Working with HVAC Contractors to Get the Right System for Your Home

Some HVAC contractors will tell you that the right system for your home is the one they want to sell. They won’t put it in those terms, of course. But the unscrupulous ones will try to sell you on the merits of a system with the best profit margin or an extra one they want to get rid of—without regard to your needs.

These tips for working with HVAC contractors will help you get the heating and cooling equipment with the climate control you want at the best possible price.

Tip #1: Match the Efficiency Level to your Climate

If you live in a hot climate and an HVAC contractor suggests a 14 SEER air conditioner, he’s not looking out for you. ACs in the 13-14 SEER range are designed for northern climates and part-time use installations. Those in the 15-17 SEER range are ideal for warm climates that aren’t extremely hot. Air conditioners with 18 SEER and higher ratings are the cost-effective choice for regions where summers are long and hot. You’ll pay less for a 14 SEER model, but the low efficiency will skyrocket your electric bills in hot climates.

Conversely, you don’t need to pay top dollar for a 20 SEER Carrier Infinity or American Standard Platinum air conditioner if you live in the North. The lower energy bills won’t pay you back for 10+ years. The exception is for enthusiasts of green energy. If you want to reduce energy use as your top priority, then buy the most efficient model you can afford.

Similar considerations apply to the efficiency of gas furnaces and heat pumps.

Tip #2: Consider Having a Load Calculation Done

A load calculation is a detailed evaluation of your home’s heating and cooling needs. It takes into consideration your climate, the construction materials in your home and its size. A load calculation will give the HVAC contractor precise information about the size of the system you need in terms of the BTUs of the furnace or the capacity in tons of the AC or heat pump.

Many contractors go only by square footage and use outdated estimates. This leads to many systems being too large because houses built in the last 10-20 years are much more energy efficient than those built earlier. They have more insulation and are wrapped with Tyvek or similar material. A home built 30 years ago requiring a 4 ton AC and 110,000 BTU furnace might need a 3 ton AC and a 90,000 BTU furnace if built today due to modern materials.

If your home is older but you’ve added insulation, installed energy-efficient windows or roofing since your current HVAC system was installed, then a load calculation is important. The chances are, you’ll need a new system with less capacity than the old one. Going with a unit of the same size will cost you more money than you need to spend and may produce heat fluctuations as the system heats and cools more than it needs to.

Tip #3: Determine the Level of Climate Control you Want

Single-stage furnaces, heat pumps and air conditioners run at full capacity whenever on. They are the least expensive. The downside is that they offer less precise control over temperature and humidity. Two-stage units deliver better climate control and modulating models are the best and most expensive. If slight variations in temperature won’t bother you and you don’t live where humidity is a major problem, then you may not want to spend extra for 2-stage or modulating heating and cooling. Don’t let an HVAC contractor try to talk you into a system you won’t appreciate or need.

If, however, you enjoy evenly-balanced temperatures and want better dehumidification to deal with muggy summer weather, then staged or modulated heating or cooling is the better choice. You’ll need to be prepared to pay more and ignore a contractor’s emphasis on the low cost of a single stage system.

One thing to keep in mind: If you want a heat pump or AC with a high SEER rating, it’s also going to have a two-stage or modulating compressor. There are a couple of single-stage, 16 SEER models but most with efficiency levels of 16 SEER and higher are two-stage or modulating. In furnaces, you can find affordable single-stage 95% AFUE models from Lennox, Trane, Goodman and many other brands. Of course, there are many two-stage and modulating furnaces in the 95% to 98% AFUE too. On the flip side, there are several 80% furnaces with two-stage burners if you live in a warm climate and want better temperature balance than a single-stage furnace offers.

Tip #4: Get Multiple Written Estimates

Getting a good price is only one reason to request several quotes for the job. It will also give you a chance to find the HVAC contractor who is willing to do what it takes to help you determine the right system for your home based on these criteria.

When you know what you want and locate a contractor willing to help you achieve it, you’ll get a heating and cooling system that produces the right combination of climate control and energy efficiency for you.


Decide before getting estimates just how important precise climate control is. Also have a good idea of the right efficiency level for your climate. When you’re an informed consumer and take your time to find a contractor who puts your needs first, you’ll end up with a system that gives you the comfort level and energy costs you’ll be happiest with. From there find a site like to start gathering estimates.

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2 Responses to “Working with HVAC Contractors to Get the Right System for Your Home”

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  1. Great tips! I definitely agree. Especially with getting a quote from several companies. You can also check the reviews online & see if one has negative reviews, etc.,

    Great article.

  2. Gus Melo says:

    Requesting a load calculation will certainly weed out much of the less quality HVAC contractors. Great advice when considering an air conditioning system purchase. Once you call out some contractors, I think some subtle things to look for is whether they respect your home, offer research materials, have pictures of their work and show their appropriate licensing/qualifications.

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