When we get asked this question, we wish there was a simple answer. It’s our job to be the experts and deliver sound advice to our customers. However, it’s also our job to be unbiased and represent the best interests of our customers and when a clear answer isn’t possible, describe what we would put in our own homes. It is very important to understand that HVAC systems are an “applied product.” That means unlike things like TV’s or cars that come from the factory in working condition, HVAC systems have to be installed and they are installed into an inconsistent environment from one application to another. This means that more than just the actual product design and quality affect their performance and reliability.
There are dozens of manufacturers of HVAC equipment, and even more brands. Many manufacturers have consolidated the industry by purchasing brands but continuing to manufacture the equipment under the original brands. Companies like Ingersoll Rand manufacture Trane and American Standard equipment (among many other brands), just like United Technologies manufactures Carrier and Bryant (and many other brands). This can make it more difficult to differentiate between different brands and ultimately decide what to buy.
Our simple advice is to purchase quality equipment — you will rarely regret buying good quality when you purchase anything. Especially HVAC equipment. Service is a pain and is usually expensive. When you buy quality new equipment and have it maintained properly you can expect it to last a long time and provide efficient heating and cooling of your home. However, if you buy cheap equipment, you may have a lifetime of problems and a poor network of qualified dealers who are able to properly fix and support it.
That being said, we recommend purchasing either Trane or Carrier equipment. Trane and Carrier work hard on their products and maintaining their reputation for quality and reliability. They also work to restrict their dealer network to dealers who have a proven reputation for quality and training on their products. Between Carrier and Trane, the product lines stack up pretty well and prices tend to be similar, but there are minor differences that depending on the application and even current incentives can make one brand recommended over another. Working with a dealer that doesn’t blindly recommend the brand they get the best margins on is important.
In this article, we won’t go too much into what not to buy, because again it’s based on opinion (and what we see out in the field), but anybody that also manufactures microwaves or camping equipment is probably not your best choice. Additionally, Goodman is generally known as entry-level equipment and they do not restrict who can sell their products. The combination of less expensive equipment and less careful installation will normally result in a less reliable system. If you are dying to know, you can read our opinions about the main brands in a buyer’s guide of sorts, based on what we have observed in our area.
Using Online Reviews or Consumer Reports
As described that the beginning of this article, HVAC systems are an applied product. This, by definition means that you can’t rely on sources of information like online reviews. Customers express their frustration or elation when something either works or doesn’t work, but in a large number of situations the product they are complaining about (or are excited about), may not be responsible. The entire applied product is responsible, which includes the specification, the ductwork, the installation, and how it’s used.
A site like Consumer Reports tries to do laboratory type testing to determine quality and performance but that is only effective at reporting on initial quality unless they are going to run the products for years in a variety of different conditions (that should simulate lifelike installations). They still rely on long-term reliability reports from consumers, where you are back to rating it as an applied product.
Disclaimer: While we are a Carrier Factory Authorized Dealer, and we believe strongly in their product, we also believe in offering choices to our customers and wherever possible putting ourselves in a position where the advice we offer to customers is completely unbiased. Call us if you aren’t sure what equipment brand to purchase and would like some advice.