Even if you have a trust air conditioning contractor you’ve known for years, maybe they are an in-law or you know them from your church, I would still make sure you have these home performance upgrades done on every new AC unit installation, regardless of what they tell you. I know that having a trusted AC contractor is a necessity in Phoenix and once you’ve found someone you trust, you want to save their number in your phone in case you come home one summer to find your AC system not cooling properly. Even when we perform energy audit on a home and a customer tells us they have an AC contractor they love, we say, “Good!” We want you to keep them but as owner of Green ID, one of my personal missions is to take care of our customers and I’m going to tell you what’s best for your whole home to work well to help lower energy bills and increase your comfort.
I believe if we help solve our customer’s needs, we will profit from it through referrals, home performance work or some other way though it may not be from becoming your AC contractor of choice at the moment. I’ve seen firsthand from training our own AC technicians- from guys fresh out of school, guys with a couple years of experience and technicians that have owner their own AC companies for years before closing their businesses, that experience does not mean these best practices are followed or they even know why we want to install them. Some smaller and one man shop AC companies may not do these upgrades because they require more labor and a skilled helper, and they may not be busy enough to keep someone on full time. Other larger companies may say that they do some of these upgrades like sealing the ductwork but use tape as a sealant, which only lasts a couple years. Not all these upgrades are or should be “free” or included in the cost of a new unit, but they are essential for a new AC unit to operate properly and in most cases it is money well spent, much more in-fact than money spent on higher SEER systems.. get these basics down first for your home, then start adding on the toppings.
Upgrades That All Air Conditioning Contractors Should Follow When Replacing An AC Systems
1. New plenums. Reusing your existing plenums is an acceptable practice but the problem is when your AC systems do not have plenums to begin with and your AC contractor doesn’t plan on installing any on a new AC system. Every HVAC system, whether is a split system or a package unit on the roof, needs plenums, preferable made from sheet metal, not ductboard. Plenums are metal boxes that are located between the ductwork and the AC system. They allow airflow to mix and can handle a much larger amount of airflow than flex duct can. Yes, they require more labor to install and add to the cost, but this is a must have for me and important enough for good airflow that we include plenums in our installations.
2. Ductwork and unit penetration sealing. Sealing the ductwork is a no brainer but somehow this still gets overlooked and we will feel cold air pouring out of the ducts on brand new AC systems. Having a high efficiency AC system that has leaky ductwork is like driving a Prius with a hole in the gas tank. In the case of air conditioners, it would be better to save thousands and purchase a standard AC system but seal the ductwork to make sure all the cold air you pay for gets in the house, not lost to the attic. It’s also important to ask your AC contractor how they seal the ductwork. If they mention tape in any form (with the exception of mesh tape), do not consider that ductwork sealing. Mastic aka pookie, or Aerosealing is the only, and best way to seal the ductwork.
3. Properly sized ductwork. Yes there are rules of thumb you can use to size ductwork and returns, but taking measurements is the only way to know if your ductwork is sized properly. This is where an energy audit is a necessity before the AC is installed, otherwise there is no way to know if what you have is right. Installing new returns is an upgrade that depends heavily on having a return plenum present (see #1). If you have a return plenum present, you can’t really go wrong with installing additional returns in open areas of the house. Be careful when installing new returns in bedrooms because you could easily cause an imbalance in the system, making the AC unit work harder and causing unwanted temperature differences in the rooms.
4. Proper air balance. If you have hot rooms or one room that gets too much airflow and another not getting enough, a new AC system won’t fix that problem, you need an air balance. Often times, contractors will just leave your existing ductwork the exact same way it was attached to the plenum when a new AC system is installed. If the ducts are not resized, relocated or balanced, your home will likely have the same airflow problems with a new AC unit. Often an AC contractor will put a new return in a hot room as their go-to fix, but in our hot Phoenix summers, this solution isn’t enough and the room will remain hot.
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