Author Topic: DIY Heat Pump/AC?  (Read 410 times)

specialkayme

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DIY Heat Pump/AC?
« on: November 19, 2018, 09:13:46 AM »
My electric heat pump and AC unit in my house is on its last leg. It's 22 years old, original with the house (not top of the line then), and I knew it was old when I bought the home 4 years ago. But I was trying to squeeze some cash out of it if I could and delay its repair/replacement. It's making some funny noises, having trouble heating and cooling, so it's time to consider its repair or replacement.

Two repair estimates came in at $1,500-2,000. There's a ton of things wrong with the split unit. So I asked for a replacement estimate, thinking it would cost maybe twice that max (2 ton system) but save me considerably on my electricity bill.

I got a quote today, and I was a bit shocked (all come with heat pump, air handler, aux heat, and thermostat):
14.5 SEER - $6,400
15.5 SEER - $8,300
17 SEER - $10,400
19 SEER - $12,000

All of the quoted systems were Carrier brand. I know the units themselves cost about $2,500 to $3,500. And there's probably, maybe, $500 of misc. parts involved to set it up. And then there's disposal of the old unit (I don't know the cost), and the cost of the warranty ($500?), and paying two guys for 4 hours of work (~$800 max?). Which is leaving between $2k and $6k of "profit" built in.

I don't have any experience DIYing something like this, and I would prefer not to burn down the house and/or leave us without heat in the winter. But for $4k I'm considering reading two or three books on the topic first . . .

I'm getting a second quote tomorrow to compare, then make a decision.

Am I crazy for considering DIYing it, since I could save probably $4-8k (by forgoing the warranty and doing the labor myself as well as asking a friend to help)?
« Last Edit: November 19, 2018, 09:16:03 AM by specialkayme »

Papa bear

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Re: DIY Heat Pump/AC?
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2018, 09:21:31 AM »
Go get more quotes first.  Then decide if you go DIY.

I’m a huge DIY guy, built houses and garages, can wire up an entire house, run ductwork, redo plumbing etc.  and if I were to DIY an hvac system, I’d make sure I have one of my hvac guys check it over and have on call for questions.

So I say, you could do it, but have an expert ready for a call.


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sol

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Re: DIY Heat Pump/AC?
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2018, 09:39:13 AM »
Previous forum discussions of this topic have suggested that a reasonably handy homeowner can probably handle everything except for the coolant, which apparently requires some sort of vacuum system to fill and seal properly. 

The prices you quoted are very much in line with what I was quoted two years ago, so I wouldn't expect your next quote to come in significantly different if it's from a major hvac services company.  They absolutely charge a premium, because they are guaranteeing you a correctly installed functioning system even if that means they have to make three or four return visits to get everything functioning correctly.

I was able to find local independent installers, not from one of the chains, that were willing to do the work for about 30-40% less, essentially in line with your estimates of the profit margins for the hvac companies.  They were also much harder to work with, because they were busy with other jobs and were answering their own phones, and honestly I don't think the extra hassle would have been worth it if I needed heat immediately.  The advantage of the bigger hvac companies is that they can have a crew on site tomorrow and have an entire new system up and running in a day.  You pay a premium for that level of availability.

specialkayme

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Re: DIY Heat Pump/AC?
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2018, 09:49:51 AM »
So I say, you could do it, but have an expert ready for a call.

Sadly, I don't have an expert I know. I wish I did. I'd likely have to call one of the companies I got a quote from to come back to "check" it after I installed.

Talk about a kick in the teeth. "I decided I didn't need you and could do it myself, but now I need you to come back and make sure what I did was good and also fix my mistakes . . . thanks."

I'll definitely get a second quote before I make my decision.

I'm a strong believer in hiring professionals to do important tasks, getting what you pay for, but also doing DIY when I can (I built my own 16'x16' shed from scratch, installed a subpanel in it and did all my own wiring myself). I just think a 35-50% profit margin is insane. But I'm also afraid this project may be beyond my capabilities.

