Good Lennox complete package?

SchmidtJuly 4, 2012

I would appreciate any advice the knowledgeable folks on this board can spare the time to give me.

A little background: Our house is 13 years old. It was one of the builder's models before we bought it 10 years ago, so we're the first to live in it.

HVAC has always been a problem with this house. It's a two-story with 2600 sq ft on a slab, but it only has two returns, one directly into the unit in our attic from a 20x20 opening in the ceiling of the second floor, and the other a similar size in the wall downstairs that has very little draw. This was my first home, so I didn't know what I was doing. Apparently the builder has avoided lawsuits by "undercutting" the bedroom doors and claiming that takes the place of employing proper returns. Every contractor who has ever been in my attic has commented on the shoddy ductwork done by the builder.

The original coil busted a few years ago, and I replaced it with a heat pump, keeping the gas furnace for a dual fuel option. It seemed like a smart option at the time. However, the A/C has still struggled to keep up in the summer, and sometimes freezes. The company that installed the heat pump said at the time that we really should have them come in and redo the ductwork to improve the number of returns. Again, I was younger and dumber then, and couldn't justify the expense to myself.

Well, yesterday the A/C went out, and it's not an issue of just freezing over anymore. It appears our compressor died. Since I don't have adequate ductwork, any warranty repair would be unlikely.

I called in a competitor that tops Angie's List, and which once even got a recommendation from an employee of the company that installed the heat pump. They are recommending a complete system replacement. I wonder, though, if the sales guy felt sorry for us, and tried to recommend all bottom-of-the-line equipment to keep the total cost down. That's why I'm coming to you guys, to see if I need to ask for upgrades.

Here's the recommendation:

* Lennox ML180UH090E60C 80% furnace with direct current blower package

* Lennox HC10 air cleaner (I already asked to upgrade to HC16 because of allergy sufferers in the family)

* Lennox programmable thermostat

* Replace refrigeration lines (high diameter copper) to handle R410A

* Lennox 14ACX048 (4 ton) A/C

* Lennox C33 evaporator coil and r.f.c.

* Wet switch installed in drain pan

* Install ceiling returns in all 4 bedrooms (2nd floor)

* Install ceiling return in family room (other end of downstairs from current return)

* Combination of new returns should get the input and output (16 vents) of my system balanced at 1600

* Rework supply trunklines and reattach flex supplies to the new air distribution

Total cost: $9,900

I'm in Louisville, KY, if that matters.

So, do I need to ask them to upgrade anything?

This contractor says high-efficiency furnaces aren't a good idea in an attic. I can't remember if he said that local code actually disallows. But I have read comments both ways from folks on this board and others, so I may be okay with that aspect of his recommendation. However, should I insist on a variable speed blower?

I may have limitations based on the configuration of my attic. They used trusses, and the pitch of the roof makes it difficult to have a very tall vertical installation. In fact, the guys who installed the heat pump had to custom build a piece at the top to "bend" (my word, not theirs) the airflow before it hit the roof. So the new installer wants to use shorter equipment to take that quick bend out of the ductwork and improve airflow.

What do you think? Is my guy steering me the right way? Or should I make any upgrades?

Thanks in advance!

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U r on 3rd unit in13yrs? Whew. I got 35yrs out of my stuff. Comp died but no system leaks. Can ur frequent system replacement be blamed on poor installs? Or cheap equipment? I have been lurking on site for years. Gathering info and looking forward to replacing my stuff. But I split up with ex and she did it last fall. I never asked what she did. Have not seen bill yet. Maybe her lawyer is going to show me.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 10:59AM
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Sorry to hear you have had so many problems during the last 13 years. It appears bad installation has ruined your AC condenser and heat pump. The key is to find a contractor who will do a good installation. I know you are suffering from the heat, but try not to rush into this.

My first comment is to stay away for low end builder's grade equipment. Spend the extra money for the better models. I don't have direct experience with Lennox, but there are some people on this forum who do not recommend this brand. The best brands are Carrier/Bryant, Trane/American Standard, or Rheem/Rudd. Even those brands have low end equipment which should be avoided.

It is possible to install a 90%+ efficiency furnace in an attic. You have to verify the contractor knows who do this. The biggest issue is the freezing of the condensate line. You want a furnace which can be installed in a horizontal position. This the common for attic installations. You want all the duct work insulated. The recommendation is at least R8 insulation value. If your area has humid summers then I recommend getting a 2-stage AC condenser. You will need a variable speed furnace in orer to operate the two stages. Both of these features are for better comfort.

I am not sure if I like the idea of having a return in the bedroom ceilings. In the winter cold air could accumulate in the duct work and fall into the warm bedroom air. Ask the contractor if this will be a problem. In my opinion I think you have a air supply problem and not a return problem.

I recommend you get quotes from 3 - 4 contractors. The idea is not so much to shop around for the best price, but to see how each contractor proposes to solve your problems. You want a contractor who will do a heating and cooling load calculation, and a through analysis of your duct work. Ask a lot of questions and take good notes.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 11:00AM
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Thanks, guys!
Based on your suggestions, we're bumping up the furnace, thermostat and air conditioner:

Lennox XL280UH-090V-48B 80% 2-stage variable speed furnace
Lennox XC21-048 (4 ton) 2-stage A/C
Lennox iComfort thermostat

It increases the cost of the job by $3,000. However, we're now getting a $1,000 rebate from Lennox, plus $250 in state tax credit and $400 rebate from the electric company. So really my cost only goes up $1350 for considerably better equipment.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 8:57AM
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I think an 80% eff furnace is a poor choice unless there are issues regarding venting or perhaps an attic install in a climate where high eff condensing furnace might be problematic.

Upgrade to a high eff HP if your electric rate is cost effective.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 9:30AM
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This is an attic installation. The contractor does not want to be responsbile for putting in a high efficiency furnace. Perhaps you should talk to other contractors who know how to do this. Starting next year contractors will have to do high efficiency furnace installations in the northern states.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 11:03AM
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