – to top it all off – the energy auditor didn’t test out the HVAC equipment or check the quality of the spray foam work.

Unfortunately, none of this is unusual.

In the home performance and HVAC business, we see shoddy workmanship all the time. All. The. Time.

The problem is that contractors compete on price, leading consumers to believe that air conditioner installation, air sealing and insulating, and crawl space encapsulation are commodity services. “What’s the difference,” one might ask, “between hiring Company ABC or Company XYZ to install my air conditioner?” Other than price, the result is going to be the same, right?

Well, no.

In reality, not all HVAC companies provide even close to the same service. Some are driven by cheapness and quote the lowest possible price just to land a job. Others are driven by greed and sell the whatever equipment and services they can, regardless of whether a homeowner needs them.

What you should be looking for – and it’s harder to find – is a company that draws on building science to examine your home’s attributes and your HVAC equipment as an integrated whole. They should also avoid using subcontractors and take strict quality measures to ensure each job is done right.

We know. We know.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “PV is only saying that because they sell home performance in conjunction with HVAC.”

That’s partially correct! We do offer home performance and HVAC services. We also use building science and perform energy audits before hastily making recommendations or trying to sell you products. However, the reason we do these things is because, in our experience, they result in absolutely optimal comfort and efficiency throughout your home.

We’re not always the cheapest, and we don’t try to be.

Consequences of price shopping

Imagine you just hired a mechanic to build a car inside your garage. This is the car you’re going to drive every day, so it needs to be perfect. The mechanic builds the engine himself, but then he leaves the scene! Instead of finishing the car, he calls in subcontractors to wrap things up. It was cheaper that way, after all.

The subs show up. They weren’t there when the mechanic built the engine, and they weren’t there when you told the mechanic about your requirements for the car.

“No problem,” they tell you. “The mechanic told us what you want. It’s all good.”

But if things are “all good,” why do you suddenly feel so hesitant about the whole project?

This is exactly the sort of scenario that plays out when homeowners price shop for HVAC and home performance work. Service providers hire subcontractors because it’s cheaper than keeping skilled people on their staff. Subcontractors are rarely subject to quality control measures.

If something breaks, which it probably will, you might hire a different company to fix it. Then you hire another inexpensive provider to work on some other issue related to heating, air conditioning, or home performance. The cycle repeats itself.

Common consequences include:

  • Improper sizing for HVAC equipment or system components: You won’t be cool enough in the summer or warm enough in the winter. If the system is too big, you might end up paying more for equipment that doesn’t work as intended.
  • Less durable equipment that doesn’t last very long: Whether the components are cheap or the installation quality is poor, the HVAC equipment won’t last as long as you’d like it to.
  • Zero attention to aspects of your home environment: Most HVAC contractors don’t view the home as a system; they just sell and repair equipment. As a result, they don’t help you make the best choices for achieving optimal comfort and efficiency. Buying new equipment isn’t always the answer!
  • Greater expense: The irony! An “inexpensive” job, when done poorly, can actually end up costing more after additional professionals step in to fix the poor workmanship.
  • Dangerous conditions: Improper installation of gas appliances could release carbon monoxide into your home.

We’re not saying that every inexpensive HVAC contractor does poor quality work and makes these mistakes. We’re just saying that price shopping for HVAC and home performance puts you at a greater risk for these problems.

The bottom line: When contractors compete on price and position HVAC and home performance as commodity services, consumers lose.

Ask this question: Is the home a system?

There is only one correct answer: Yes.

Before hiring an HVAC contractor, be sure they view your home “as a system” and analyze its performance from the outside in. They should look beyond HVAC equipment and consider all the attributes of your home that impact the performance of that equipment, your comfort levels, and energy efficiency.

Also be on the lookout for companies that can suggest and, preferably, implement all the necessary changes themselves using their own employees. That way, you’re not outsourcing key elements of home improvement to various parties who don’t understand what’s already been done, what needs to be done, and what shouldn’t be done.

It’s not always the cheapest option – at least not on the surface – but you’ll be a whole lot more comfortable than your neighbor who shopped around for the best price.

Besides, we already fixed that guy’s problems. Remember? His place was a mess.