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Unico Central Air: Costly?! - DRod

DrodDrod Posts: 59Member
My wife and I spent a few hours with a really good salesman for a nearby Unico (Unique Indoor Comfort) dealer. He did a great job. My house is a 2 story, 70 yr. old. brick structure. The attic is totally unfinished attic and there are lots of closets on the second story to access down to the first level easily. It has single pipe low pressure steam heat that we love, about 1900 sq. ft. of living space and lots of windows including a 9 X 15 sunporch with 11 windows. He suggests a 4 ton unit and the cost is $16,600. His estimate was that it would take 5 days of installation. We'd end up with 25-30 jets/outlet total. Very good guarantee/warantee. This outfit has the experts. But, it's a lot more than I thought it would be-I thought maybe 10-11 thousand. What do you think of the $16,600 price tag? I'm in the Chicago suburbs. Thanks for your input.

Comments

  • StarchStarch Posts: 102Member
    What you are buying......

    ...is a comfort system professionally installed. The quality of the components (in this case it is excellent - Unico makes a very good system) is actually secondary to the quality of the installation.

    A system that is properly designed, properly installed, and done so by a company that will stand behind their work and be there when you need them, will give you years of trouble-free service with proper maintenance.

    I really don't believe that anyone here can comment intelligently on the price you were quoted. To do so would require visiting your home, performing the heat load analysis, designing a system for you, and pricing it out themselves. Rules of thumb and dollars per square foot are nothing more than wild guesses, which may or may not reflect actual costs incurred by the contractor to professionally install your comfort system.

    Check the company's references, make sure that they maintain all necessary liscenses, and that they will obtain any needed permits for this job. Also, verify that they have liability insurance.

    I can't emphasise enough that you are purchasing the contractors expertise more than you are buying an air conditioner in a box.

    Starch
  • larrylarry Posts: 91Member
    Load Calc?

    How did the contractor arrive at 4 tons? Did he measure the space and do a load calc, or was he using a rule of thumb measure? More capacity than you need isn't helpful - it ends up costing more to buy, costing more to run and doesn't perform as well as a properly sized system.

    I'm choosing a contractor to do a radiant floor-hybrid system. In choosing a contractor, my sense of their understanding of the importance of a proper load calc (and doing one) has been my first level cut-off criteria.
  • DrodDrod Posts: 59Member


    Thanks, John. I agree with you regarding the importance of the installation; and I must admit, I'm very impressed with the company. Great references and great reputation. Now, I just have to decide if I want/can spend the money or continue with my window units. If I thought I'd get some money out of my investment when I sell the house, that might make a difference, but I don't know.
    Again, my thanks.
    Dale
  • DrodDrod Posts: 59Member


    Thanks Larry;
    He did all kinds of measurements, asked about wall insulation, went into the attic, etc.; then he did a load calculation. He said he expected I'd need a 3 1/2 ton, but was surprised it worked out to be 4. For some reason my small sun porch with all those windows put me over. He said it wasn't even a marginal issue, it was clearly 4.
    Thanks again.
    Dale
  • heatboyheatboy Posts: 1,468Member
    Sounds right to me....

    DRod,

    My Unico System installs average $4K a ton depending on the type of structure.

    To Learn More About This Contractor, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Contractor"
    heatboy



    The Radiant Whisperer





    "The laws of physics will outweigh the laws of ecomomics every time."
  • Mark J StrawcutterMark J Strawcutter Posts: 625Member
    don't rule out conventional system

    Part of the "high" cost is that hi-velocity systems like unico and spacepak cost more than conventional systems. One would think that the reduced labor cost (easier to install) would offset the increased equipment cost but it doesn't seem to work out that way.

    I've had both - previous house had separate, conventional A/C system with air handler in attic, ducts to first floor down thru 2nd floor closets, single return in upstairs hall. Worked fine.

    Current house has spacepak with AHU in attic, and ducts thru closets to first floor. Didn't have enough closet room for a conventional system. Works fine.

    I would go with a conventional system if it will "fit" - good comfort and less expensive.

    Mark
  • John MillsJohn Mills Posts: 7Member
    alternatives...

    You might want to get at least 1 bid on a conventional system. Since you have room in the attic and closets to run to the first floor, the conventional system may be a better bet. Also, you don't need lots of ducts to the 1st floor since the 1st floor heat will rise and 2nd floor cooling will fall. My aunt has conventional ducting with only 2 vents on the 1st floor and it stays nice & cool down there regardless.

    Besides the very high price, high velocity systems are less efficient. It usually takes a 12 SEER outdoor unit to end up with a 10 SEER system. Most dealers just use a 10 SEER outdoor unit and don't tell the customer they are ending up more like 8 SEER. Also, you need a larger outdoor unit to get the tonnage crunched. Last time I looked at a large system, it took a 5 ton 12 SEER outdoor unit and ended up with an ARI rating of 10 SEER and less than 4 tons of cooling. Unico claims you don't need as much capacity with theirs but seems to me a BTU is a BTU. A hot day is not the time to find out otherwise!
  • jfoxjfox Posts: 44Member
    Unico

    So how do you size a Unico system?

    I am a homeowner who has taken over as general contractor. I am using staple up radiant floor heat (thanks to Dan and all who take part in the wall, I have learned a lot from you) so I need an AC only system.

    I have a 4,000 sq ft, three story house with an open central stairwell, 40 double pane low e windows, R-30 in the roof, R-11 walls, in northern Virginia (summers are just slightly better than Houston), no shade trees. Two conventional AC contractors and one Unico contractor quoted 6-6.5 tons on rule of thumb. Thank god I didn't sign those contracts!

