I read a number of the posts here and noticed how the DIY discussions tend to get ugly. I read and respect your forum rules unlike some who have posted questions here, but many in the industry seem to think it’s all about being cheap. So I figured I would share why I got into DIY, and the reasons I tend to agree that it is NOT a good idea. Also, I would like to share some suggestions from the consumer standpoint about how the HVAC industry could do a better job of selling to people like me.
Let me state up front that I know many of you are true professionals so this does not apply to all. Unfortunately, my experience has been that the professional is not the one who comes out (at least on the first trip to my house). I am an electrical engineer so that part of HVAC is easy for me. The first time I looked at my AC was 20 years ago when my new Trane failed. The first tech repaired it so I did not worry about it until it failed again several days later, and it was hot inside. So while waiting I did some electrical troubleshooting to find that one of the capacitors was bad, and the tech had installed a hard start cap. The second tech wanted to install a bigger hard start capacitor even though I told them one of the other caps was defective (open circuit). Since then I decided I would check the electrical status before calling in for a tech.
Fast forward 20 years. My whole system needed to be replaced. I wanted the highest efficiency unit I could afford. Being a perfectionist, I would have expected someone come out, do heat load calculations, inspect the job site, do duct evaluations, etc. and give me a quote detailed with labor, HVAC equipment, and supplies estimate. Everyone quoted differently, and virtually no detail was provided. I looked at one equipment provider’s web site, contacted a local contractor and asked for a quote on a particular system type. They quoted me standard efficiency Carrier instead with no explanation, and said “well we COULD install one of those”. That left me irritated to the point I went the DIY route I am sorry to say. I should have kept looking until I found a contractor who would at least respond to what I asked for.
Now I would like to say money is not a factor, but it is. I am not cheap, but want to know what I am getting for my money. This is one of the real problems for us as HVAC consumers. It is difficult to compare quotes from contractors because it is difficult to compare what they are going to actually do. The higher priced ones may actually be a bargain if they put in the right effort. Selling what you will do for price X, is important and lacking (at least in my city).
Now that I am 95% done, I have to say the HVAC job is a heck of a lot of work. Putting an air handler in the attic is no fun at all, and pulling those blasted refrigeration tubes down the wall was just about impossible. On top of that I converted to a heat pump from gas and had to replace my whole power panel which was a two day affair just for starters. Also, the fiberglass ductboard will eat you up. Four weeks later, it was ready to fire up. That’s right, for the benefit of any would be DIY folks; I had no heat or air for 4 weeks while doing this. Lucky for me, the weather has been nice. I have to go to work so most of this was done on the weekends. Now to my credit, the guys who came out to do the final startup said my work looked “real good” in their words. My power circuits are all new with THHN insulation and metal conduit, low voltage wiring is soldered and covered with heat shrink – you get the idea, it was not a slop job.
Now many of the arguments I have seen against DIY while true, do not worry me too much – like warranty issues, etc. Here is the real problem. I paid a very high yet totally fair labor rate for a large local HVAC contractor to do the final work and charging. The only problem is that it is not working quite right. I don’t believe they charged it properly and I am stuck with having to pay a second company to come out and check this company’s work. I don’t have a leg to stand on because the first company was on a time and materials basis; otherwise, I could be raising cane with them. How many people will I have to pay to find the real problem? Your guess is a good as mine.
Everyone thought there was an airflow problem at first, but the symptoms occur even when the ducts are removed. In heat pump mode the high side pressures go too high, and the current goes way up (30A at 240V) if the outdoor temp is approaching 60. When cold outside it seems to work OK. They should have had to add over a pound of R-22 with a 50 ft line set, but told me they did not add any. Hmmm.
Still, I may be OK If I can get this problem resolved. The cost was still less than I would have paid on some of the quotes, but my aggravation level with this project is very high now. As far as DIY goes, I am pretty competent since I have no problem reading the technical manuals and understanding them. I don’t take shortcuts. I was a little disturbed when these guys did not flush the lines with nitrogen before brazing, and they did not use a digital vacuum gauge. At least they pressure tested it with nitrogen, and their brazing quality looks pretty good. Still, I was kind of appalled at the amount of R-22 they released when connecting and disconnecting their gauges. These are supposed to be the certified professionals. Don’t think some of your customers will not notice these shortcuts.
The bottom line: I have learned a lot. There is quite a bit of good technical information available. It takes a lot of reading to prepare for this. Can it be done properly? I think yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. Did I save money, probably. Time will tell, but I saved MUCH less than I believed I would due to the supplies and tools required to do it correctly. Copper wire is EXPENSIVE too. My efforts would have been better placed researching the quality of work done by contractors in my area and finding a true HVAC professional contractor. So for the fellow asking about why he can’t just change out a coil and condenser, even I would not do that since it would not be a matched system and I am crazy enough to DIY.
Just thought I would post this story for potential DIY folks so that they know what they are getting into. Also, 240 V is pretty dangerous if you are not totally competent with circuits. If not, don’t even think about it.
Best wishes and sorry about the exceedingly long post.