Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

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csm
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Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Tue Sep 10, 2019 4:28 pm

We live in a condominium in Florida where we have an "air handler" in our unit that hooks up to a central town water cooling system. The air handler inside our unit is technically referred to as a "water source heat pump" (it provides both the heating and cooling). The water is provided on a loop that runs through about 20 buildings.

Our existing 23-year old air handler needed replacement this past week (it was icing up) so we got estimates from a couple of local HVAC contractors that come recommended in the community and selected one who then came out to remove the old unit and install the new one.

The installation has been very poorly done and not in accordance with the manufacturer's installation instructions. For example, the unit was supposed to be placed on vibrator pads. My husband pointed this out to the installer several times during installation and he continued to dismiss him, then claimed he would take care of it "later." Then he claimed that the pads were not necessary because it sat on a wooden platform rather than metal. The unit is insanely noisy and vibrates the entire condo. It sounds almost like a vacuum cleaner running constantly. A dB meter is registering around 60 dB with the door to the unit closed and 72 dB with the door open.

After some argument, the installer said he would come by and "lift" the unit to slide in the vibration pads, however, it has been tightly installed with pipes and vent and we fear that any attempt to dislodge it will cause a break or leak and do more damage. We told him repeatedly to put in the pads before the pipes and vent were attached but he ignored us.

In addition, there was a heat strip attached to our old unit (for winter heating) which the installer threw away and now claims isn't necessary to have because "it doesn't get cold enough in Florida" to require it. However, in central Florida it can get close to freezing and we have, in fact, turned our heat on on many occasions over the 14 years we've owned our condo.

They also installed a unit that did not properly fit. After viewing the old unit to provide the estimate, they ordered a unit with the water intake on the wrong side. They removed our old unit before discovering this. At first, they said they would re-order the correct unit, then they claimed that there are no units with the water intake on the correct side, so they were going to re-pipe and lead pipes in front of the unit. This would have prevented being able to open the unit to do maintenance, so after more argument, he reluctantly agreed to lead the new pipes around so as not to block the ability to open the unit for maintenance. However, rather than copper pipes, they only installed PVC pipes and they look amateurishly done. After the entire unit was installed, we discovered that there was a blockage so you cannot even slide in the air filter without bending it and/or unscrewing a metal plate to be able to get the air filter out and a new one in - this should be changed every month or two.

We are getting the run around and the guy is basically BS'ing us. My husband has an engineering background and, while not an HVAC professional himself, is quite knowledgeable and well-read about technical systems like this. He is livid about this entire debacle. The way the electrical wiring is exposed also appears highly illegal.

After dodging our messages and being told by our installer that the owner was unavailable and/or on vacation, the owner has finally just called us back and is sending his "knowledgeable apprentice" out to take a look (in two days).

What kind of recourse do we have if they cannot remedy this? What do we do if we have to live with an insanely loud system? Can we tell them to take it out and hire someone else and if so, would we be obliged to pay for the entire system if it hasn't been done correctly?

We paid a 50% deposit up front on AmEx and still owe the remaining 50% that they are planning to charge to our AmEx.

When a ca. $5,000 home repair goes bad, what are one's options?

bob60014
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by bob60014 » Tue Sep 10, 2019 4:55 pm

Dispute the charge with AmEx to get their attention, immediately.

deecee
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by deecee » Tue Sep 10, 2019 4:57 pm

I would first lock my credit card with Amex to prevent future charges, and also ask Amex if there are any options for refusing payment for substandard contractor work.

JoeRetire
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by JoeRetire » Tue Sep 10, 2019 5:01 pm

csm wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 4:28 pm
What kind of recourse do we have if they cannot remedy this? What do we do if we have to live with an insanely loud system? Can we tell them to take it out and hire someone else and if so, would we be obliged to pay for the entire system if it hasn't been done correctly?

We paid a 50% deposit up front on AmEx and still owe the remaining 50% that they are planning to charge to our AmEx.

When a ca. $5,000 home repair goes bad, what are one's options?
Small claims court.

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LilyFleur
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by LilyFleur » Tue Sep 10, 2019 5:16 pm

Everything that was said before. You were smart to pay by credit card and to hold back half.
Better Business Bureau
State contractor's board
A bad review on Yelp (after they fix it completely and IF they fix it completely)
Let the condominium management know what happened...they may have some ideas.
Let other folks who live there know so they don't call this contractor.

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csm
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Tue Sep 10, 2019 6:51 pm

Thank you for all the suggestions. We will listen to the individual who comes out in two days.

Apparently the owner is out of town and the guy he is sending over was previously an apprentice, trained by the owner, so is his "best" guy. The owner claims he will make it right, but we shall tread carefully. He is quite insistent that a heat strip is not needed and that, should we find this winter that it is needed, he will install one. We need to get everything in writing.

