Saturday, July 9, 2016

Air Conditioner Manufacturers Ranked

In the continuing saga of choosing the best, most reliable central air conditioner brand, after looking at what appeared to be nonrepesentative reviews (every brand I looked at was rated one star out of five), I decided to find some overall rankings.

And now it's time for some more cautions.

1. If you search on "best central air conditioners," you'll get lists and reviews of the fanciest, most feature laden, and expensive units made. "Best" here doesn't necessarily mean "most reliable" or even "highest quality."

Here's a list of "best" air conditioning systems.
1. Lennox
2. Frigidaire
3. Trane
4. American Standard
5. Carrier
6. Bryant
7. Coleman
8. Another Carrier
9. Amana
10. Goodman

Now, here are the rankings by an air conditioning contractor, who has field experience with all these brands:
1. Day and Night
2. Goodman
3. Carrier
4. Mitsubishi ductless split
5. Bryant
6. Amana (lowered simply because it is the higher priced Goodman, which makes Amana)
7. York
8. Trane
9. Rheem (not recommended)
10. Lennox (not recommended

And here the top three and bottom three from a famous consumer magazine:
1. American Standard
2. Rheem
3. Trane
. . /
8. Amana
9. Goodman
10. York

And here from an anonymous YouTube posting (that repeatedly spells "category" as "catagory"):
2. Byant
3. Payne
4. ICP
. . .
7. Day and Night
. . .
9. Goodman
10. Rheem
11. Ruud
12. Trane
13. American Standard
14. Amana

. . .
3. Lennox

Since no reasons are given for the rankings and since we don't know who has posted this or why, such a list is essentially useless, except for me to point out that anonymous ranking lists are useless.

Bottom line: There are dozens of brands made by a handful of manufacturers all using parts made by the same suppliers. It's just like automobile manufacturing. Of course, there are differences. If you are in the market, see the next entry for what to look for when you shop. Oh, I almost forgot. The bottom line is to choose an honest, reliable, knowledgeable installer. Watch a few YouTube videos about A/C installations, good and bad. Reliability of your air conditioning system is directly connected to the how properly it was installed.

Air Conditioning Brands--A Cautionary Tale

So  you want to choose the highest quality, most reliable new central air conditioning system for your home? Why not look at the reviews? Well, here are some cautions.

1. First, reviews can be faked. Review sites try to reduce the fakery, but it's difficult. Amazon distinguishes between "verified customer" and not verified. Just remember, an unhappy owner can post more than one negative review out of spite, a company across town can abuse a brand the competition uses, even a regional wholesaler might get into the act.

2. Second, and this is the most telling, unhappy customers are much more likely to post negative reviews than happy customers are likely to post positive reviews. We are a society that lives inside a culture of complaint. There is a bias toward criticism. And with air conditioning in particular, disgruntled customers are especially angry--because they are hot and miserable. (I talked to an A/C repairman once who told me it was not uncommon to be greeted on a house call by an angry customer who blamed him for the unit's failure.

To return to selecting the best air conditioner brand, here is a classic example. I wondered what the reviews were like for various brands, and hoped to pick out the best. So, I go to an evaluation site and pick Trane, a well-known brand.

Trane: (61 ratings) One star out of five. Sample review excerpt: "This is the biggest [piece of junk] I  have ever owned in my life."

So I think, that's not good. Let's try Lennox, a popular brand at warehouse stores and hardware stores.

Lennox: (38 ratings) One star out of five. Sample review excerpt: ". . . unit goes bad . . . class action lawsuit. . . ."

So I think, that's not what I was expecting. What about Carrier? They are a very old, experienced, reputable company, right?

Carrier: (81 ratings) One star out of five. Sample review excerpt: ". . . service calls every year for the last three years. . . . Carrier's quality has gone way down."

Well, that brand sounds risky. How about Goodman?

Goodman:(63 ratings) One star out of five. Sample review excerpt: ". . . total system failure . . . very, very low quality."

Now, I'm beginning to get suspicious. This brings  us to the next caution.

3. Manufacturers don't deliberately junk. I don't think I'm being a Pollyanna here. Manufacturers want to (a) stay in business (b) make a profit (c) have a good reputation and more sales by word of mouth. It is self defeating to build junk. Even if you're cynical, can you believe that all of the manufacturers above are "one-star" companies? If one or two were rated one star while others were rated three, four, or five stars, that would be more plausible. But all of them one star?

4. Individual experiences get generalized. This is the logical fallacy of hasty generalization. "I bought a Brand X air conditioner and it was no good; therefore, all Brand X air conditioners are no good." Remember the "your mileage may vary" warning? Same  here. Your experience may be unusual. If the company that installed your system did a poor job, you're likely to experience a poor air conditioner.

See the next posting for some comparisons of A/C brands.

Monday, July 4, 2016

How I Chose an Air Conditioning Contractor

Circumstances have occurred that make it necessary to replace my central air conditioning and heating equipment. Both the condenser and the heater are 18 years old. So I called some HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) contractors. I found them by using reference lists (Angie's List, Yelp, Google) and I also located a couple from ads in the newspaper. Here are the results.
Newspaper ad for Contractor A said I could get "up to $6500 off" a new system. It didn't say what the system was or what the final price would be. I looked up the brand of AC system the company mentioned in the ad and learned that it has an aluminum condenser coil. Fixing leaks on aluminum coiols is expensive (one reviewer said it cost him $1000 to have a leak fixed). Yelp was not very helpful because it had many five-star reviews (mostly about service calls rather than installaions) and many one-star reviews, some of which the contractor had responded to by saying they are fake. One person said he was quoted $17,000 for a new system installation.

Contractor B's newspaper ad promised a super special price. However, their Better Business Bureau rating was D minus because of unresolved disputes.

Contractor C gave me an estimate over the phone after a one-minute explanation of what I thought I needed. I wondered if that was one of those "slam it and cram it, fill it and bill it" contractors.

Contractor D came out and had his assistant look at the existing furnace in the attic. He measured the access hole to the attic to make sure the equipment would fit. I asked what brand he installed an and he said Tempstar. I had never heard of that brand. Looking at the reviews on, I noted that they were, like many others, almost equally divided between one star and five stars. Contractor D gave me a price more than triple the lowest price. It was a hot day and he had said he could use 40 more employees to take care of all the calls. That made me think that he was giving me a price that would really make it worth his while if I accepted, and if I didn't, he had all the other business anyway. He also said that the price he quoted was "without permits," and that it was up to me whether or not I got one, even though they are required. He said an air conditioner permit would be $1000. I attempted later to find out online what the permit fee will be. It seemed from what I could tell that it would be under $100. We will see.

Contractor E didn't specify any equipment, only a price, which was only slightly below Contractor D.

Contractor F came out and looked over the situation, including a look in the attic. He gave me three options, a good, better, and best, with increasingly more elaborate equipment, each with prices broken down by condenser and furnace. This contractor installs Goodman and Amana, the latter of which was in his proposal. Ratings and reviews on both are the same as the other brands: half one star and half five star. Contractor F has all kinds of certifications and so on. The company is rated A by the BBB (not A+ because of one complaint in the last three years).

So which did I choose?

I chose Contractor F for several reasons:

1. Three contractors and four Web sites all said that for reliability, proper installation is more important than the actual brand because much of the equipment is the same or very similar. This contractor knows what he is doing and has trained his installers to know how to do it right.

2. Amana has an excellent warranty.

3. Amana condenser units (in the ASX16 series) include high and low pressure cut out switches which help protect the unit.

4. The price was competitive.

Bottom line take away: Find a contractor who will give you detailed hardware descriptions and detailed prices, preferably with options.