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Home Improvements

Air Conditioning, Furnances and Water Heaters

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Tuesday, October 5th, 1999 @ 11:53 PM
Subj: Buying a new gas furnace
From: walter.a@mindspring.com (Walter Alvey)

I had the pleasure of buying a new gas furnace last January. Since winter will be here in a few months, I thought I'd share some of my experiences.

First my advice:

- Educate yourself. I found an excellent article in the October 1998 edition of Consumer Reports. Unfortunately, they did not rate specific brands. But they did describe the various features and what to look for. You'll know what questions to ask and be able to tell if someone is trying to snow you. There was also an article in Checkbook magazine (a local consumer magazine). I don't recall which one but you can visit their web site at http://consumer.checkbook.org/consumer/.

- Get several estimates. Mine ranged from $1200 up to $2500.

One of the most important items is to get the correct size. Two small and it won't heat your house. Too large and it will cycle on and off. I got estimates ranging from 75K input BTUs to 100K input BTUs. (Output BTUs are some fraction of that, depending on the furnace's efficiency.) According to Consumer Reports and PG&E, contractors who install gas furnaces should determine the size by doing an analysis of your house that looks at square footage, window size and material, insulation, and other factors. I found that in practice, no one was willing to do that. Contractors asked me only the square footage (and one didn't ask even that). I ended up selecting the average and that appears to have been a good choice (at least for me).

Another factor to consider is noise. Some furnaces have more noise insulation and quieter motors than others. Mine is OK except that the fan is louder than my previous one. I sometimes wish that I had spent more on one that was quieter.

Now onto specific companies:

The company that I went with and that I was happy with was Beck's Heating and Cooling in Los Gatos. Their estimate was the lowest. The installation was done on schedule with no problems. It appears to work fine. The only drawback is that the fan is louder than my previous furnace. That may be a characteristic of that particular brand (Bryant, which I had heard was very good). It may be fixable by adjusting the fan speed (I'll find out soon).

I would NOT recommend Valley Heating and Cooling. I had used them several times for repairs and always been satisfied. But when considering them for the new furnace, I had several concerns:

- When they came to repair the old furnace, they completed the entire repair (for $175) before telling me that the heat exchanger was cracked and I needed a whole new furnace. That was true but I was skeptical that they didn't see it before they started the repair. The crack was visible and close to the part that was replaced.

- They told me that they would deduct the cost of the repair from the new furnace. Another contractor, however, gave me the exact same estimate for the exact same furnace. That lead me to think that VH&C had simply added the repair cost to the estimate before "deducting" it.

- They told me that the darkened areas around the vents indicated that there was CO coming out and that I would therefore be in danger unless I replaced the furnace right away. I do not want to minimize the danger of CO. A cracked heat exchanger CAN produce CO. It is colorless and odorless. In sufficient quantities it can be fatal. However, I placed three separate highly rated CO detectors near vents around my house and all registered 0. Also, I am not aware of CO producing darkened areas. I think that was just accumulated dust.

- Their estimate was the highest of all the ones that I got.

If anyone would like more information, feel free to write or call.
--
Walter A.

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