How much should labor be on replacing a condenser?

grover1August 26, 2009

My five year old, 5 ton AC unit died a couple days ago. It was determined the condenser unit (the big box with a fan on the top that puts out hot air and sits on a concrete pad outside the house) was bad and needed to be replaced. We figured out the thing was still under warranty, but the AC company (Waggoner's Heating and Air in Norman OK) charged $947 for the labor to replace the unit. One person came out for about 4 hours (including a 1 hour lunch).

My gut feeling is I got robbed, but I'll ask the community. How much should I expect to pay on labor for replacing a condenser?

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Asking about the cost after the work is done isn't the best idea, obviously.

If it was just labor, even if there was a truck charge, you are paying around $300 an hour.

My guess is that you paid for various materials also.

It's important to note that warranties on HVAC products don't include labor, which can be substantial.

You need to bring it up with the repair company.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2009 at 8:33AM
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What was changed? Just the compressor (inside the outdoor unit) or the unit itself?

First he has to recover the refrigerant from the unit. Many charge for use of machine plus cost of disposing of the refrigerant. Then the compressor or outdoor unit is changed. Compressor changes are more work, harder to do. A filter-drier should be installed or replaced. Nitrogen is applied to check for leaks. Then he runs a vacuum pump, which could have been running while he was dining. Our guys often go to lunch while the pump is on. Then new refrigerant is put in and that costs. Also many distributors charge a handling fee for warranty compressor or unit. So $947 for a 5 ton is very typical around here.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2009 at 5:47PM
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Baldloonie, sounds like you are comfortable defending a business model that includes a lot of sitting around waiting for some one to come by with $947 to spare. If fewer customers were willing to empty their pockets so readily fewer guys would try to run a business like that. Just my opinion, of course, and I realize it makes me a prime target here.

Your arguments are silly - that someone could charge their hourly labor rate because their pump was running is ludicrous. Or that a mid-level tech is worth $300 an hour, or that a filter-drier costs more than $30. Or that the guy has to charge for refrigerant disposal - used R22, at least, has a positive market value and costs around $3 a pound to replace. And the recovery machine costs $400 to buy; how much to rent to the customer for fifteen minutes? How about the laundry bill for the guy's jeans?

    Bookmark   August 28, 2009 at 1:50AM
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I agree with you in general. I know that it takes more than meets the eye to run a business and that nobody should be expected to sell materials at cost. That said, when businesses become complacent about gouging the consumer, they put themselves in a position to get their butts kicked in the market.

A mid-level tech should be $100-120 an hour including plenty of markup. Oh, and for that, you should actually get someone who knows what they are doing-which isn't the case a lot of times! A truck charge is also reasonable to cover fuel, vehicle, etc. as is a reasonable markup on supplies and consumables. In my book, the cost of getting the part to the shop - including the shop time -- should be paid by the manufacturer.

At any rate, I'm having a hard time reasonably getting above $700 with plenty of markup for overhead and profit.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2009 at 10:20AM
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price is not so out of line IMO..

I wouldn't feel ripped off OP, unless there is a problem
with the install down the road.
hope your new condenser lasts shouldn't be replacing it within 5 years unless something else is wrong.
did you tech offer any ideas as to why unit had failed so soon?

that someone could charge their hourly labor rate because their pump was running is ludicrous.
as stated - vacume pump is usually set to evacuate the system prior to takes a while to evacuate the sytem...time better spent eating lunch that twiddling your thumbs waiting on the pump.
would you rather pay the guy to sit there and watch the pump?? seems a good use of time to evacuate while taking lunch.

Or that a mid-level tech is worth $300 an hour, or that a filter-drier costs more than $30.
tech would be worth about half of that. no mention of cost of filter dryer, ..this is included in
material costs. the cost to install filter dryer is added to price plus cost of business...truck costs, insurances, taxes, permits.
lots of costs to factor in that hourly amount.

Or that the guy has to charge for refrigerant disposal - used R22, at least, has a positive market value and costs around $3 a pound to replace.
of course refrigerant disposal has a cost..come on..
just as a tech has to be certified to handle refrigerants
it takes time to reclaim and recycle refrigerants. costs
of R-22 are rising, this is due to the fact that this refrigerant will not be produced and all R-22 will eventually come from recycled refrigerant.
you don't just tie freon up and leave it at the curb like
newspapers. some one has to be trained to reclaim, do the physical steps prior to recycled freon being taken to recycling area..even that trip to drop off recycled freon is money spent by the company.

And the recovery machine costs $400 to buy; how much to rent to the customer for fifteen minutes?
ok so go to the pawn shop and buy one for 100. will john q public know what to do with it? certified to use it?
and if you can do all these things in 15 minutes...
you would be much in demand in my area of the world.

no offense..but you really don't know what is involved
in running a hvac business. its not about being the lowest price for the owners..(not always..there are always
bottom feeders)

when you hire a hvac company
in addition to paying for parts
you are also paying salry
and overhead to operate the business.
also for the experience and education of the installer.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2009 at 2:48PM
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Is is always amusing to see someone who has never run a business, or had to invest thousands of dollars in training, licensing, equipment, and parts complain about what work costs.

