San Jose HVAC Renovation by AAA Furnace & Air Conditioning Co.
--with slide show--


December, 2009

It was high-time for our barely-functional and scandlously inefficient furnace and air conditioning system to be replaced. 

The flipping thing refused to die!  We'd paid for a monthly home-insurance plan since buying this house in anticipation of its failure.  But failure was always imminent for that pile of junk. 

So we finally pulled the plug, spurred by a tax credit that for the brief shining moment of 2009 would actually apply to us and not be AMT'd away like our hybrid-automobile tax credit in 2006 (grrr), and by the urging of our allergist. 

One problem was that our home's ducting was a large contributor to the system's inadequacy.  There was no return ducting upstairs, so it sweltered in the summer.  The ducting was undersized--our nearly 50-year-old house was not designed for air-conditioning--and the boys' rooms had one tiny register each, right above the door, so what little air flowed in would immediately go right out the door.  And the ducting was uninsulated except for an asbestos powder coating, and its taped seams were coming apart.  Not the best situation!  So in addition to new equipment, we'd need new ducting and a new air-flow design.  And the old ducting would need to be removed by specially-licensed and -equipped professionals in respirators and bunny suits.  Cheery.

We interviewed about a dozen HVAC contractors, reviewed Yelp.com ratings, checked with friends and neighbors, and reviewed licensing and Better Business Bureau records.  This area seems to be blessed with many really fine HVAC contractors.  There was only one company we outright distrusted, and they ended up giving us the lowest bid.  Fortunately I'd learned long ago to be suspicious of the lowest bid... especially in a situation as complex as ours, with the asbestos mess, the need for a redesigned and upsized duct system, and a tricky split-level floorplan.

The rest of the contractors were all impressive in many ways.  In the end, we selected AAA Furnace & Air Conditioning Co.   Their bid was reasonable, and they were experienced with the brand of equipment we preferred based on my research (Trane, with Carrier a close second).  They are local, family-owned and well-known to our neighbors, who speak highly of them.  (One neighbor said she'd always used them for more than forty years.)  Their salesman, David Hennessee, seemed knowledgeable and friendly and had lots of good ideas.  He wrote a detailed preliminary quotation on the spot that included subcontracting the asbestos ductwork removal to the regional experts, P.W. Stephens.  Most other firms left it to us to contract separately with Stephens.  It seemed almost too easy. 

We continued our discussion with other contractors, and meanwhile David returned with Gary, a senior foreman whose job it was to validate the bid, run the calculations, etc.  At the time, and at the urging of all the contractors who had made our initial cut, we had been pursuing a zoned system with two or three thermostats to manage the house's various climate zones.  But for efficiency (and the tax credit) we wanted a variable-speed furnace, and that would have necessitated a bypass dump register in the house since the usual bypass ducting used to ensure adequate airflow in a zoned system would be incompatible with a variable-speed air handler.  Complicated!  And that dump register would have to go into our living room, sited for good flow back the return registers.  Which would have meant that every time someone came in our front door, walked in or out of the kitchen, or went up or down the stairs, they'd be hit full in the face with a river of full-hot or full-cold air.

So I took the opportunity of Gary's visit to ask him if he thought we were pursuing the right approach.  He and David and I talked for about an hour and eventually decided on an un-zoned system with an automatic damper for the home's lower level ("poor man's zoning") and a staged air conditioning compressor for quick cool-down on hot summer days but efficient temperature-hold operation, no risk of icing up the evaporator coil and good humidity control.  And no river of hot-and-cold air!

It's an innovative solution and seems like it will be ideal for our situation.  And it actually saved some money versus a zoned system, and will be cheaper to operate.  (And AAA was well aware of the unusual wiring requirements of the staged a/c compressor, a model which is very often improperly installed.) 

As of today, Christmas Eve 2009, the job is complete.  It took a week of unrelenting hard work on the part of AAA's site-chief, Nerman, and his crew.  I can't say enough good things about the meticulous and tidy work done by AAA and P.W. Stephens.  Here's a slide-show which chronicles the process. 

--Scott

New equipment:
Trane XV95 variable-speed furnace
Trane aluminum evaporator coil
Trane XL16i dual-stage air conditioner

(Note: photos play from chronologically from job's start to job's finish)