Archive for the ‘HVAC’ Category

Why is HVAC Repair So #*#@ Expensive?

Posted: June 18, 2012 in HVAC

Let’s face it, we all cringe when we have to call for HVAC repair…the repair bills are rarely dirt cheap.  Many customers assume that HVAC contractors are economic rapists and rolling in the dough–how can they not with the prices they charge?

As an HVAC contractor, WE cringe when we quote repair bills, and unfortunately we are NOT rolling in the dough.  The profit margins for this business are low.   

Here’s the straight skinny.  To get a qualified and experienced service technicnan out to your home, in a truck outfitted with freon and the multitudinous parts and pieces needed for the on-the-spot repair, and with all the various tools needed to facilitate repairs…it costs the contractor around $75-$85 per HOUR. 

How is this calculated? 

First of all, almost half of that figure is the technician’s hourly wage.  They make good money, and deservedly so….they must have a tremendous book of knowledge coupled with tremendous diagnotic skills.  Add this to the fact that they are always working in extreme temperature conditions, and you come up with an exctremely demanding job.  They are rather like doctors thart have to work in temperatures from bone-chilling cold to blistering heat (as an example, evaporator coil changeouts in attics can have the tech in temperatures as high as 120 degrees). 

Now,. take a look at the technician’s service vehicle.  It is outfitted with thousands of dollars worth of capacitors, relays, freon, specialty tools, motors, fuses, freon, nitrogen, oxygen…the list goes on and on.  Now consider what the insurance rate is on a vehicle that carries this kind of inventory PLUS hazardous chemicals.  It’s outrageous.  Add rising fuel costs to the picture (gas mileage on a weighed-down vehicle is poor to say the least).  We all know the cost to own and maintain a vehicle…not cheap, even if you aren’t driving it all day, every day. 

The final piece to the puzzle are all the usual fees, taxes, and insurance premiums that small businesses must pay to keep employees employed.  These alone are startingly high, and unfortinately with the current political and economic climate, they are only getting worse. 

Add all this up…the picture is bleak for offering low-cost repair fees.  When you see compnaies offering rock-bottom service call rates, you can rest assured that they are banking on making their money back with upsells and unnecesary repairs.  Buyer beware when you see service calls being advertised for anything lower that $80!

While we know this blog doesn’t make writing HVAC repair checks any less painful, but hopefully it has helped to understand why this industry is so $#&% expensive! 

Check out for helpful DIY tips that will help keep your system running at its most efficient, and help keep those repair bills at bay!


Is Your Gas Furnace Killing You?

Posted: October 11, 2011 in HVAC

OK, the title is a bit dramatic, but unfortunately it’s rather true. 

 When gas is combusted in your furnace, it passes into a “heat exchanger,” a steel device that heats up, with resultant heat being disbursed through your home via a blower.  The heat exhanger is made of steel, and become reusted (due to a leaking evaporator coil or from the natural condensation formed from combusted gas).  When the heat exhanger rusts enough, holes form and carbon monoxide is passed into your home through the ductwork.

 This is not good!  

 Yearly checkups of your gas furnace are critical for a number of reasons, and this carbon monoxide issue may be one of the most important reasons to have your system checked yearly.  

 Make sure to keep carbon monoxide detetcors throughout your home–preferably one that plugs in and has a battery backup.  Call your local HVAC company at the first sign of carbon monoxide detection!

 Visit for more information, including DIY tips and our exclusive “Diagnosis DIctionary!”

Shedding Light on HVAC Solar

Posted: September 22, 2011 in HVAC
Solar power has been around for a long time, and recent advances in solar technology have started to make it a truly viable option for residential HVAC applications. Lennox is now offering solar systems that will completely power straight AC systems, and up to 66% of a heat pump’s energy (for most Virginia residents). These solar systems will actually send power back to your utility company (during low demand periods), offering you a credit on your utility bills. In addition, there are substantial federal tax credits for solar installs (up to 30% of the cost), and “renewable energy credits” that offer $120 for every 10,000 kw hrs. produced by your system! 
Lennox has an excellent website that should answers all your questions about how these systems work, and there is a great calculator that show exactly how much energy you can save with various configurations of panels vs. systems.  
Before you delve too far into the wild world of solar, here’s the bottom line—these systems aren’t cheap, and are suited for homeowners that plan on being in their home for more than 10 years. This 10-year mark is a general break-even point for cost vs. savings. 
Here’s the link, and feel free to call us with any questions!


