As the Internet has matured over the last 20 years, more and more products have become available online. That the amount of online sales grows each year is not surprising given how easy and convenient it is—especially if you are busy—to search, comparison shop and order products of all kinds from your computer or phone. And, why not? Once, you’ve done your research and found the brand and model you want at the best price, the ‘buy now’ button can have that coffee maker on your doorstep day after tomorrow. However, there are some things for your home where clicking that ‘buy now’ button may cost you greatly in the future.
Unlike a coffee pot or other appliances that you just plug in and use, buying a product like a furnace or central AC direct off the Internet is a case where what you don’t know has a real potential to bite you in the end. Unlike a $40 coffee pot, where if you get a year or so out of it it’s not such a big deal—heating and cooling equipment is a significantly larger investment to put at risk.
Critical factors that will directly affect performance, equipment life-expectancy, and the actual cost of running your new system can make buying your furnace or air conditioning equipment without on-site input from professional, a very frustrating experience. There are serious reasons that heating and cooling equipment has traditionally not been sold direct to consumers not intimately familiar with the service and installation of the equipment—and these concerns have not changed.
Consumers considering buying online, or ‘direct’ as it is often called, need to be aware of what their perceived savings may actually cost them. Toward that end, following is a discussion of the concerns of buying HVAC equipment online yourself—before the contractor who will install it ever sets foot in your home.
Of course, the benefit of buying your heating and cooling direct is typically perceived—if not overtly presented—as a way to save time and money by cutting out the middleman. That’s highly appealing and an easy concept for consumers to want to believe. After all, new equipment requires a sizeable investment and getting quotes takes time. But the ‘save time & save money’ plan is a better strategy for coffee makers—not your more complex heating and cooling equipment for several important reasons.
No matter the brand, the performance of heating and cooling equipment depends overwhelmingly on the quality of the installation. Ask any manufacturer and they will tell you that their equipment performing to the level of efficiency advertised (even if properly sized) is dependent on the quality of the installation. This means the comfort and efficiency a system delivers depends on the knowledge and craftsmanship of the installer as much as it does on the equipment. When heating or cooling equipment is installed wrong, or adapted to poor ductwork, you can lose up to 20% of its designed efficiency. Heating and cooling equipment Installation is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and in all practicality, is quite hard to price that way sight unseen.
No matter what a website selling equipment may say, to do your job right and guarantee your comfort and satisfaction, it is pretty much impossible to effectively pre-price an installation unseen because every home and system is unique. Unless your home is like every other home a contractor services, attempting universal installation pricing will inevitably lead either to you as the homeowner being overcharged to ensure the installer makes enough to cover the ‘unknowns’ of the job, or the installer being underpaid and being forced to cut corners which may be needed to do the best job possible. For the buyer, either way, it’s a less-than-desirable proposition.
If getting a good installation makes all the difference in how a system delivers (e.g., actual realized comfort, fuel bills and the life of the system), it makes little sense to buy high-efficiency equipment and then to skimp on its installation. Installation done right requires time, skill and the right materials, all of which factor into cost.