We have already warned the condo association president as well as a close neighbor who is in the process of getting bids to have his unit replaced.

Designairohio
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by Designairohio » Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:09 pm

I am a Heating and Cooling contractor in Ohio and don’t see that type of unit much here. But if I were in your shoes I would call the building department in your city and have the inspector look over the installation instructions to make sure it is properly sized, installed and up to code. I would be willing to bet that permits were not pulled which would subject the installer to fines in addition to the cost of pulling the proper permits and making sure he is licensed & bonded

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by Sandtrap » Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:41 pm

Considerations:
1 Replacement of existing HVAC may or may not need a permit. Verify.
2 Do not pay remaining 50% until “everything “ you want is done including heat strip and proper isolation pads.
3 There are different types of isolation pad systems. Get the best you can.
4 As others have stated check on reversing your charge card.
5 Deal specifically with the owner. At this point that’s your best course going forward.
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Cheez-It Guy
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by Cheez-It Guy » Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:55 pm

According to some other topics I’ve recently read, slightly reduce how much you tip them to demonstrate your displeasure.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by whodidntante » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:11 pm

^LOL.

Good thing you paid with Amex. And only half. But make sure this gets resolved somehow. You don't want a lien on your place.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by PhilosophyAndrew » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:17 pm

The contractor knowing that you will hold back money until your final punch list is completed to your satisfaction is the best leverage I know about.

So, I’m the future I would not give contractors access to my Amex, and I would make sure my right to withhold money is documented in the contract. (And If a contractor won’t live with this, I’ll hire someone else.

In this case, I suppose you can instruct them not to make the final charge until you give them consent, and you can file a dispute with Amex if the vendor charges the balance on your card before you are satisfied with their work.

Andy.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by SevenBridgesRoad » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:20 pm

Designairohio wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:09 pm
I am a Heating and Cooling contractor in Ohio and don’t see that type of unit much here. But if I were in your shoes I would call the building department in your city and have the inspector look over the installation instructions to make sure it is properly sized, installed and up to code. I would be willing to bet that permits were not pulled which would subject the installer to fines in addition to the cost of pulling the proper permits and making sure he is licensed & bonded
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SevenBridgesRoad
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by SevenBridgesRoad » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:21 pm

PhilosophyAndrew wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:17 pm
The contractor knowing that you will hold back money until your final punch list is completed to your satisfaction is the best leverage I know about.

So, I’m the future I would not give contractors access to my Amex, and I would make sure my right to withhold money is documented in the contract. (And If a contractor won’t live with this, I’ll hire someone else.

In this case, I suppose you can instruct them not to make the final charge until you give them consent, and you can file a dispute with Amex if the vendor charges the balance on your card before you are satisfied with their work.

Andy.
And this.
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csm
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:55 pm

Designairohio wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:09 pm
I am a Heating and Cooling contractor in Ohio and don’t see that type of unit much here. But if I were in your shoes I would call the building department in your city and have the inspector look over the installation instructions to make sure it is properly sized, installed and up to code. I would be willing to bet that permits were not pulled which would subject the installer to fines in addition to the cost of pulling the proper permits and making sure he is licensed & bonded
Thank you - this is interesting.

Our original estimate does include the text "Pull Mechanical Permit" and "Call for Mechanical Final," the latter phrase I'm not sure I understand. Does that mean someone should be inspecting it from outside the company?

I'm trying to search the county now for a mechanical permit but haven't yet found how to do this. Excellent advice here, thanks.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by SevenBridgesRoad » Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:01 pm

csm wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:55 pm
Designairohio wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:09 pm
I am a Heating and Cooling contractor in Ohio and don’t see that type of unit much here. But if I were in your shoes I would call the building department in your city and have the inspector look over the installation instructions to make sure it is properly sized, installed and up to code. I would be willing to bet that permits were not pulled which would subject the installer to fines in addition to the cost of pulling the proper permits and making sure he is licensed & bonded
...Does that mean someone should be inspecting it from outside the company...
Yes. The city code (or county) inspector. This is a big deal.
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csm
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:01 pm

Cheez-It Guy wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:55 pm
According to some other topics I’ve recently read, slightly reduce how much you tip them to demonstrate your displeasure.
Ha, ha! I read that thread with interest because we were in the midst of this job and I thought to myself, "I didn't realize I was supposed to tip them." Of course, there was no way that was going to happen based on how the work was progressing!

