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New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
#1
New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
I've been home for a little while now and took advantage of the time to install a completely new central heating and air conditioning system in my house. My house was built in 1957 and used gas fired floor furnaces, no air conditioning. When I bought the house, the gas company refused to turn the gas on until I updated the furnaces with double wall chimneys and replaced some stuck shutoff valves. I elected to replace the water heater with an electric water heater and install an electric stove. I'm an electrician first, so I did just that. 

Over the last few weeks I've been incredibly busy with this adventure in home HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning). 

First, the house had 100 amp electrical service original to 1957. Being an electrician, but rarely doing residential work, I struggled upgrading with a complete new 200 amp service entrance and distribution panel. It wasn't hard designing and creating the service, implimintation was terrible because of the codes and opinions of the codes between other electricians, the state inspectors office and finally, the utility company. After hoops and hurdles and a week of chasing people down plus a thousand bucks, I have some sweet juice flowing with twice the capacity.

After the electrical work was done, it was time to educate myself on design and construction of household ductworks and heat pump system configurations. I have a 3000 square foot home with 1500 square feet fully finished and a full basement. 3 bedroom, 2 full bath. There are online calculators and slide rules available to calculate heating and cooling loads plus ample information from materials companies and forums. All of this information still just implies generic knowledge, as every home is different and the system has to be designed to the uniqueness of the home. How many windows? How many rooms and rooms by type? How many occupants? Insulation R values? Overall insulation quality? Climate zone?...??? I was perplexed at all the information. Every aspect is a valuable part of the equation in determining equipment size and duct size/configuration. After a solid day at the drafting desk, I had determined that I needed a 3 ton heat pump outside and a matching air handler inside. 

Design and construction of the ductworks was a complete different animal. Size, type of duct and number of ducts is imperitive in efficiency and overall comfort in the home. The design of the system wasn't too bad after all the homework that I did, the construction of all this periphery was hard work however. Building a main duct with branch ducts was a struggle by myself. Then, cutting a dozen holes in the 2 inch thick floors with a sabre saw and fitting register boxes and sealing all of the holes up. It was stressful and painstaking work! I drew blood a few times on flooring nails and sheet metal. 

Hanging the duct up was relativly easy. I have 9 foot, wide open workspace in the ceiling of the basement. The return air ducting was time consuming and labor intensive, but it's all done.

Lastly, the test and turnup took 4 hours. I paid for a couple of licensed guys to come over for sweating the refridgerant lines and adding refridgerant to the system. Having them come out assured that I get the full Ten Year warranty from the equipment manufacturer, and that the equipment worked properly. Howerver, HVAC guys are incredibly busy and getting someone you trust to work on the $4000 system is important. 

In the end, I didn't know how difficult and complex residential HVAC is. My fully installed estimate was $6500-7000. After all of the pieces and parts, I'm into this adventure $4500. I've devoted 60 hours to the labor myself and unrecorded booktime. I saved $2000 or slightly more. Would I do it again? Yes. I have a trades background and all the tools to build entire houses. For someone else, if they can spend the extra $2k, I recommend getting a Pro to do the install. The stress from this adventure was fairly high on me and the family. But, it is done!

To anyone here that has done HVAC work in residential settings, my hat is off to you. I couldn't imagine doing this work in a 24 inch crawlspace or in a 120 degree attic or both. I salute you.
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#2
RE: New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
Good story Jesse. This is one of the jobs I let the skilled tradesmen handle, but I have been involved with design and decision making several times. HVAC guys that are good get my respect, and amen to working in attics and crawl spaces. The time I changed it a service, I remember jumping the meter with copper pipe smashed flat to serve as temporary connectors.
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#3
RE: New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
Great story.

While I will do my own maintenance, I leave the heavy lifting (potentially dangerous stuff) to the insured professionals. I try to avoid companies that offer a single brand because no matter what the issues may be, they tend to offer the same "universal" solution.

I normally short-circuit the learning curve by getting three qualified bids and asking them to explain why they selected that particular equipment and those particular options.

Then I compare the bids to find any discrepancies. On the second pass, I ask the contractors to explain the discrepancies between the equipment selected and the time estimates.

I request revised bids, budget an addition $1000 for unknowns such as electrical, plumbing, and structural issues (e.g. dry rot) and then select the middle bid after checking with a local building inspector for the contractor's reputation.

I have never gone wrong in 40+ years and have come to the conclusion that just because I have the same tools as a jet mechanic, I am not qualified to work on jets.
"The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." -- Marcus Aurelius
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#4
RE: New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
After years of enduring the punishing window shaker, we updated to a noisy inefficient portable A/C....

This past spring I decided to install a mini split AC/heat pump.

What a relief!!

As a retired mechanical/electrical engineer, I elected to install the unit myself...  

Yes!  I have full respect for those HVAC techs that work in attics and crawl spaces..  3 trips into the hot attic and I was done,  Wheeew!

