Which HVAC Brand is the Best?
Except for a few minor details, there’s little difference among top HVAC brands. As long as you’re choosing a top brand – and by “top,” we generally mean one you’ve heard of – brand doesn’t matter very much at all when it comes to HVAC.
System maintenance and installation quality matter more. Lots more.
To understand why, consider cars.
Imagine two neighbors with identical homes, similar jobs, and an equal family size. Their living situation is nearly identical save for one thing: cars. The first neighbor has owned five different cars in the last 25 years. The other neighbor bought a new one in the 1990s and never looked back.
Our first neighbor rarely bothers with car maintenance. He also drives his cars a lot, pushing their components to the breaking point. When one car quits, he scraps it for another one. In an attempt to save money – a poor attempt, as we’ll see – he buys used cars that have a lot of problems to begin with. Then he takes them to a cheap mechanic to be “fixed.” The cheap mechanic installs cheap parts that don’t last.
We’re not talking the good used cars like the one you might drive. We’re talking clunkers. They tend to break down a lot.
The second neighbor did things differently. She bought a compact car because it was reliable, fuel efficient, and generally well-built. She also only drives the car when absolutely necessary and diligently maintains it. That’s why she still drives that same car today, a quarter-century later!
The logic is similar for HVAC systems. While they probably won’t last 25 years, a Trane system is just as good as a Carrier system, which is just as good as a Lennox system. And so on. You really only see differences on high-end models, but those are typically “nice to have” add-ons and controls.
However, a properly installed, well designed, and well maintained Carrier system will perform a whole lot better than a poorly installed, poorly designed, and neglected Trane system. It’ll last longer, too.
After all, what if Mercedes Benz designed a car with only half the exhaust it needed in order to operate properly? It wouldn’t perform as well or last as long as a less expensive car that does exhaust properly.
That snazzy Mercedes hood ornament is no substitute for a working vehicle.
HVAC installation quality matters a lot more than HVAC brand
Which would you rather own, a glitchy new iPhone that struggles to place calls or an older, yet fully functional, Android phone?
Well, if the new iPhone wasn’t designed or set up properly, it hardly matters that it’s got more features than an older device. HVAC is the same way.
While we’ve waxed poetic about Trane products in the past and have our reasons for preferring Trane over some brands, those preferences are mere details in the greater scheme of things. If you’re looking at three quotes for a new HVAC system and each contractor is suggesting a different brand, it’s best not to focus on whether you’ll see an Amana or Ruud logo on your new heat pump. Instead, you should be looking at:
- Whether the contractors performed a proper load calculation before suggesting a system
- Blower door test results that helped them determine the heating loads, cooling loads, and how tight or leaky your home is – or did they just guess?
- Sizes and efficiency ratings of the proposed systems – are they identical? Similar? Completely different?
- Whether they push high SEER over air conditioner type – getting a two-stage or variable speed compressor is usually more beneficial for comfort and efficiency than whatever an AC’s SEER happens to be!
- Whether the contractors inspected your ductwork, registers and grilles, and other aspects of your home before making recommendations – or are they increasing your system by a half-ton and not adding any ductwork?
- How much training the installers have received and what kind of training
- Whether the techs performing the installation work for the company, receive continuing HVAC education, and are well compensated – or will subcontractors be installing your system?
- Steps the contractors take to test the integrity and performance of the new system following installation
- Whether they schedule a quality control audit during a return visit or leave the scene and only come back if you call them
Even an ultra-efficient system with top-notch components isn’t going to perform as well as it should when the installer doesn’t know what they’re doing. You’d be better off with a capable, professional installer using any brand than you would with a less-than-competent (and possibly less-than-scrupulous) installer who sells the nicest stuff.
It’s hard to stop a Trane… unless you don’t install it properly. Botch the installation, and that wham-bam new Trane system will stop itself.
Don’t forget maintenance. That matters, too.
A properly installed, well maintained HVAC system should last 10 to 15 years. In some cases, it might last 20 years!
But a poorly installed, marginally maintained system? You’ll be lucky if you make it to 10 years. In many cases, you won’t.
Compressors fail. Motors burn out. All kinds of things can go wrong. Some system failures are due to poor ductwork design, lack of return air, and other sizing or installation problems. Others are due to – you guessed it – lack of maintenance.
Neglect your HVAC system, and it won’t matter what brand you purchased. It’s not going to last. We see less expensive brands that were properly installed and maintained outlast “better” brands all the time.
What do we mean by “maintained,” though? For starters, you should change your air filters regularly – typically every 90 days. You should also have your entire system inspected and cleaned twice per year. Just before the cooling season (spring) and just before the heating season (fall) are good times to do this. That way, you’ll know whether a potentially expensive problem is lurking around the corner. More often than not, there’s a way to keep that problem from happening altogether.
But you’ve got to know it’s there.
Think of it like this: How well would your Lexus run if you never changed the oil or switched out the oil filter?
The bottom line: Don’t focus too much on brand
Knowing the differences among HVAC brands is more important for people who work in the industry than it is for consumers. We’re the ones who have to repair these systems, and over time we develop preferences for certain makes, models, and designs. We also have to communicate with the manufacturers, so we have opinions about which companies are best to work with.
At PV, we like Trane because they offer excellent customer support and have a variety of options for every budget. They also help us provide really great deals, like 0% interest and cash back year-round. Trane’s spine fin coil design is great, too. Other HVAC contractors prefer other brands. That’s fine.
But if someone tries to sell you on a brand and they haven’t performed a load calculation, analyzed your ducts, and done the legwork required to determine which system makes sense for your home, well… They’re not being honest with you.
- Pick a top brand, but don’t place all your faith in its performance simply because of the name.
- Choose a contractor who understands how to perform a proper design and installation.
- Maintain your equipment through periodic inspections and service.
And that’s it! You’re going to love how well your system performs, and it will be a long time before you need a new one.