Duplex, Central A/C Installation~ Tis the season

12 Replies | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Hello all, happy memorial day weekend~!

Am looking for insights on installing Central A/C and possible recommendations for a landlord-friendly HVAC company. I understand window a/c units are affordable and prevalent in much of our area... Call me young and idealistic, but it's 2018 folks and for my business I would like to strive for centralized A/C if I can get it done reasonably :-).

Here are the property specs! This is a purpose built up/down brick duplex from the 60's.

Currently the property has two identical goodman 95% efficiency forced air furnaces (mfg 09') - so no duct-work needs run. Each unit is 864 sq. ft. and I've been told by some HVAC companies that a 1.5 TON system would suit each unit very well. Now I'm not an expert, but the scope of work seems to be something like the following:

  • A-Coil
  • Condensers + concrete pads + copper lines
  • 220 electrical ran to said condensers + breakers (my panel does have room in it)
  • Charge system with coolant (needs to be done by licensed professional, understood)
  • Run wire for thermostats (no new thermostats needed - have been upgraded and are compatible)

I'm getting quotes upwards of $6k. Is that reasonable? Sounds like a lot for this job... I would think there are some operational efficiencies installing two systems at one property that are sitting beside each other? One guy even told me he can't break down parts & labor on the quote, so I don't know how they are coming up with these numbers. Is this a normal thing? Sounds like bull to me.

From my list above I figure I could buy the components retail, not wholesale, retail for about $2500 total (two(2) systems). Appreciate the thoughts!


-Ben S.

It does sound like a lot. I got a quote recently for 6-8K INCLUDING ductwork. I’d ask around more.

Also 1.5 tons seems high for 800 sq ft, but you really need them to do a heat loss calculation before anything is installed. An oversized AC will not only be a bit more expensive, but won’t remove enough humidity and will provide poor cooling.

It’s worth paying someone to do the calculus toon as opposed to just spit-balling it.

@Mike McCarthy Yes sir, jeez, I think so too. I did have one technician come on-site for an estimate and he calculated the 1.5 ton based on a BTU requirement for my space, and the 1.5 ton apparently provides 18,000 BTU. The guy did ask for things like house age and insulation types so I presume that's in line with a "heat loss calculation"?

Thanks for the feedback, I'll definitely get a bigger contact list of HVAC folks to go through! I wonder if something like Angie's list is worthwhile?

I am with Mike McCarthy. Get a contractor to do a load calculation on the units. A heat “loss” calc was probably done before the 90% furnaces were installed, what you need is a heat “gain” calc. 

You are also correct, those questions  the contractor asked, are indicative of some type of load calculation.

Make sure you are compairing apples to apples when you review your bids. Some things to look at are both labor and equipment warranties, unit SEER rating, and equipment brand.

Some contractors do what’s called flat rate pricing and use the equipmet cost multiplied by a set multiplier plus added labor. As a contractor it can be frustraing at times, trying to break down and explain each individual labor charge to a customer who wants top quality champagne service on a beer budget. Customers often scoff at the equipment cost vs labor charge. 

Mechanics use a simular method and it’s accepted as industry standard, some contractors have resentment towards that fact, some just don’t want to deal with it, and they feel their price is their price. 

Some contractors, current company included, know the worth of both their knowledge and ability, and don’t mind explaining exactly why the price is the price. Just my two cent, for what it’s worth. Good luck.

@Kenneth Bullock Thanks for the insight! I definitely can see how clients could and would nitpick at costs. In the case of just have two line items though, one parts, one labor, it should be pretty reasonable ask? For example, wouldn't one need to know the two costs separately for accounting purposes?

I can see why transparent pricing is tough for contractors. Personally I would rather skip the rigmarole and just get a fair, transparent price, but I understand that's not very realistic. I guess I need to find one of those contractors who don't mind explaining exactly why the price is the price. Coming from an engineering background "that's just our number" doesn't sit well with me. Call me nebby I guess :-)

These are some great questions to ask, I know I've had 2-3 brands quoted already at different SEER (13 & 14) ratings.

A load calculation is pretty much a waste of time on a place that small in square footage. Personally, I find the main reasons for variances when quoting installs are based off of how long the labor will take and what brand and efficiency the equipment is. The reason most HVAC contractors aren’t going to show specific cost breakdowns is because it can be difficult to buy equipment for most folks. Supply houses generally only sell to licensed contractors or certified installers.

@Ben Simon I use Triangle Heating and Air Conditioning. Licensed and they do good work. They aren't the cheapest, but you do get a fair price for the value they provide. Price is what you pay, value is what you get. 

Agree with @Kenneth Bullock on comparing apples to apples.

I'd think somewhere in the 2500-3500 range per unit is fair for a decent unit, warranty, trained install, etc. You can get cheaper, but that's usually what I budget. 

@Anthony Angotti Thank you sir. I really appreciate the recommendation and price tempering! I am going to add Triangle to my contact list for future consideration :)

As an update for everyone, I have an install scheduled for the coming week. I'm going with a gentleman named Patrick at PGX Heating & Cooling, so we'll see how it all pans out. For reference they quoted me 4450. Maybe I'll post some before and after pictures here!