Asked on Oct 22, 2012

HVAC maintenance service contracts worth the money?

Designs by BSB
by Designs by BSB
We moved into a new home and had some issues with the HVAC that were outside my DIY husband's knowledge. They came out an did diagnostics and resolved our issue -- and tried selling us on their 2x a year program to come clean and maintain the HVAC. We have 3 zones, so they charge $189 for first + $80 for each thereafter + $80 for hepa type filters totaling $439/year. If we need any repairs or parts we would receive a 25% discount. Considering my husband is willing and able.. can we come close to caring for these units ourself to get the most out of the units lifespan, or is this a good (preventative) value?
  24 answers
  • BeckySue, unless your husband has specific training and the necessary equipment to test the new freon and other areas of the system it is wise to have your HVAC units checked for winter and summer requirements checked by the professional. You can purchase your own filters online and save some money. My system uses custom sized filters and I save 50% by buying a case at a time, As for your basic charge, it seems ok as my HVAC vendor maintains both my systems for $139 a visit.
  • Rose S Rose S on Oct 23, 2012
    That seems VERY EXPENSIVE to me. I have a four zone system, and pay $160 for twice yearly 'check ups'. I would look around, surely there is a better deal out there.
  • Designs by BSB Designs by BSB on Oct 23, 2012
    They said they clean the system each time, not just check it... in case that makes a difference. I do plan on getting additional quotes.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Oct 23, 2012
    Having the AC part of HVAC adds a lot to the mix. I have been fine dealing with my simple forced air furnace for over 20 years... Vac out the filter holder etc, inspect for proper burn etc. In the 20 years I have been in my home I replaced the control board once and swapped out a thermocouple.
  • Designs by BSB Designs by BSB on Oct 23, 2012
    Rec'd another quote that was $270, so there is competiion!
  • Perfection Home Systems Perfection Home Systems on Oct 23, 2012
    When you say 3-zones you mean you have 1 a/c and 1 furnace and 3 thermostats, correct? I need to clarify this before giving you more advice on calling around for other estimates.
  • Designs by BSB Designs by BSB on Oct 23, 2012
    2 furnaces + heat pump (3- AC condensors outside)
  • Perfection Home Systems Perfection Home Systems on Oct 23, 2012
    OK then the first price you got is accurate. The 2nd quote you got may think you have 1 furnace & 1 a/c with 3 thermostats (that is a 3-zone system in our world). You might want to call them back to clarify. As far as is it necessary, because of the HEPA air cleaner and heat pumps (which can be tricky) I would highly recommend you leave it to the HVAC company to do the maintenance twice yearly and not hire your husband ;) I hope this helps!!
  • Simple wast of money. This is not to say not to do it however. sounds like a political statement right? OK, the first thing to understand about all HVAC systems is the biggest killer of them is dust and dirt. If the blower system inside or the outside AC unit gets dirty it cannot deliver the correct amount of air flow which in turn lowers its ability to do its job. So if you keep your filters clean, by changing them or washing them as required and you hose your outside system down once or twice a year and not allow plantings or grass clippings to collect you have effectively done about 75% of the service work. The next thing to understand is the Freon, or the proper word is refrigerant. Your HVAC system, regardless if its a cooling only or a heat pump system, it is no different then your refrigerator in the kitchen. Other then the type of refrigerant and temps it delivers. It is a closed system. The amount of refrigerant inside of it does not change. It does not need to be checked, it is within a hermetically sealed system. And because your HVAC system works and acts exactly like that fridge, why would you want to have someone come in and "check the charge"? If it has not leaked, there is no reason what so ever to have it checked. In fact checking the charge a few times a year can lower the life of the system overall. As each time the closed system is accessed the introduction of air and moisture occurs. This air and moisture is what destroys the chemicals that make up the refrigerant gas in the first place. When was the last time you had your refrigerator checked? See my point. But what is the one thing you do with it? Correct, you vacuum and clean the bottom coil and air intake on occasion. See my point? You have done another 20% of the service by doing nothing. The last 5% is dependent upon age and accessories that you have installed. If you have a humidifier or high tech control system, you may need to service these. Changing water pads, changing batteries cleaning in the spring re-programing for next season etc. all tiny projects but need to be done. If the system is older, you need to crunch the numbers on what an emergency call would be as compared to simply paying for a service agreement over a longer period of time. However if your system is old enough to be worried about these breakdowns, then it is really time to consider a more efficient new system. Does it pay to keep the money in the bank and just pay when it needs repairs? Are you financially able to afford this? Some folks work an a tight budget and it makes sense to pay just a little each month. But if your diligent enough to put money aside for emergency s such as this then I would not pay for the service. You also have to consider what the service agreement is really all about. Meaning does it cover everything? Or just labor, OR just parts? What is excluded? These agreements are more for making money for the company. But is is just like insurance. You keep paying, only to have perhaps one claim after many years only to find that you have to fight the insurance company to get them to pay. Have you checked on service programs from your local utility company? Many if not all sell them at a much lower cost then the independent companies themselves. Although the utility will deny this, they subsidize the costs with utility rates. This is how they can send out a service tech for less then a small company can. In any case you do end up paying less using the utility company over all.
  • I would say its a good idea to have them looked at/serviced and no its not something your hubby should try. That is a very high price for them though, get at least 3-4 prices and clarify. If they say they are cleaning things, what exactly are they cleaning? If they clean the coils indoor and out then the price is more reasonable but if by cleaning they mean hosing the outdoor unit off and brushing the burners for the gas systems off then that's not a big deal nor is it worth the additional money. Manufacturers and companies alike recommend a yearly service but in today's world it is not so much that they require maintenance, it is more of a preventative check to identify parts that may be problematic before they go bad.
  • Designs by BSB Designs by BSB on Oct 23, 2012
    Thank you all for the replies - I appreciate the diversity of opinions! Id like to commend my husband in that the last home we lived in, he had built 20 years ago -- and he kept up with filter changes and the only $$ we put into it was for a small repair of $300, and it was hired out because it was outside of his knowledge base. I have forwarded this thread to him for his input.. because within this arena, no doubt he knows more than I :-)
  • Sherrie S Sherrie S on Oct 23, 2012
    Here is a list of what my contract covers for a 5 ton system Air Handler: indoor coil clean, spray indoor coil, algae tablets, a/h cabinet cleaned, blower motor wheel cleaned. The Condenser: wash condenser coil, remove leaves, vacuum condensate drain, check electrical connection & run capacitors check. This may not look hard to you experts but to me it is very difficult & I don't want to learn how. I have 2 checkups a year for $145 and discounts if I need other things. I think it is a bargain.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Oct 24, 2012
    I'll a bit curious in what size home requires 3 heat sources and 3 AC units. My modest 2500 sq foot home is completely serviced by 1 simple forced air system.
  • If you keep your filters clean, you do not need to clean the indoor coil as it will not be getting dirty. Air handler cabinet clean? Inside it is clean because you maintained the filters, Outside, Dust, wipe if off with a rag. Blower motor wheel clean. Same as everything else, It will only get dirty if you do not maintain your filters. And I doubt that they do this any way as you have to remove the blower to do this and what they are charging for the contract there is not enough money in it. Condenser, Wash coil. do this with a hose a few times a year. If the surrounding area has no grass or mulch and only dirt, put some gravel around so the soil does not wash and splash up on it when it rains. Remove leaves, Cover the unit in the fall, no leaves, And if they did fall into the unit, the top fan section simply is removed by a few screws around the top so you can access the bottom with a vacuum. But hardly worth the effort if you cover in fall. Vacuum condensate drain. Simple wet dry vacuum is all that is needed. The drain pipe where it exits outside or the clean out tee in the attic is simply vacuumed to remove any water in the trap to prevent freezing. However in your climate I doubt this would be an issue. Even if it got cold enough to freeze as the attic would be still warm enough to prevent any frozen pipes Checking the electrical and capacitors, Waste of time. In all the years I have done this type of work,. I never bothered to do that. If the system was installed correctly in the first place the wires will hardly ever come loose, unless your system vibrates an awful lot. As far as the Cap check. Another waste of time. They either work or they do not. So if you can hose your outdoor unit and cover it in the fall when leaves perhaps drop, and you can change your filters on a regular basis. Waste of money. Put it in the bank if in case the AC or Heat system fails later down the line. And when it does begin to start having issues, that is the time you need to begin thinking about a new system. And with the money you saved, you will have some put aside just for that.
  • Designs by BSB Designs by BSB on Oct 24, 2012
    @KMS we have 2 furnaces + heat pump. Our home is 4700SF including the basement. 3 zones.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Oct 25, 2012
    That is a LOT of house to maintain...a lot can be said for smaller....LOL
  • Designs by BSB Designs by BSB on Oct 25, 2012
    Agree whole heartedly. On the reverse side? We REALLY live in our house. My husband and I work from home offices (each requiring our own space), I absolutely LOVE to cook, can and bake ... and we rarely go "out" so we are in heaven going from 2400SF to 4700. Finally have elbow room!
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Oct 26, 2012
    I love our larger than normal master bedroom...the main part is 30 x 16 with another bit 12 x 14 on the side to form a bit of a L shape. I have a small bench in there for some of my jewerly work / reloading. and my sweetie has her crafting bench in there. It is our favorite room in the house. In the corner we have a wood burning stove and on the far side opposite of Tori's bench is a Yoga area. The entire master suite is over three time the size of our small cabin in New Mexico.
  • Bernice H Bernice H on Oct 26, 2012
    Wow both your homes sound super! I dont necessarily need bigger just different, nowhere to get away from each other. Thankfully hubs doesnt watch football or baseball or basketball, I can handle golf! We have been teetering on the edge of needing a new hvac unit for a few years now..but we are hanging on.Hoping we will be able to move and sell before sinking money into something we wont get our money out of when we sell. 76 dbl mobile home,boo.
  • Chuck Chuck on Feb 21, 2013
    Good post and have enjoyed the different sides of obtaining an hvac maint. contract. I agree with Environmental, especially his info about putting gauges on a unit that doesn't show any problems that warrant a sealed system access. Your husband should probably be the one responding. I think the need for hvac advocacy, where someone fills the gap between the semi knowledgeable homeowner and the hvac contractor without the exorbitant costs is needed. I do think you should find a mechanical contractor that you like personally and has a trustworthy background and develop an "association". That way, if and when you need service, you won't be calling blind through the yellow pages.
  • Jerry Jerry on Mar 08, 2013
    If your budget allows you to invest in a preventative maintenance plan with a local contractor, then you definitely should. The costs could be astronomical if the unexpected happens. It's like raising kids without insurance.
  • Jon Jon on Mar 31, 2014
    It sounds like your husband is pretty handy, and considering you are on this site...I would say you are also. I think that you should be able to handle a lot of the preventative maintenance yourself and therefore keep your units from having problems.
  • John White John White on Jun 13, 2018

    It does not sounds good that you are paying a lot of money on your HVAC system maintenance. You should definitely contact with a professional HVAC service provider or contractors and discuss your issues of HVAC with them to get the best of solution at affordable price. sounds good that you are paying a lot of money on your HVAC system maintenance. You should definitely contact with a professional HVAC service provider or contractors and discuss your issues of HVAC with them to get the best of solution at affordable price.

  • Janet Janet on Jun 13, 2018

    Yes, highly recommend