Whether it’s a small repair job or a complete top-to-bottom system replacement, you’re bound to receive a quote or estimate from your HVAC contractor. While some quotes are pretty straightforward, others can get so detailed that it’s too easy to miss an important detail, especially when you’re comparing multiple quotes. In today’s post, local HVAC company Albert Air Inc. shares a guide to understanding HVAC quotes, which may become helpful if you ever find yourself in such a situation.
Basic HVAC Terms
It’s hard to avoid technical terms when discussing air conditioning and heating systems, so first, we need to take a look at some of the commonly-used HVAC terms.
- HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. While often used interchangeably with an air conditioner and heating system, an HVAC system includes both, as well as the air handler, thermostat and distribution system. In some homes, air ducts serve as the air distribution system. Others may utilize a hydronic distribution system, that is, the heating system uses hot water to distribute heat throughout the house.
- Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) measures an air conditioner’s efficiency. It represents the ratio of cooling output (measured in British thermal units or BTUs) to the electrical energy input (measured in watt-hours) over a typical cooling season. Air conditioners with high SEER ratings indicate greater energy efficiency that can help lower its operating costs.
- Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) is similar to SEER, but is calculated at a specific outdoor temperature, as opposed to over a season. Higher EER ratings indicate better efficiency under specific conditions.
- The condenser coils are a key component of an air conditioning system that is housed in the outdoor unit, together with the compressor and fan. A part of the cooling cycle involves releasing the heat gathered indoors by refrigerant, after which it goes through the compressor and returns to its cooled state, ready to be cycled back indoors. On window-mounted units, the condenser coil is located within the frame that protrudes from the exterior wall.
- The compressor is also housed in the outdoor unit, and could be considered as the heart of an air conditioning system. It compresses the refrigerant, which results in continuous circulation.
- The evaporator coil is the indoor counterpart of the condenser coil. During the cooling cycle, the cooled refrigerant passes through the evaporator coils. Indoor fans blow air through them, producing cool air. The evaporator coils also absorb the heat from the room and transports it to the outdoor unit, where heat is released.
- The refrigerant is a substance that is circulated within air conditioning systems to generate cool air. Unlike fuel, refrigerant is not consumed by the system. In fact, an air conditioner can virtually run on a single fill (or charge) of refrigerant throughout its service life — which is why leaking refrigerant lines are considered by HVAC technicians as an urgent matter.
- A heat pump is essentially an air conditioner with a reversed cycle. That is, the warm air that is usually expelled outdoors is now released through the indoor unit. Many of today’s air conditioners have reversible cycles, which means you don’t have to have separate heating and cooling systems attached to your HVAC system. It’s important to note that heat pumps are
- Mini-split or ductless air conditioners are air conditioners that have their own air handler built in the indoor unit. They’re designed for cooling relatively smaller spaces such as individual rooms.
- The ductwork or air ducts is a network of ducts used to distribute cooled or heated air throughout a building.
- Zoning means controlling temperatures in different areas of a building. It helps optimize comfort and energy efficiency by directing conditioned air only to the areas that need it.
- The thermostat is a device that allows users to control the temperature settings of their HVAC system. Today’s thermostats are typically programmable or have smart features that allow easy operation and energy efficiency.
Tips on Reviewing HVAC Quotes
The following are some of the things that you should keep in mind when reviewing one or multiple quotes.
- Quotes are different from estimates. Many people, including professionals, use the terms “quote” and “estimate” interchangeably. While both documents have many similarities, the key difference is that a quote becomes the contract when you sign it. This means the contractor must honor the price and services stated in it. In comparison, an estimate is as the name says — the final contract price may end up being different from the initial estimate.
- You can make corrections. It’s important to remember that you can make corrections to the quote or estimate. Make sure that the corrections are reflected on the new HVAC quote before you sign it.
- Always review the scope of work. HVAC quotes should clearly outline the scope of work. Typically, this includes the tasks involved, including equipment installation, repairs, duct cleaning or maintenance. A detailed scope of work helps you understand precisely what the contractor will do.
- Look for the HVAC specifications. If you are getting a new air conditioner or heating system, the quote should list the equipment that you picked during your initial consultation. The brand, model and other details like efficiency ratings must be clearly stated.
- Make sure there is a cost breakdown. Your HVAC quote should have a breakdown of the costs involved. In addition to the unit that you purchased, make sure that the breakdown lists labor costs and parts and materials, including refrigerant and fasteners. If it’s a repair job, the replacement parts must be clearly itemized.
- Don’t forget to ask about the warranty coverage. Your HVAC warranty should cover both the unit and the installation. The unit or manufacturer’s warranty is typically activated online or by filling out a warranty registration card, while the installation warranty can be included in the quote.
- Don’t be tempted by a low bid. When comparing multiple quotes, a low bid price can certainly be tempting. However, keep in mind that there are unscrupulous individuals who cut corners just to come up with a low price. Make it a point to look at details like the HVAC system brand, the cost breakdown and warranty coverage.
Our team at Albert Air Inc. can help you with the installation process, from the consultation to completion. We’d be happy to answer questions you may have about your HVAC system — give us a call at (714) 526-6368, or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation.