How to Compare Residential HVAC Systems


Comparing residential HVAC systems offers a unique challenge to consumers because unlike cars, consumer electronics and most other items, there is no easy way to judge performance until after choosing a system and hiring a contractor to install it. Additionally, proper sizing and installation heavily influence HVAC system functioning and performance. Even the highest-quality system can yield poor performance if not properly sized and installed. In that light, comparing residential HVAC systems should include analysis of both the equipment and the installing professionals involved.

Things You'll Need

  • 3 Price Quotes
  • Internet Access
  • Local Phone Directory
  • Pen/Pencil
  • Paper
  • Using internet listings, your local phone directory or recommendations from personal acquaintances, select three local HVAC contractors to provide a price quotation for a new HVAC system. When selecting your dealers, be sure they use NATE-certified technicians. (NATE is the nonprofit North American Technician Excellence organization.) Also look for records of solid customer ratings by contacting Angie's List, the Better Business Bureau or other consumer resources. Some of the better dealers will have been in business for many years, offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee and may have additional accreditation from one of the major HVAC manufacturers.

  • Create a comparison chart by listing each contractor across the top of a piece of paper. In the left margin, list the topics you will be comparing: Efficiency, Features/Functions and Warranties. As you make your comparisons, use check marks or your own comments to indicate which quote has an advantage.

  • Compare energy efficiency ratings for each system. If it is not already supplied on your quote, write down the published efficiency of each main component of your system. You can find this information on the manufacturer’s website, on the CEE HVAC Directory ( or by contacting your contractor. For a gas, propane or oil furnace, look for the AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). Air conditioners utilize SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). With a heat pump, look for the HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) and SEER. In each instance, a higher number means higher energy efficiency and lower operating costs.

  • Compare system features and functions. For a furnace, look to see if it operates at a single speed, two speeds or variable speeds. For a heat pump or air conditioner, check for single-stage or two-stage operation. Generally, variable speed or two-stage operation translates into higher efficiency, greater consistency of indoor temperature and quieter operation. Ask your contractor if any of the systems provide additional functions such as enhanced humidity control, electronic air cleaning, fresh air ventilation or UV lights.

  • Compare warranty information. Many manufacturers will cover the entire system, including parts and labor, for a certain number of years. Some may offer the labor warranty for a period of time with longer time frames for parts-only warranties. Specific system components such as a furnace heat exchanger or an air conditioner or heat pump compressor may also have longer warranties over and above the system warranty.

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