    I used HVAC-Calc (http://www.hvaccomputer.com/main.asp) and with 92 degrees outside, 75 degrees inside the program said 3 tons. With 95 degrees outside and 72 inside, 3.5 tons. I then hired a Unico guy (cousin of a friend) to spec the system and he came up with 4 tons. Both of these seemed low to me, but oversizing is a common error and I had decided to use 4 tons, 12 seer.

    Does John Mills' post mean I should use 5 tons? Does anyone have a feeling that 5 tons would NOT be oversizing?

    Also, I was wondering if anyone has any experience with three level houses with an open central stairway. I originally thought that a main return on the third floor above the stairs and returns from the bedrooms would be right. But the moderator of HVAC-Talk (residential) has posted that he has the same type house and that even though the system was sized correctly the third floor was hot and the first floor was cold. Would additional ceiling returns on the first and second floors, located between large open areas and the stairs, be a better solution?

    I know this is an AC question but the thread inspired me to reply. Thanks for any help you can give, and again thanks for sharing your knowledge.
  • jfoxjfox Posts: 44Member
    Unico

    So how do you size a Unico system?

    I am a homeowner who has taken over as GC. I am going to use staple up radiant heat (thanks to Dan and all of you who contribute to the Walll. I have learned a lot from you) so I need an AC only system.

    I have a 4,000 sq ft house, three stories with an open central stairwell, 40 double pane low e glass windows, R30 in the roof, R11 in the walls, floor plan with lots of open spaces, in northern Virginia (summers are only slightly better than Houston), no shade trees. Two conventional AC contractors and one Unico contractor bid 6-6.5 ton systems by "rule of thumb".

    I used HVAC-Calc (http://www.hvaccomputer.com/main.asp) to do a heat gain analysis and with 92 degrees outside/ 75 degrees inside the program said 3 tons. With 95 degrees outside and 72 inside, 3.5 tons. I then hired a Unico guy (cousin of a friend) to spec the system and he came up with 4 tons. These seemed low to me but oversizing a system is a common error, and I had decided to go with a 12 SEER, 4 ton unit.

    Does John Mills' post mean I should use a 5 ton system? Does anyone have a feeling on whether 5 tons would be oversized or not? If I use a 5 ton outdoor unit do I use 1000 CFM inside or 800 CFM?

    Also, does anyone have any experience or opinions about three story houses with open stairwells? My original thought was that a Unico system with a main return on the third floor above the stairs with returns from the bedrooms would be right. But the moderator of HVAC-Talk (residential) has said that his house is the same design and, although the system was sized correctly, the third floor was hot and the first floor was cold. Would ceiling returns on the first and second floors, between the open area and the stairs, be a better solution?

    I realize this is an AC question but the thread inspired me to reply. Thanks for any help you can give and thanks again for sharing your knowledge.
  • jfoxjfox Posts: 44Member
    too expensive

    Your description of this guy as "a really good salesman" would give me pause. There are lots of really good salesmen out there, in HVAC, cars, whatever. It is human nature to "buy into" the self self image of the person you are talking to. Salesmen and confidence artists use this to their advantage all the time.

    I would encourage you to have extensive conversations with the people they gave as references, and to become your own private investigator. Check out building permit records pulled by this company and talk to ALL the people they did work for, state regulatory agencies (the agency that issues licences), state corporation records if they are a corproration, local court records as to whether they have been involved in lawsuits and any other sources of information you can think of . You have every right to this information, and if you do not exercise your rights you have only yourself to blame. The number of scumbags doing business on a day to day basis is amazing.

    Solid companies will come up as solid. Others willl come up as not so solid. No homeowner can tell the difference without a lot of cold, hard headed investigation. $16,000 from a competent pro gaurantees something. $16,000 from a scumbag gaurantees nothing. IMHO.
  • Mike T., Swampeast MOMike T., Swampeast MO Posts: 6,928Member
    High-pressure air

    Forgive this but considering your location you have to consider the "dues"--boss, governor--not much difference.

    High pressure air systems truly gain efficiency with humidity--that's why they're WONDERFUL in the mid-Mississippi Valley and south of the Mason-Dixon line.

    BUT, I've yet to feel an old, multi-floor home in a mixed/warm climate that can be cooled comfortably AND economically with a single central A/C of any form.
  • Steve EbelsSteve Ebels Posts: 904Member
    Personal experience

    I have found HVAC-CALC cooling loads to be a little on the light side. If the load comes to say, 28,000btu, I'll go to a 36K condenser/evap pkg. The Unico product itself has been excellent judging from the performance and failure rate (zero) of the units we have in the field. In reference to your sizing question, Probably the best thing to do is another load calc with a different program to give you another perspective. Just for your info we have a pair of 3-ton units with Carrier condensers doing just fine in a 6,200 sq. ft. home here in Michigan. ( where currently, the humidity is so high I can do the back stroke across my yard)
    The rough guesses you got from the "rule of thumb" contractors were probably based on 600 sq, ft, per ton "rule". Up here, 700 is the old law for residential.

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  • John MillsJohn Mills Posts: 7Member
    www.ari.org

    I would make sure the contractor (or you) consults the official ratings of the system being proposed to see what the outcome is. www.ari.org and look at the Prime Net directories under mix-match A/C ratings.

    The capacity varies by brand. Just glancing at them, some "4 ton" outdoor units get 3 ton capacity, others get closer to 3.5 ton. Most 5 ton outdoor units end up under 4 ton. If you like to keep it cool inside even in hot weather, I would suggest a 5 ton outdoor unit and look for a match that gives the highest capacity.
  • GWGW Posts: 3,439Member
    no message

    I just wanted to keep this on the list so I can have someone read it.

    Gary

    To Learn More About This Contractor, Click Here to Visit Their Ad in "Find A Contractor"
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    www.wilsonph.com
    [email protected]
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