This country was built upon the backs of settlers that founded our schools, churches and cities. They built their homes and businesses from scratch, felling their own trees to make lumber and painting their own signs.
Home ownership and the freedoms that should come with it are part of the American Dream. Along with that privilege, comes responsibility to maintain your home or suffer from its demise.
Our Nation enjoys a rich history of people that have struggled to survive and even thrive in large part through their own efforts to do-it-themselves. That might mean replacing your own light switch, building your own home or even building a business.
Since when did doing-it-yourself become illegal? Of course it is not! But that is what unsuspecting consumers are being led to believe.
Last week we lost our A/C system. During the initial inspection by the technician we were told that, legally, all work must be done by a licensed company. hmmm…
During a follow-up (closing technique warning flag!) visit by a HVAC specialist we were told that installations and repair may only be legally performed by those with the appropriate license.
While I began with no intention of making this a DIY project, the more I heard that I was not allowed to work on my own air conditioning system the more I wanted to! The benefit of doing it ourselves was, of course, cost and also control over the quality of work. We all know labor is going to be expensive, one company quoted me $185 per hour for labor! Who is ready to tackle the replacement of a major HVAC component if not the entire system? Not me, with an upcoming meeting to plan, I have too much on my plate as it is.
Fundamentally, a conventional refrigerant (Freon) charged central A/C system is extremely simple. There is an electric motor that runs a pump which compresses the refrigerant, turning it into a liquid.
The rest of system is a long circuit of tubing that refrigerant runs through. The refrigerant releases heat when it is compressed into a liquid; this liquid begins to cool in the condenser, the big box that sits outside of your house.
The refrigerant then passes through the expansion valve turning from a liquid into a gas and getting really cold. At this stage the refrigerant gas passes through evaporator, inside your home, which is in direct path of the flow of air which will cool your home.
If you can use a screwdriver, solder and make minor electrical connections you have the skills necessary to work on your own system or even replace it! Admittedly the soldering can be a little tricky and demands some practice on scrap pipe.
Certain refrigerants however are federally controlled; including the most common R22 for homes and R12 for automobiles. These products contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) that damage the ozone layer. It is against the law to release these gases to the atmosphere and it is against EPA regulations to handle these refrigerants without a license.
The contractors tried hard to convince us it is illegal to work on our own system, but it is just not the case. Georgia Title 43, Chapter 14 understandably prevents me from “engaging in the business or profession of a conditioned air contractor without a license as required under this chapter.” But nothing stops you from working on your own.
Our system had a leak at the condenser motor assembly. If you read my earlier post, Knowledge = Money in the Bank, you will know that we were given three options to address the hole in our A/C system:
1) Fill it with freon and see how long it lasts – $250 (does not fix the hole) – plus it is illegal!
2) Replace the compressor – $1800 (fixes the hole)
3) Upgrade the compressor and evaporator to the new R410 standard – $2,800 (fixes the hole)
And the rest of the story…
On the surface the pricing is disturbing. When you look at the details, one cannot help be feel wronged. For the system I needed, the compressor itself was priced at $995. Amazingly you can buy the entire condenser, the machinery outside your house (pictured above) which also includes the compressor, yet it only costs $60 more! R22 refrigerant is $55 per pound which would be used in a repair (option 2) or R410 in a replacement system costs $16 per pound with 4 pounds per system.
The evaporator, the unit inside (it is what gets cold) costs $300. So if we are keeping score, labor to repair our system (option 2) is $585 (excl. R22) and of course comes with no guarantee the remaining components will last. The labor to upgrade would be $1381! That is nearly $800 just to replace the evaporator.
For the most part, the repair or replacement requires the same skills; some soldering, a few electrical connections and some mechanical work to replace key components. The only challenge is the process of charging the system with refrigerant. This requires some specialized equipment, precise measurements, not to mention the license, and follows an exacting process to ensure the best performance. For this reason alone we decided to stick with a professional.
However, we were not about to give our money to anyone that used deceptive Closing Techniques such as fear. It was irritating how commonly the HVAC vendors used scare tactics and threats of fines and imprisonment to pressure me to buy from their companies. I was not willing to give my money to a person that takes this approach.
The good news in this ordeal was that we didn’t give up. While some might simply accept the first and maybe most costly estimate, we continued request competitive bids.
Eventually we found a licensed technician with zero complaints and in good standing that upgraded us to a R410 system for $700. Additionally he absorbed the cost of the refrigerant and added no mark-up to the parts and supplies, we literally purchased them direct from the supply house. In the end we saved over $900 by taking the time to make a few more phone calls and read a few more articles.
And… just an update, in case you wanted to know about our friends… they unfortunately paid double the average estimate I was able to find. We verified their $300 capacitor replacement should have been half as much and that doesn’t include the service plan they purchased as well!
photo by Paul Schultz
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