You may have gotten an HVAC service ticket with the diagnosis of a bad “capacitor” or a bad “relay.”  They are  one of the more common problems that we diagnose and repair.   

So what exactly are these things?

A CAPACITOR is an electrical component that stores energy.  It gathers and stores power while the unit is in operation, and releases the charge when needed at time at start-up.  Capacitors control the start-up of your outdoor unit’s fan and compreesor.   If your system is blowing air, but it is unheated or uncooled–this could be indicative of a bad compressor (although other components could be the issue).   Capacitors are round or oval cylanders, and will bulge and even burst when they are going bad or are completely blown. 

A RELAY is an electrical component that basically acts as an on/off switch.  Relays control your indoor unit’s fan.  You may have noticed that when your system turns on, the indoor unit’s fan will energize shortly thereafter–that’s your relay at work!  Relays cometimes get stuck, causing your unit to either run continuously (if stuck in the ON position), or not at all (if stuck in the OFF position).  A blown relay will not allow the system to run at all. 

Check out our website at for DIY maintenance tips and other useful information!

What’s the tee-total most important thing you can do to maintain your HVAC system?  Change your filters monthly!  It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s critical. 

I am still amazed at the deleterious effects of a dirty filter…yet I have a hard time remembering to do it in my home…a monthly note on my calendar has helped. 

A dirty filter equals a system that can’t breathe, struggling to get the air it needs to function.  As the system struggles more and more, strain is placed on…everything…within the system.

But wait, it gets worse–once a filter gets dirty enough, the particulate matter it is designed to catch starts passing through to your evaporator coil (which is the heart of your indoor uniit).  Dirt in this coil is bad…very bad.  Cleaning an evaporator coil isn’t cheap, and there’s always the possibility that too much damage has occurred and it has to be replaced completely.  I’ve actually seen filters that got so clogged that they folded in on themselves and got sucked right to the coil.  Not good….

 You don’t need to purchase the fancy jobbies that tout baking soda or allergen fighters (these additives can actually reduce the effectiveness of the filtration)–just basic poly filters will do.  With monthly changes it’s all you need.

Filter changes–it’s simple, it;s cheap, and it’s critical–same money, change monthly!  Visit us at for more DIY tips!

When our company was founded in 1980, the Fredericksburg VA area had three of four competing HVAC companies.  Thirty years later there are more than forty. 

So with all these companies to choose from, how do you decide what company to pick?  You’ll find that the rates for service calls and maintenance agreements run very similar betwixt all the competitors (beware the $50 or “free” service call, there have to be upsells to allow those companies to break even). 

The answer–“experience is everything.”  In the case of system installation, the question isn’t just a matter of price.  There are two other factors to consider:  how adept is this company at HVAC installation?  Just a few  installation errors add up to a lifetime of headaches.  The other factor: will this company be around (and respond) if I have problems with the system? 

We have unfortunately garnered a lot of business from homeowners that have been left high and dry after a cut-rate installation went sour.  Things to check when you decide on a HVAC contractor–are they licensed AND insured?  Are they bonded?  How much experience do the installing technicians have?  Does this company have a service manager that follows up after installations to do a Quality Control check? 

Aside from system installation, the same questions come into play when deciding on a HVAC company for service calls.  Again, “experience is everything.”  A fresh-faced technician that is new to the business can easily misdiagnose problems, where seasoned veterans that have real-world experience are less apt to be fooled into an incorrect solution.  While heat pumps and gas furnaces all share the same technology, each manufacturer has key differences in how they engineer their systems, and only experience gives a tech the ability to navigate all these critical  differences.  

In conclusion, the key to choosing the right HVAC company is experience.  Question the credentials of the companies you call–those that have the background you seek will be more than willing to give you the data you need to make an educated decision.  

Comfort Heating & Cooling – 30 Years and Going Strong