Twin Cities consumer checkbook: maintenance of heating systems is the key to winter savings

Replacing your home’s heating or air conditioning equipment costs thousands of dollars. Even in cooler weather, spending like this could get you hot under the collar.

So it makes sense to properly maintain your current equipment and get good repairs when needed. When you need something new, you’ll want to work with a company that offers the best advice and prices possible.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook Heating and Cooling Service Reviews will help you find a suitable contractor. Through a special arrangement with the Star Tribune, you can access Local HVAC Services Checkbook Ratings for Quality and Price for free until December 10 via

In Checkbook’s surveys, several companies were rated “superior” for “overall quality” by 90% or more of their customers surveyed. But not all entrepreneurs are up to the task. Several scored much lower, receiving such favorable ratings from only 60% or less of their surveyed clients.

Checkbook also found very large price differences. For example, to replace the control board on a Rheem gas furnace, our undercover buyers got prices ranging from $ 263 to $ 870. And to replace the dual-stroke capacitor in a Carrier central air conditioner, prices ranged from $ 135 to $ 459.

It is difficult to compare repair prices because you will likely need to hire a company first to diagnose the problem. Since most companies charge a high minimum fee just to show up, you will likely have to pay something to find out the cost of the repairs. Before planning a repair, ask companies for details of their minimum charges and hourly labor rates.

Since most repair work is done on a time and material basis, you can use this information to get a feel for which companies are likely to be the cheapest.

After a company diagnoses your problem, they should provide you with a written fixed price to fix it. If the repair estimate does not exceed a few hundred dollars, you might as well ask the company to proceed immediately. If the estimate is over $ 500 or so, consider getting additional quotes from other companies.

If you need new gear, shop around. Ask several companies to prepare written proposals. Obtaining multiple offers for new equipment will save most consumers thousands of dollars. Differences in design can affect how quickly and uniformly your system heats and cools your home, the amount of energy it uses, the level of noise it produces, and many other issues.

Be skeptical of claims of cost savings from a more energy efficient system. There can be substantial savings – and there are compelling public policy reasons to install efficient equipment – but some companies overdo it to sell new or more expensive systems (more efficient equipment costs more).

Ask multiple companies for quotes, ask for documentation of how much the new equipment will reduce your energy bills, and ask questions. You can calculate your own estimates using the US Department of Energy’s Home Energy Saver tool at

For an illustrative house, Checkbook estimated how energy costs are affected by purchasing new equipment with varying energy efficiency ratings and found that in this area, because the resulting energy savings and discounts available utility companies quickly “pay off” the extra cost, it makes sense to pay extra for a highly efficient furnace, compared to purchasing a minimum efficiency 90 AFUE model.

On the other hand, in the Twin Cities area, it usually doesn’t make financial sense to pay more for a high energy efficiency air conditioner rather than a base unit.

Ground source heat pumps provide the lowest annual heating and cooling bills, but these systems are extremely expensive to purchase and install – typically over $ 25,000, even after taking into account the generous tax and service incentives. audiences available. But because of the energy savings and long lifespan (about double that of conventional equipment), it makes financial sense to consider them if you know you will be staying in your home for a long time.

Investing thousands of extra dollars in ultra-efficient equipment doesn’t make sense if your home is drafty or poorly insulated, or if you set your thermostat to a tropical temperature during the winter. Before upgrading your equipment, make sure your attic is well insulated and patch any easily repairable leaks.

The best way to reduce home energy costs is the most obvious: set your thermostat and get and use a programmable thermostat.

Heating and air conditioning services are likely to push for annual professional maintenance visits, and many will offer a maintenance contract. Such frequent professional service may not be necessary if you are diligent with the most important maintenance task: replacing air filters every time they get dirty.

Whether you need repairs or a new device, pay with a credit card. If you are unhappy with the job, you can dispute the charges with your credit card company.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. Star Tribune readers can access Checkbook Assessments from local HVAC companies for free until December 10 at

About Donald Martin

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