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Are Tune Ups profitable for HVAC companies?

"If you go to a car dealership don't be surprised if they try and sell you a new car"

Most Bi Annual Maintenance programs are a loss leader for companies

It's common for air conditioning tune ups to be advertised at super low prices. So you might figure why not. So you call the company and they ask you a few questions about your system. You tell them it’s 25 years old, hasn't been serviced in 10 years, and they send someone out. But they don’t just send anyone out. They send out the closer. If your unit is over 15 years old and you're a first time customer you’re likely to get the one guy in the company that is most effective at turning "tune ups" into new system sales. Cheap Tune ups are a loss leader for all HVAC companies. Even though your heater and A/C might seemingly be performing great you’re likely to get a run down of reasons why it may be time to replace the system. Reasons like, r-22 is obsolete, you have motors that are leaking oil, minor rust on the furnace heat exchanger, these systems typically only last 15 years, and new systems are more efficient.

Wow, I'm almost convinced just writing this that you should get a new system(kidding). On top of that the technician (salesperson) is super nice and gave your dog a treat. So you bite the bullet and get your system replaced. Often these concerns are wildly exaggerated and only put doubt in your head that will cause you to lose sleep if you don’t get the system replaced with a new 20k top of the line system. In my opinion It’s not worth it. As long as the system keeps you comfortable and the bills aren't insanely high, keep it running until you either have an unmanageable refrigerant leak, compressor failure, or your carbon monoxide detector goes off. On that note get a good carbon monoxide detector and then you don't need to worry about your heat exchanger developing a crack and leaking carbon monoxide into the house.

So basically you are told a list of reasons of why the old unit is bad as well as a list of reasons of why the new unit it good. Its important that you hear both sides so let me tell you a few very important reasons why your old unit is good and the new units are bad. And remember the main reason I recommend replacing a unit for the a/c is an unmanageable refrigerant leak or compressor failure. And for the furnace if you develop a crack in the heat exchanger.

Refrigerant leaks on older vs newer equipment

The older equipment (10 + years old) often uses R-22 or Freon which operates under a lot lower pressure than the newer Puron or r-410a equipment. Since the older equipment is less efficient the condensing coil and evaporator coils are smaller. Smaller coils under less pressure means we have far fewer leaks and the leaks are slower. What that means is its common for an old a/c like the one at my house to last 40 years and unfortunately its common for me to see 5 year old R-410a equipment to have very aggressive leaks to where it needs to be replaced. Also a leaking R-22 unit can often be sealed with a stop leak sealant that doesn't work nearly as well on newer equipment due to the higher operating pressures.

Compressor Failure on older VS Newer Equipment

Since the newer R-410a equipment operates under a higher pressure than the older R-22 this can cause more stress on components like the compressor. Basically all new equipment also has a metering device called a TXV(Thermal expansion valve) that helps with the efficiency of the evaporator coil but when the unit turns off the pressures in the system don't equalize nearly as well as on an older less efficient air conditioner. This caused the compressor to work harder on start up and contributed to faster compressor failure. Another reason to hold onto your older equipment until you have a major problem.

Older standard 80% efficiency furnaces vs newer high efficiency 95%+ furnaces.

The older standard efficiency units (lets say 20yrs old) are extremely reliable and simple. Most times the furnace will outlive the air conditioner. There is very little reason to service the older equipment unless you have a problem. Most times if there is any issue the unit will shut itself off. Lets say you have someone out to service the heater and they tell you the ignitor looks like it might go out. ( never tell anyone this btw). It might run another 5 years before the ignitor fails and when it does the system automatically shuts itself off. Then you replace the part and its working great again. Over the years I've found little to no value service a heater that isn't having any issues that you would notice in the house. As long as you change the filter when it gets dirty of every couple months you should be fine.

So the tech is checking out the heat exchanger during a routine service and he found some rust. This is where you need to watch out and have your bs meter turned on.

Is carbon monoxide from the heater a concern? Yes. Is it a big concern? Not really, let me explain why. So your furnace uses natural gas, the same natural gas that you have on your gas stove top and oven. If you're cooking some food and the vent fan isn't on you have an open flame putting carbon monoxide into the air and we don't freak out. If you have a tiny crack in the furnace heat exchanger its like having the stove on at ta very low setting. Carbon monoxide isn't a big deal at low levels its when it build up to high concentrations in the air that its a big concern. So the tech you have out shows you some pictures of a little rust on the heat exchanger and implies that your family will die of carbon monoxide poisoning if you don't replace the heater. When I get second opinion calls calls from customers on this subject I always ask them did the tech use his carbon monoxide meter and show you if you have any carbon monoxide coming out of the vents? The answer is for the most part no, he didn't show me with his meter that there was or wasn't carbon monoxide coming out of the vents.. This is where my BS meter goes off. The tech is claiming to care about your health but they don't test for carbon monoxide in the house? What the! I could care less about a little rust on the heat exchanger. If I check for carbon monoxide at the register and I get 0 PPM (parts per million) there is absolutely zero concern. If your unit is old and you want piece of mind then just get a good carbon monoxide detector from Amazon.

The downside of the newer 95%+ high efficiency and why I would NEVER recommend getting one

The high efficiency furnaces compared to a standard 80% furnace have many more parts. That means many more parts to break so they are less reliable. Besides that when the do break they are typically more expensive to fix. For example if a blower motor fails on an 80% furnace I probable have the motor on the truck and it might cast $600 or so. If its a variable speed motor we often have to order them and a typical charge is $1500+. The high efficiency heaters often have a lot of intermittent problems where it stops working and then a tech comes out and its working again making it very difficult to diagnose. And the big problem I see with high efficiency heater is that the temperature of the exhaust is cool enough to where the moisture in the exhaust condenses draining highly acidic water through the system. When running a high efficiency heater its common to produce a gallon or so of water a day. If the system isn't draining properly it can cause water damage. Also its common for this water to corrode the system. So when its common for an 80% furnace to last 30 years its common for a high efficiency system to need replacement after just 10-15 years. So please tell me how exactly is that efficient?

Bottom line is if it ain't broke don't fix it. And if it ain't broke definitely don't replace it. Here is a link to my second opinion page that is related to this subject.

I hope this info is helpful and if you have any further questions feel free to call (916) 671-5542


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