The prices you quoted are very much in line with what I was quoted two years ago, so I wouldn't expect your next quote to come in significantly different if it's from a major hvac services company.

For what it's worth, I think the second quote will come in at a similar price as well. I don't think the company that quoted me is trying to rip me off, or is anywhere above market average. I was just surprised at what "market average" was.

I was able to find local independent installers, not from one of the chains, that were willing to do the work for about 30-40% less, essentially in line with your estimates of the profit margins for the hvac companies.  They were also much harder to work with, because they were busy with other jobs and were answering their own phones, and honestly I don't think the extra hassle would have been worth it if I needed heat immediately.  The advantage of the bigger hvac companies is that they can have a crew on site tomorrow and have an entire new system up and running in a day.  You pay a premium for that level of availability.

Well, right now I have a working heater. Not efficient, but working. I wouldn't mind waiting another couple of weeks to schedule the right time for someone to come if it meant saving a few thousand dollars. But I would mind it if one of the independent installers started the installation, found out he was "missing a part" and had to order it, only to not have heat for a few days (or longer). That would be miserable, and combined with having to work with them over successive trips to get the system working properly after install, I agree it wouldn't be worth the savings.

This might sound like a dumb question, but is it common in that industry to negotiate on those quotes? I believe there should be a profit margin involved if they install it, but $6k on a $12k system seems ridiculous.

sol

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Re: DIY Heat Pump/AC?
« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2018, 10:11:36 AM »
This might sound like a dumb question, but is it common in that industry to negotiate on those quotes? I believe there should be a profit margin involved if they install it, but $6k on a $12k system seems ridiculous.

Once you've been given a quote in writing, I would not expect an installer to negotiate a different price without also negotiating a different installation, say for different hardware or schedule or ducting or something.

What's more common, in my experience, is to ask your installer when he's on site (before you have the quote) what the ballpark cost is going to be, and if it's higher than the quote you have in hand you can just tell him that.  I've even gone as far as handing a guy my written quote from a previous estimate, so that he knows what price he has to beat if he wants my business.  Sometimes they are busy and don't want your business unless you're paying top dollar.  Sometimes they have a crew sitting around and will take your job at slightly below market rate in order to keep them busy.  Sometimes they will look at it and just say say "yea, we can't do it for that price" and then you're done.

Beware the hard sell, though.  I've had installers come tell me that my previous quotes won't come with the "same level of service" that they provide, or that their brand of equipment is superior to the other brand and worth paying thousands extra.  I had one guy tell me they were a "premium installer" and that this somehow made his services more valuable.  Whatever man, do I get a new heat pump out of the deal or not?  What could possibly be "premium" about you installing a new heat pump instead of the guy who charges half as much?  It's all just sales tactics, IMO.

Cadman

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Re: DIY Heat Pump/AC?
« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2018, 10:30:13 AM »
Also check with your utility company on any rebates. Locally, our utility will come out, run a quick calculation to determine an efficient system size, and then as along as you go with a contractor on their approved list and install said size, they'll send you a check. Saved $500 two years ago on an AC install that way.

specialkayme

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Re: DIY Heat Pump/AC?
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2018, 10:44:32 AM »
Also check with your utility company on any rebates.

For what it's worth, those quotes included the rebates. $0 on the low end unit, $525 on the second unit, and $625 on the other two.

BudgetSlasher

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Re: DIY Heat Pump/AC?
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2018, 06:35:28 PM »
It seems to be within the skill set of a handy to advanced DIY'er. There will be some speciality tools needed to do the best possible job (vacuum pump, manifold, nitrogen, and the like).

Oh and as of sometime in 2018 to do it legally, you probably need an EPA section 608 Type II certification; which requires you pay for and pass an in person test.

There is also the question of what is or is not covered by the warranty and for how long if it is DIY'ed. That varies by make and possibly by whether an HVAC license is required in your state.

I am not sure at the federal level, but at our state level you are not eligible for the state rebate without a contractor.