We did tip the refrigerator delivery guys who had to haul a side-by-side fridge/freezer up a flight of stairs and take the old one away.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by Brianmcg321 » Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:05 pm

Cheez-It Guy wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:55 pm
According to some other topics I’ve recently read, slightly reduce how much you tip them to demonstrate your displeasure.
Lol. Now that’s funny.
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csm
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Tue Sep 10, 2019 9:13 pm

I found the mechanical permit, so it was pulled and I believe the owner is licensed and bonded. We question whether the guy actually sent out to do the work was properly licensed.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by criticalmass » Wed Sep 11, 2019 3:33 am

csm wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 4:28 pm


The installation has been very poorly done and not in accordance with the manufacturer's installation instructions.
This is my takeaway. What is the manufacturer name of the equipment? Get in touch with their regional distributor company that supplied your contractor. They have the power to ensure your contractor *wants* to finish a quality installation. Finding them isn’t immediately obvious to the consumer since distributors don’t interact with consumers under normal circumstances, but you should be able to find them quickly with some searching.

Typically one distributor controls all wholesale sales for a wide territory of one or more brands. They also provide contractor training and technical assistance. When their product isn’t installed properly by a contractor in the field, they want to know about it.

You’ll probably get better assistance from the distributor than from the manufacturer, so I’d start there.

UpstateNY86
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by UpstateNY86 » Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:50 am

One thing I am curious about. While going over the proposal, your husband did not know that a heat kit wasnt included? Being an engineer, they are normally pretty detailed.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by FI4LIFE » Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:10 am

csm wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 8:55 pm
Designairohio wrote:
Tue Sep 10, 2019 7:09 pm
I am a Heating and Cooling contractor in Ohio and don’t see that type of unit much here. But if I were in your shoes I would call the building department in your city and have the inspector look over the installation instructions to make sure it is properly sized, installed and up to code. I would be willing to bet that permits were not pulled which would subject the installer to fines in addition to the cost of pulling the proper permits and making sure he is licensed & bonded
Thank you - this is interesting.

Our original estimate does include the text "Pull Mechanical Permit" and "Call for Mechanical Final," the latter phrase I'm not sure I understand. Does that mean someone should be inspecting it from outside the company?

I'm trying to search the county now for a mechanical permit but haven't yet found how to do this. Excellent advice here, thanks.
Yes a local building inspector should do a "final" inspection when the work is completed and should have already signed off allowing the work to begin. You can just walk into the building department and ask. Sometimes contractors will begin work without a permit then pull one after the fact. This is not necessarily a red flag but it depends on your local laws.

The apprentice can work under the business owner's licence. He is not required to be licensed himself. I would require him to install the heating component before payment.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by TomatoTomahto » Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:30 am

UpstateNY86 wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:50 am
One thing I am curious about. While going over the proposal, your husband did not know that a heat kit wasnt included? Being an engineer, they are normally pretty detailed.
I think that for a water sourced heat pump, the “heat kit” is an auxiliary heater. We have a water sourced heat pump (geothermal type) near Boston, and don’t expect to use the aux heat unless outdoor temps are well below 0 F. That should not happen often in FL.

ETA: our incoming water temp begins at 50F, but there’s still a lot of heat to extract from that.
Okay, I get it; I won't be political or controversial. The Earth is flat.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by Bern » Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:48 am

Another option might be contacting the manufacturer of the unit, in which they may have a distributorship. This might get someone's attention for a remedy.

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csm
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Wed Sep 11, 2019 9:54 am

TomatoTomahto wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:30 am
UpstateNY86 wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:50 am
One thing I am curious about. While going over the proposal, your husband did not know that a heat kit wasnt included? Being an engineer, they are normally pretty detailed.
I think that for a water sourced heat pump, the “heat kit” is an auxiliary heater. We have a water sourced heat pump (geothermal type) near Boston, and don’t expect to use the aux heat unless outdoor temps are well below 0 F. That should not happen often in FL.

ETA: our incoming water temp begins at 50F, but there’s still a lot of heat to extract from that.
Our old unit had a separate "heat strip" attached to it that was still functioning. The estimate was not terribly detailed and I don't know if my husband assumed that the old heat strip would be re-installed or that the new unit came with one by default. It was during the installation process that he asked the installer about it and it came as a surprise when the installer said "we don't use those anymore." My husband asked where our old heat strip was and the installer admitted to having thrown it away.

We do know that the heat from the heat strip kicked in often enough when temperatures dipped in the winter as to require it (we could smell the dusty smell when the heat kicked on from the heat strip).

While an efficient water sourced heat pump may not usually require it, we are tethered to a 25 year old central water cooling tower that has to send a water loop through 20+ buildings (3 stories high) with retail, restaurants and condos. So the load on the system may make a difference? Sorry if my explanation doesn't make sense - I'm not a technical person.

We do know that our neighbor just got an estimate from another company to change his unit and it includes a heat strip. Unfortunately, this was one of the other companies we called for a quote and they never came back to us with an estimate. They quoted our neighbor because he is good friends with one of the staff - when the owner came to our neighbor's condo a few days after having blown us off, he admitted to our neighbor that he had not returned to us with an estimate because he really didn't want to bother with the job due to the complications with the central cooling system and the company who controlled it. Frustrating to say the least as he didn't even give us the courtesy of letting us know he was not going to give us an estimate after his technician had been out to look. And our neighbor's estimate included the brand of unit we would have preferred, that our installer could not offer.

