Are Annual A/C Service Contracts Worth The Money?

8 Replies

I have an issue with an A/C unit we had installed last year. The compressor is already fried supposedly because the install tech didn't wire everything correctly. The service company that came out wants to set me up with yearly A/C service contracts on my various SFR (this has nothing to do with the fried compressor). Anyone have any experience, suggestions, etc on whether you use an annual servicing program on your central A/C units? I questioned the cost and was quoted over $150 per unit per year. Thoughts?

I don't typically have annual issues with them. I would look at the typical life expectancy of the units you have vs the manufacturers warranty and analyze the likelihood of you coming out on top. 

Just like any other form of insurance you want to know what they cover. Realize that for some folks they are worth their weight in gold while other folks probably never use it. 

Personally I'm more of a "self insurance" kind of guy.

However I did have a 2013 Toyota that had 6k in factory warranty work covered. So it all depends!

In the deep South, I would recommend a PM (Preventative Maintenance) service at least once a year.  This will keep your equipment in good shape, make it last longer, will uncover potential problems, and may potentially keep you from a costly night/week-end call-out.

At minimum, this check should include about 20 or more items, checking the capacitor, amp draws of your fan, compressor, pressure check, air flow check, inspection of electrical components for corrosion/pitting, and many other things.  It should also include cleaning of the condenser (outside part).

Whether you do this yourself (if qualified and hold an EPA card), hire a company for a one-time fee, or sign a maintenance contract are all options.

At minimum, I would at least clean the condenser once a year, which you can do yourself.

Some contracts include this and also include a Winter PM for your heating components.

I would want to know exactly what they would do and what discounts for service they give you before signing any contract.

Originally posted by @David S. :

...

At minimum, this check should include about 20 or more items, checking the capacitor, amp draws of your fan, compressor, pressure check, air flow check, inspection of electrical components for corrosion/pitting, and many other things.  It should also include cleaning of the condenser (outside part).

Whether you do this yourself (if qualified and hold an EPA card), ...

The only thing I see in that list that would require an"EPA card" would be the pressure check. Because that involves the coolant.  The rest might require some skill level, but the EPA won't bother you for doing those ...

I agree with David and it may even lower your utility costs. I have both an annual PM contract as well as a whole house warranty. I live in Tampa and do not want to be without ice cold air!

Proper qualified Installation is the most important part of any central AC service, and the area where new systems usually fail, if they do. Installation is way more important then what brand you chose, as most are fairly well engineered and reverse-engineered copies of each other. But even the best brand that is well installed will fail if you neglect to remove build-up of environmental conditions - allow the compressor to swim in horse manure and the air-handler and duct work to be dirtier then a wood-burning chimney.

Most new installations should warranty their labor for 6-12months at least, and therefore most will generally offer to perform first 1-2 PM services for free.

So, assuming you don't have a lemon product - which you'll know during the first year anyway - the ongoing preventative maintenance on a good, properly installed central AC system can really be done by you, or anyone working for you:

1. Change air filters regularly - I'm in Miami, and I change them once a month in the summer and once every 2 months or so in the winter. Buy the cheapest or mid-range filters and simply change them more often. The more expensive, thicker medium filters actually restrict air flow and strain the air handler. I've learned the hard way to not leave it up to my tenants to change the filters - as they never do, even if you leave them a stack of new ones. 

2. Clean the outside compressor coil (no need to disassemble it, just shoot the hose through the grills from the outside) with a high-pressure nozzle on a simple garden hose attachment. I do this twice a year - and the last two times that I did it in the presence of the AC tech, we measured a 3 degree drop in cooling temperature.

3. Every air-handler should have a PVC condensate pipe coming out of it. Your air-handler is either in your attic or in a closet. That PVC pipe should have a removable plug built in by good installers right near where it connects to the air-handler body. Every time you you change the air filter, open that plug as well and pour about a cup of household bleach down the condensate pipe. The cold water coming out of air handler otherwise tends to invite mold and get dirty within a few months, especially if your condensate pipe run to the outside is a long one.

The three things are in effect your preventative maintenance on a well installed AC system

My family has been in the HVAC business for over 40 years and as a family owned company we do not offer annual service aggreements. The reason we do not is because we feel that, although they can have their benefits, it is a means to keep the cash flowing during down time. As David and Alex mentioned you should definitely clean the outside unit annually, change the filters monthly, and ensure drain lines/pans are clean. Parts, especially electrical components, go out and somebody looking at your unit annually probably will not prevent that and odds are a service agreement will not prevent you from incurring these replacement cost.

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