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How Much Should It Cost to Replace My Ducts?

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: While the rest of us in the country are beginning to freeze our butts off, John in Florida wants to replace an air conditioner?

    John, tell us what’s going on.

    JOHN: Well, I appreciate y’all taking my call.

    LESLIE: Not a problem. How can we help?

    JOHN: Well, being a transplant of Chicago, I now live in the beautiful Gulf Coast and …

    LESLIE: And you’re like, “It’s hot.”

    JOHN: Well, you know, it never stops being hot. (Leslie chuckles) And my wife and I are rehabbing the house and we’ve been getting some quotes on redoing our AC. The quotes we’ve been getting just seem so out of the ballpark; you know, just wrong.

    TOM: Are they consistent? Are they all about the same or are they all over the map?

    JOHN: Well, they seem to be all over the map. We’ve got one that was for 9 and one that was for 6. I haven’t necessarily heard any that were in the 2 range, which was really what I was expecting to pay.

    TOM: And what are we talking about doing? We’re just talking about replacing the compressor and the condensing unit?

    JOHN: Well, the heat pump, which I suppose is what you’d call the condenser.

    TOM: OK, yeah; if it’s a heat pump system, yes.

    JOHN: Yeah, which is in the attic. We’ve had a guy look at it and he says that’s fine; it’s got at least another five, six years on it. But we want to – they’re telling us that our duct work needs to be replaced and the outside unit should be upgraded to a two-ton unit – I’m sorry, a four-ton unit; it’s a two-ton unit now. My wife is correcting me because I’m not very smart. (Leslie chuckles)

    TOM: How many square feet is your house?

    JOHN: The house is about 1,800 under roof.

    TOM: OK. Well, if it’s two-ton, it probably is a little bit small because, typically, the rule of thumb is 600 to 800 square feet per ton.

    JOHN: Six to eight hundred per ton. OK.

    TOM: Right. So you’re probably closer to three tons being like the right size for that house, just based on that rule of thumb. And since you’re in Florida, it probably wouldn’t be bad to be a little bit bigger. But the thing is, if you’re going to replace your compressor and go from a two-ton to four-ton unit, you also have to have the duct system has to be sized properly for that and the evaporator coil inside the air conditioner has to match the compressor. So you know, there are a couple of parts to the puzzle here.

    Now I don’t know why they’re telling you to replace the duct system. If it’s a standard-sized duct system, you’re probably okay except for the area around the coil which might need to be done over.

    JOHN: No, I mean to bring a little more light to the subject, our duct system – well, it sucks like a duck. (Tom and Leslie chuckle) Invariably, we were thinking about just pulling the whole thing out and having the guys who were going to do the actual labor come in and replace it. Figure typical contractor labor is anywhere between $50 to $75 an hour. To replace it, I would expect two guys to work most of the day to do that.

    TOM: So what’s your question; whether or not replacing the duct system makes sense?

    JOHN: Well, no. Well, I figure it’s going to make sense but I just feel like I’m getting hosed left and right from people that are saying, well, it’s going to be a $9,000 replacement or a $6,000 replacement and then I talk to some other contractor friends of mine that say, well, they can do it for $2,000.

    TOM: Well, here’s what you want to do. You’re getting inconsistent bids because you don’t have a spec and you’re letting every contractor come in and basically design the system for you and then price it, so you’re in a situation where it’s impossible to compare apples to apples. So what you need to do here is narrow it down to what you want done.

    If you want the duct system replaced because, based on all your research, you think you need to have that replaced, then it’s important to say, “I want a price that includes replacing my ducts.” You know, EnergyStar.gov, the website for the Department of Energy’s Energy Star program, has a great booklet about home sealing right now that has a lot of information about how to seal your duct work. And you might want to have the ducts, when they’re installed, actually sealed because that’s going to make them the most efficient and it’s going to avoid leakage from the ducts.

    So if you work to develop this standard spec for what you want done so that everyone is bidding on replacing your ducts and installing a 3.5-ton compressor and installing a new evaporator coil and running the circuit for it, that’s the way you’re going to get closest to the position where you can actually compare apples to apples.

    LESLIE: And John, you can even have your contractor sort of make an itemized bid so you can see exactly what part of the job is costing what amount of the total. This way you can say, “Alright, you know what? This guy is offering this much for the duct work but this guy is offering this much,” so you can see how they compare per item.

    TOM: The problem is that most consumers just want to be comfortable and they call the contractor and say, “Make me comfortable. Make me cool, make me comfortable, and give me a system that’s not going to cost me a lot of money,” and the contractor goes, “Well, OK.” One guy goes $6,000, one guy goes $9,000. You know, it’s not quite that simple. You have to really develop the spec, John, then bring them in and get the bids. You’ll be – only in that position will you be able to compare apples to apples.

    John, thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

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