This entire debacle is exacerbated by the fact that we have flight plans for next week to be gone two months to empty and close on our house abroad that just sold. Airline tickets were booked two weeks prior to the A/C issue cropping up, and we thought we'd have the new installation done in good time before having to leave.

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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by StevieG72 » Wed Sep 11, 2019 9:59 am

TomatoTomahto wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 8:30 am
UpstateNY86 wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 7:50 am
One thing I am curious about. While going over the proposal, your husband did not know that a heat kit wasnt included? Being an engineer, they are normally pretty detailed.
I think that for a water sourced heat pump, the “heat kit” is an auxiliary heater. We have a water sourced heat pump (geothermal type) near Boston, and don’t expect to use the aux heat unless outdoor temps are well below 0 F. That should not happen often in FL.

ETA: our incoming water temp begins at 50F, but there’s still a lot of heat to extract from that.
This... Heat strips provide secondary auxiliary heat. ( they only turn on if stage 1 heat can’t keep up.) you would smell “burning” when stage stage two heat strips turn on, especially for the first time each season. If you rarely or never smelled burning in the winter then they likely were not coming on. Some thermostats also have an indicator light that shows when stage two is running.

Irregardless of the above I would not want them to toss my heat strips and claim that I will not need them. There may be little recourse unless this was discussed prior to the install. Not sure about the water systems, but with typical heat pumps the heat strips are part of the air handler and can be added as an option to a new install. When they removed the old unit the heat strips came out with it, not sure if they could have left them or if they would have been compatible with the new air handler.

This should have been discussed as part of the quote, scope of work.

As others have mentioned, I would withhold & prevent final payment until I was satisfied with the work. Hope they can resolve the issues to your satisfaction.
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csm
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Wed Sep 11, 2019 10:23 am

I found where we could schedule a final inspection by the county for an A/C change-out based on the mechanical permit. It appears as though the inspection is optional for this type of work.

We are still waiting to hear back from the owner's 'best' installer whether he will come out late today or tomorrow morning to take a look and, supposedly, "make it right" for us.

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csm
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Wed Sep 11, 2019 10:27 am

StevieG72 wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 9:59 am

This... Heat strips provide secondary auxiliary heat. ( they only turn on if stage 1 heat can’t keep up.) you would smell “burning” when stage stage two heat strips turn on, especially for the first time each season. If you rarely or never smelled burning in the winter then they likely were not coming on.
See above. We did have the distinct "burning dust" smell of the heat strip at least a few times every winter.

Thank you for the additional input.

Yesterday the original installer tried to tell us that if we wanted a heat strip, they would charge us extra for it. But the owner subsequently said that if we find we need it come winter time, he would come back and install it free of charge since they tossed our old one without discussing it with us. We will get this in writing if we do not insist they install it now.

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TomatoTomahto
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by TomatoTomahto » Wed Sep 11, 2019 11:02 am

csm wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 10:27 am
Yesterday the original installer tried to tell us that if we wanted a heat strip, they would charge us extra for it. But the owner subsequently said that if we find we need it come winter time, he would come back and install it free of charge since they tossed our old one without discussing it with us. We will get this in writing if we do not insist they install it now.
While I originally thought you probably wouldn’t use aux heat, your description of the load (much greater than our 4 bedroom house) being placed on the heat pump, and the fact that you’ve smelled it in the past makes me think I spoke too soon. Our heat pump is brand new and state of the art; yours is 25 years old.

Do you use set back temps aggressively? We do (like to sleep in cold cold bedroom under comforter), and the heat pump installers helped us make our system behave a bit more like a regular system where you can change temps dramatically, rather than heat pump systems (which prefer to maintain a static temp day and year round).
Okay, I get it; I won't be political or controversial. The Earth is flat.

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csm
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Re: Any Recourse for Poor Contractor Work (A/C Installation)

Post by csm » Wed Sep 11, 2019 11:15 am

TomatoTomahto wrote:
Wed Sep 11, 2019 11:02 am

Do you use set back temps aggressively?
We haven't just because we've had such an archaic system. We tend to manually set a colder temp for nighttime because the upstairs master bedroom is the hottest room in the house, then turn the A/C up a few degrees in the daytime.

We had hoped we could get an efficient state-of-the-art system when we had to replace it, but quickly discovered that our options were limited due to the system we're on.

The best we did was get a Nest thermostat installed this time so we can control it remotely, e.g. have it start cooling a day before we arrive from a month away rather than coming home to 80+ degrees and suffering through the first 24 hours.

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