The house maintained a comfortable, quiet, cool all summer, and now the heat pump is maintaining the house at a nice warm temp for ~$1.38 a day,  my last gas bill (furnace was 2.78 for the month).

The outside temps have hovered at 2-minus 1C for the past 2 weeks, the invert-er is reported to be effective to -15C...

I am anticipating installing another at the other end of the house..  But with a more efficient invert-er -25...

...  Philip
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#5
RE: New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
If you have the time and inclination, and can live with the results, by all means do it yourself.  I congratulate the OP on his adventure and courage.  Two kay is still two thousand bucks when the sun sets.

I hate drywalling.  Putting it up isn't so bad, and taping and the initial mudding is not a problem for me.  But....after that initial mudding...I might as well be attempting my own brain surgery.

Plumbing, except for minor procedures to retrieve a ring or to free a drain, or to replace a gasket...leave that to the people who make a living from it.

I have done framing, roofing, replaced a toilet flange and a toilet valve mechanism.  With someone nearby to ride shotgun who knows what must be done, and how to do it, these things aren't a problem for me.  Painting, also, seems to turn out okay for me.  But finishing the drywall so that the paint looks good at an angle....totally beyond me.

I wouldn't have a clue how to go about designing ductwork for a certain application.
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#6
RE: New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
Sleeprider, I wish I had a dollar for every time I've opened a disconnect switch to find a couple of 1-1/2" grounding electrode slugs in place of some rasacally blown fuses. I'd have 50 or 60 bucks I bet!

SRLevine, getting contractors out to get an estimate in this neck of the woods is like pulling teeth sometimes. HVAC guys are booked for a month here and I had estimates range from 250-750 for sweating lines and adding less than a pound or R-410. A few techs I talked to asked a plethora of qualifying questions before they considered giving me an estimate. I get it though, they don't want to risk their necks on a job they didn't install.

Aquanaut, I've been in factories since i was 14. I've been in a maintenence role of some sort since 19 and I've built and worked on more kinds of equipment than i care to remember. This residential stuff is unequivocal. I've diagnosed any part of anhydrous ammonia systems from the 350 horse pump motors to the semi trailer sized air handler's frequency drives. This little stuff is hard to do anything with. I chose my heat pump and air handler setup because, counting the thermostat, there are 3 integrated circuit boards total, and none of which are complex by any means.

Meseteria, i describe drywall finishing as an artistic trade. I've had countless people approach me for side work including drywall andI tell them I will hang it, but they better find someone good at finishing. ☺ I am not.
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#7
RE: New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
We have the ductwork. We moved into the house and it had an old, old oil furnace. Emphasis on old. And "tinkered with". One problem was it had just one line to the tank. That meant when we ran out of fuel (and sadly, we did that too often), it had to be primed. THAT was expensive.

We switched to a pellet stove in the living room and it does meh job of heating the entire house. It is far too small. And when it gets into the 20F or lower and stays there, it is basically useless.

Next we tried a homemade wood furnace. Moved out the oil one (sold it for scrap). The guy we bought it from came and installed it and another friend made a cap for the old chimney. Dang, that thing burned hot! Too hot! Kept the house warm but sometimes we had to open the front door. LOL

We finally got tired of splinters and stacking, and whatever and turned the pellet stove back on.

Now I'm looking at getting a HVAC unit. Some people say the electric bill is too high. But with a heater in the kitchen, one here in the office, and another in the basement, our light bill is already high in the winter.

And yeah, I'd have someone else do it.
PaulaO2
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#8
RE: New found respect for Residential HVAC techs
(12-09-2018, 07:02 PM)PaulaO2 Wrote: We have the ductwork. We moved into the house and it had an old, old oil furnace. Emphasis on old. And "tinkered with". One problem was it had just one line to the tank. That meant when we ran out of fuel (and sadly, we did that too often), it had to be primed. THAT was expensive.

We switched to a pellet stove in the living room and it does meh job of heating the entire house. It is far too small. And when it gets into the 20F or lower and stays there, it is basically useless.

Next we tried a homemade wood furnace. Moved out the oil one (sold it for scrap). The guy we bought it from came and installed it and another friend made a cap for the old chimney. Dang, that thing burned hot! Too hot! Kept the house warm but sometimes we had to open the front door. LOL

We finally got tired of splinters and stacking, and whatever and turned the pellet stove back on.

Now I'm looking at getting a HVAC unit. Some people say the electric bill is too high. But with a heater in the kitchen, one here in the office, and another in the basement, our light bill is already high in the winter.

And yeah, I'd have someone else do it.

That is quite an adventure. If you have access to natural gas, that is likely a good option for cost and efficiency. If not, propane is pretty good and electric heat pumps areman option, especially with the stove.  HVAC IS ANY HEATING AND VENTILATION SYSTEM.  Efficiency matters, but a 80% central furnace and modern flexible insulated duct can be installed at reasonable cost, but it has to be designed for the space, heat losses and location. Capital costs for installation (short term) and operating costs (fuel or electricity) tend to balance out, so finding what works for you is usually an individual decision.
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