As the old adage goes,”You get what you pay for”. This is one of the most important things to keep in mind when making a large investment, such as your heating and cooling system. Cutting corners to save up front might cost you big in the end.
It’s that time of year when many homeowners are having new Air Conditioners installed, and with good reason. It’s hot out there and no one wants the discomfort of muggy, miserable air. The kind that makes you sweat when you’re inside, sit in front of a fan making funny noises as you speak into it and take out that frozen bag of peas to rest behind your neck.
There are many reasons you might consider a new unit:
- Its old, it served you well and its time to part ways
- Its running refrigerant that is about to cease production (R-22)
- You’ve had too many problems with the previous unit
- You’re current unit is improperly sized leading to costly utility bills
- It’s no longer under warranty and you have a costly repair
Other scenarios make the case for a new unit but the last point, above, is what we are here to discuss. Warranties. And one of the best ways to understand the quality of a product is by the details of the warranty they are willing to provide to cover their equipment. So before we get started, lets address the fact that there are 2 main warranties covering your HVAC system:
- An equipment warranty – provided by the manufacturer
- A labor warranty – provided by the contractor
Unfortunately many people get hung up on the sticker shock when it comes to higher quality air conditioners. At the end of the day, we should be treating our air conditioners and furnaces as long term investments. Invest now and spend a little more for better quality and warranty coverage instead of spending less for lower quality and lower coverage and end up spending more in the long run. It takes me back to my classic Gas vs Diesel engine comparison. The diesel is more but in the context of things it’s not much (~9k increase) and it will typically last twice as long; so spend $50k for the diesel to last as long as (2) $40k gassers. Oh and the diesel is more efficient in comparison to its gas counterpart in every scenario, yes the maintenance might cost a little more but its also less frequesnt so thats almost a wash. Maybe I’m a little biased but that’s just my long term thinking. They both ultimately serve their purpose but the investment figures will be different. So back to warranties.
An equipment warranty is the responsibility of the manufacture. These typically range anywhere from 5 to 10 years and like any other warranty, they are your safety measure when things go very wrong. A faulty compressor fails; you’re covered. Heat Exchanger; covered. Whichever manufacturer or brand you choose for your unit is responsible for these parts. But when that warranty expires, these problems can become a huge burden on your wallet.
A labor warranty is the responsibility of the contractor who will be installing your unit. And this is the more important of the two in my opinion. The more confident a contractor is in their equipment and workmanship, the better term you will get on how long labor will be covered. It all starts with the installation similar to the foundation on a home. When the installation is completed with top quality then your unit will perform as intended and last awhile. In contrast, a unit that is put in with mediocre quality will operate and you won’t know any better until it breaks down years before it should have.
Many contractors and companies are now upgrading their warranties in the event that you enroll in a maintenance agreement. Again, nothing to be fearful of here. A maintenance agreement is another layer of security in your investment and it covers routine maintenance as well that would not have been covered under a typical labor warranty. This means your system is operating at a greater efficiency with routine maintenance, you won’t be voiding any manufacturer warranty since you have documentation of the maintenance (just like oil changes on your new car), and you ultimately have no worries in the world when it comes to the equipment keeping you and your family comfortable. Some companies even prioritize service calls if you are a maintenance agreement member opposed to a brand new service lead. Essentially rewarding you for your loyalty and in turn you know your issues will be handled quickly, even on the hottest of days when service is at a premium.
And while the terms may appear very similar regardless of its status as upper or lower end equipment/workmanship, the details inside that coverage are what you need to keep a closer eye on. Be sure to look over the warranties out there. Like anything else there is fine print.
- A particular part is covered for the life of the unit while other parts may have a much shorter warranty time.
- Longer warranties (10+ years) or lifetime may cover the parts for the entire time but only cover the labor for the first year.
- Compare labor coverages, they can add up quick when you aren’t covered
- Look for any warranty processing fees which will cost you each time you have the contractor submit your claim to the manufacturer.
- Make sure the installation is 100% warrantied in the event that the contractor accidentally damages the new unit in transit or during the installation
- UNDERSTAND WHAT VOIDS YOUR WARRANTY! The smallest thing could cause you to lose out on the benefits of your warranty coverage. This could be neglect for routine maintenance as discussed in the maintenance agreement portion or having a non OEM part installed. Don’t get caught on the other end of the phone with customer service when they say, “we’re sorry but your warranty is null and void”.
Be sure to also pay attention to reviews so you can be confident the contractor you chose will be around for the duration of your warranty. A reputable and experienced contractor will offer you both great coverage and transparency, be sure to keep that in mind. So when you are comparing new air conditioners, don’t get hung up on the price. Look at the entire package, think of the long term investment and not how it’s going to affect you today, and pay a little more for a better warranty. Even if you don’t use that warranty, and as homeowners we really hope we don’t ever need to file a claim and the equipment or purchase functions as intended… you will have peace of mind knowing that you and your family are covered in the case of any unforeseen breakdowns.