Important Tip: Don’t just pay attention to the high-end of the price range! – which is what I know you are all looking at, but also look at the low range. If a contractor is cheaper than this, ask “why?” Usually it is because they don’t have liability insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, are unlicensed, all of the above, or worst yet, they don’t use HVAC technicians. You are spending a lot of money. Make sure that they are licensed (In California, check here at CSLB License Checker) and insured.
An alternative to packaged systems is the use of separate indoor and outdoor coils in split systems. Split systems are preferred and widely used worldwide except in North America. In North America, split systems are most often seen in residential applications, but they are gaining popularity in small commercial buildings. The split systems are a great choice for small buildings where ductwork is not feasible or where the space conditioning efficiency is of prime concern . The benefits of ductless air conditioning systems include easy installation, no ductwork, greater zonal control, flexibility of control and quiet operation . In space conditioning, the duct losses can account for 30% of energy consumption . The use of minisplit can result in energy savings in space conditioning as there are no losses associated with ducting.
Be careful of dishonest HVAC contractors. There’s no magical formula to see if an HVAC contractor is scamming you, unfortunately, but remember that they typically do this in one of two ways: first, they are charging grossly low prices (far below everyone else), or second, they aren’t including what everyone else is. In the first situation, they will charge you change fees, other hidden fees, or they stole the equipment and are passing themselves off as legitimate contractors (very common in California these days). In the second situation, they are charging you a very fair price, but aren’t including what the other contractors are (i.e. charging $10,500 for the installation which is fair, but not including the ductwork which is a scam unless there is some other, complex stuff going on there).
Central, "all-air" air-conditioning systems (or package systems) with a combined outdoor condenser/evaporator unit are often installed in North American residences, offices, and public buildings, but are difficult to retrofit (install in a building that was not designed to receive it) because of the bulky air ducts required. (Minisplit ductless systems are used in these situations.) Outside of North America, packaged systems are only used in limited applications involving large indoor space such as stadiums, theatres or exhibition halls.
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