There are no two ways about it: Today’s residential replacement HVAC systems just cost more to put in - if they are installed correctly, that is. The key driver this year is the increased size of the indoor coils on higher-efficiency systems. It will be the key driver in the future, too.

This is primarily a regional concern. In areas of the country with basements, space is less of a concern as long as there is sufficient airflow. But in areas without basements, where air handlers and furnaces are installed in closets or attics, getting a new air conditioner can mean moving the location of the air handler to an area with no space, or expanding the existing space to accommodate the size of the new coil.

It all costs money.

Wayne Mulholland of Tri County Mechanical, Azle and Fort Worth, Texas, has been using financing to help many of his customers face these more-expensive installations. In his area, most air handlers have to be moved from a main-floor closet to an attic space. (See “HVAC Turns 13!: Tight Spaces Require Creative HVAC Solutions,” Nov. 27, 2006 issue.)

In order to get the air handler into the attic space, and then to be able to service it later on, wood framing needs to be added around a new, drop-down staircase. The added expense may make financing necessary.


In order to get the air handler into that attic space, and then to be able to service it later on, wood framing needs to be added around a new, drop-down staircase. Mulholland calls in a sheet rock subcontractor for the work (“Sheet Rock Duncan”).

It’s necessary, but “it adds a bunch to overall cost, about $1,000 more,” Mulholland said. In addition to finishing off the access area, “there’s always an extension of the ductwork and electric,” he said.

You might expect a lot of customer resistance and sticker shock. However, Mulholland said most of his replacement customers still purchase systems that are 15 SEER or better. The reason, he stated, is partly due to rising energy costs, and partly due to his ability to provide financing.

Utility bill increases have been helping to make the higher system costs a little easier for consumers to swallow, he said. They can see that the system will pay for itself in lower utility costs when it’s installed properly. Regarding the financing, “even people who can pay cash take advantage of the no-payments-for-a-year deal,” he said.

Tri-County’s 2006 fall promotion offers same-as-cash financing until January 2008. “Interest does not accrue until January 2008,” Mulholland explained. The company also has financing plans available for instant credit approval. In addition, “We can, in most cases, arrange special financing plans for less-than-perfect credit scores.”

Financing can be used for matching equipment, duct replacement work, whole-house filtration, new thermostats, labor, warranty - the entire project, the company said. Really, there’s no reason not to get it done right.

In addition to financing, the contractor promises “a correct system upgrade using an [Air Conditioning Contractors of America] ACCA-approved, Manual J heat load calculation.”


The financing comes in handy for one of Tri-County’s niches: military families. The company’s Website comes right out and asks, “Active duty military dependants, how may we assist you?”

“We’re pretty close to the Fort Worth Army-Air Force-Navy reserve base,” said Mulholland. Among his customers are “a couple of majors, a couple of captains; the privates, they’re the ones with the wife and four kids.

“We’ll put contractors in for nothing,” he said, “and fix the furnace or air conditioner in off-base housing. We’re still waiting for the service fee on one of them.” There is no penalty for late payment, he said. Sometimes the company just forgets about it after a certain point.

“I was in the Navy many moons ago,” said Mulholland. “I was sending home $80 a month to my ex-wife and child. A car payment and rent had to be paid every month out of that $80.” While military wages have gone up some since then, Mulholland knows that it still can be very hard for families to hold their finances together.

“I get permission to put notices up on base, in their break rooms and the PX,” he said, for off-base housing projects. “The government will pay for their rent up to a certain amount,” Mulholland said. Repairs are handled between tenant and landlord.

“Word gets around from one family to the next,” he said. “One week we had three or four service calls in the same housing complex.” A few referrals have also come from nonmilitary family and friends.

Publication date: 12/18/2006