Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Bye-bye, money. Hello, new HVAC.

I have a new heating and air conditioning system!  Yay!  I have less money! Oh...

If I've learned anything as a homeowner, it's that it can be very expensive and occasionally terrifying.  Not only do you have to be prepared with cash on hand for unexpected things, but it takes courage to spend that money.  It's hard to put so much trust in a contractor or professional, and it's just scary to give up that much money all at once, particularly when you aren't sure if you're really making the right decision.

This fall, when the heating guy from Burgeson's came to do my annual tune-up, he said my furnace was on its way out.  He said something-or-other was approaching a limit where carbon monoxide could become a problem, and he showed me a picture of something with a bunch of oil leaking out which meant that something else was approaching its end.  There was also a circuit board showing symptoms of occasional overheating.  This was dismaying, but not entirely surprising.  The furnace was 15 years old, and it was low-end and very poorly installed to start with.

To be honest, I wasn't hugely disappointed, as I've always hated the heating in my house.  It would blow out like a hurricane and then immediately be cold again as soon as it turned off, and the living room was always freezing even when the other rooms were too warm.

The Burgesosn's sales guy was able to come over that same day and give me some recommendations and quotes for a new system.  He measured the house and asked me all sorts of questions about what I liked and disliked about the current system, how much I use it, what my utility bills were like, how much insulation I had in the walls, what kind of weather sealing I had on the windows, etc. (Actually, thanks to my prior insulation and weather sealing work, that meant I could go with a less enthusiastic HVAC system overall because it won't have to work as hard.)  Apparently, since the heating and air conditioning share ducting and a blower, it's typical to replace them both at the same time, so I was looking at a new AC also even though that was still working adequately.  Ugh.  So, he gave me a quote for a whole system, including replacing all the ducting to resolve some of the unevenness problems.  He also very patiently answered all my questions.

I asked him some hypotheticals about other types of heating.  Everywhere I've lived prior to this had radiators, and I find radiant heat much more even and comfortable.  Unsurprisingly, he advised that a hot-water radiator system or underfloor heating would just never make sense as a retrofit in my old house.  Another crazy idea I had: It seems like you could buy a fleet of those oil-filled electric space heater radiators, and there should be a way to network them together through your wifi and control the temperature of each room more precisely on a schedule.  I couldn't find any such networking device on the market, but mostly it just wouldn't be cost-effective.  Those things heat really nicely but consume a monumental amount of electricity.  I did run the numbers and found them to be unworkable.  So, a replacement forced-air system seemed like the only real choice.

I've been very happy with Burgeson's so far and had every reason to trust their work, but before spending that much money on something, I thought it would be good to get a second opinion.  I got a technician from another major local company to come and assess the existing system and give me a quote for a replacement. The technician saw the same stuff as the Burgeson's guy but didn't seem to think it was really a problem.  I asked him about the oil accumulating in one area that the other guy had pointed out, and this guy nonchalantly said "Oh yeah, I saw that, but these things are always oily.  I couldn't tell where it was coming from.  It probably isn't important."  He showed me photos that looked similar to the other guy's photos, so if nothing else, at least I knew that the original photos were actually photos of my system and not some scam that the Burgeson's guy shows to everybody (not that I really thought that).  The second guy said nothing about the impending carbon monoxide problem, and he was similarly lackadaisical about the burn marks on the circuit board.

He worked up a quote for me, but unlike the Burgeson's guy, he didn't really ask a lot of questions about my habits, likes and dislikes of the current system, utility bills, or insulation and weather sealing.  I guess he just assumed I wanted a comparable system of the same capacity.  I was left with very little confidence that I'd be satisfied with a new system from this company, and the price he quoted me was similar to Burgeson's.

So, that was very instructive. I was so unimpressed with the guy from the other company that I felt much better about staying with Burgeson's.  Maybe the system could have hung on another year or two, but I decided it was better to be safe than sorry and better to replace it while it was still working (and not too cold yet) than to have to do it in emergency-mode if it actually did break.  And better not to get carbon monoxide poisoning, either...  Like with my old car that went to Car Heaven last year, at some point it's just time, and it's not worth trying to squeeze more life out of something that's old and doesn't work that great.  So, I bit the bullet, and I paid an ungodly sum of money to Burgeson's for a whole new HVAC system.  Courage!

They were able to complete the installation all in one day.  They had about 6 or 8 guys running in and out of the attic all day making a lot of dust and noise, but it really went very smoothly and was less mess than it could have been.  The part I was most worried about was that they had to expand the attic access hole in order to get the old furnace out and put the new furnace in.  The only way we could figure that the original system had been put up there was that they took down a ceiling somewhere.  I can tell that the ceiling in the two bedrooms is not original, so I guess that was it.  Anyway, they opened up the attic access with no trouble, and their shop made a custom-sized metal access hole with an insulated back, no problem at all.  Also, since the attic access is in my only bathroom, I had to arrange with a neighbor to go over and use the bathroom at her house for the day, but that was okay.
Installation day. It was a busy day.
New expanded attic access hole.

The new system is MUCH better than the old one.  It's quieter, and they carefully balanced the airflow to each room, so it heats more evenly (and even came back later to tweak it when I asked them to).  It's a two-stage furnace, so when it's not super cold (which is most of the time), it runs at a lower speed and is less blowy.  I no longer have a hurricane in my kitchen.  It's never going to pay off in terms of utility bills (mine were already very low), but it's definitely already paying off in terms of comfort.  And I can now be assured that everything up there in the attic is safe and up to code (and actually officially permitted by the City).  Props to Burgeson's for doing an outstanding job!

So I think I made the right decision.  It's possible that there was more than one right decision (like waiting a year or two and then doing it), but it's impossible to know.  I definitely have less money in my bank account than I did before this project, but that's just the way it goes with home ownership.  Here's for a more comfortable and less expensive 2020!


  1. We've relied on Burgeson's since we moved to Redlands in 1998. They saved us in our old 1928 spanish bunaglow when the ancient floor heater went out and they replaced our HVAC system in our current home. We use their 2x annual service. We just love them. I'm glad you had a good experience, too.

  2. We also use Burgeson’s 2x annual service! They are very knowledgeable and professional. They have saved us money and keep our systems running efficiently. I trust them!