You forget the cost of brazing equipment and gas, replacing vacuum pump oil (and the filter I keep on my pump to prevent trash from your damaged system from wrecking my pump), or the filter on the recovery set that is used for the same reason, or hauling the used refrigerant to the recycler, and all the little expenses that go into making sure I have all the parts to do the job in a single trip.

Unlike the typical home project that can take you a couple tries to the store for parts and pieces, I need it all there NOW to get the job done.

A lot of money is tied up and there is a return on it in the cost of work performed.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2009 at 3:10PM
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CJ Mechanical of North jersey llc.

A compressor change out for a 5 ton rapm060 holds 16 lbs of refrigerant plus line a 1x 1/8 lin set 150 ft gonna hold much more. 18 lbs @ 30 = 500 plus for refrigerant.
nitro @30 brazing @ 30 reclaiming bad refrigerant @ 50,filter dryer @ 30.did we have a burn out??? so we now have to clean out and or flush out the lines. flush out kit plus suction lne filter@ 100 or more. plus labor of 4 hours $ 400.
these numbers can go over $1000 depending on the probem and the size and seer of the system. If the compressor just simply locked up and you can reuse the refrgerant then the price will be MUCH lower. lots of variables to consider

    Bookmark   August 31, 2009 at 10:58AM
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I dont think a tooth filling is worth over $100 why do Dentists charge $400?? I was only there less than an hour?

$75 for 1/2 an hour for dentist, $3 for the receptionist, $10 for the assistant, and $25 for the filling material seems fair to me.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2009 at 11:18AM
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Um, ZL, dude, I get your point... but if you are paying $400 for a filling, the OP has an HVAC contractor he needs to introduce you to.

In addition, dentists have 8 years of college in a very competitive environment and pass a state medical exam. As has been demonstrated on this board, too many HVAC techs don't have a basic comprehension of what they are doing. You can talk about training and tools all you want, but we both know that the professionalism and knowledge of HVAC techs varies considerably - something I think is a serious problem.

Coolmen: So, I figured 3 hours at $100, 18# R22 marked up 100% is $216, $50 for a filter dryer, $85 for a truck charge and another $50 for recovery = $700 +tax. You can certainly itemize every little supply... but then it doesn't follow that you have a 100% markup on freon and 270% markup on labor.

A tech that makes $50k a year is costing about $36 an hour after benefits.

It's admittedly been a while since I was doing this... but I think that there is a lot of markup and line-iteming going on... $500 for 18# of freon, are you joking? The cost is $180 for a 30# can delivered in small quantities (less than 10 cans). At $30 a pound, you are talking a 500% markup.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2009 at 3:15PM
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You may accept metal fillings but mine are composite and don't show. Of course most is covered by insurance. But a HVAC tech doesn't deserve enough pay to covers his families insurance, after all, we only count the hours on job, divided by the amount charged, and that must be his pay right?

Besides all that it was a funny poke with humor, man open your mind.

It is interesting Jake, if you did once do it for a living, wished you made more? Had a better life?

If someone is going to question price afterward, shouldnt you have asked for a quote first.

Who buys a couch and finds out how much after it's delivered??

    Bookmark   August 31, 2009 at 4:32PM
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Dude, the first thing I said was that the OP should have checked on price first, before the work was done.

When I was doing it for a living I wasn't making $50k a year. Sure, when I was doing that I wish I made more and had a better life - and if I'd gone into commercial work that could have happened. But, depending on the region (I'm midwest), $50k a year for a mid-level residential HVAC tech isn't bad - particularly without a college education. As a tech, you don't make more money by gouging the consumer, you make it by becoming a more valuable employee.

Look, I'm all for people making a living. I believe good tradesmen in general don't get the money or credit they deserve. That said, there are a lot of guys doing bad HVAC work and the company they work for are charging too much for it even if it wasn't bad. If the industry doesn't get its act together, we will see a repeat of what happened to the big 3 auto makers. I don't know how it will happen, but someone will come in and knock the crap out of the industry and the consumer, after having the experience of paying $500 for 18# of freon, won't feel bad about it at all.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2009 at 5:10PM
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So, here's the killer concept:

The AC is engineered and built with all of the major parts being almost tool-less. The condenser unit, line set and evaporator all connect with 1/4 turn, self-sealing quick couplings. Everything is pre-charged. The wiring, including the outdoor whip is all snap together. The evaporator slides out.

The unit includes basic diagnostics that would indicate a refrigerant related problem. The major components include an RFID tag that would would ID itself to the system.

So, the customer calls with AC complaint (or perhaps the unit sends a text msg.) The service company can ID the components, that it's a refrigerant related problem and the age of the system from the error code on the thermostat. No house visit is required to diagnose the problem.

They can give a firm price based on the age of the system and replace the entire unit (condenser, line set and evaporator coil) with a reman unit. The swap-out is done by a kid making $15 an hour and it takes perhaps an hour or so to do. No tools, no recovery, almost no training. The customer gets a factory tested unit, properly charged, perfect install, cheap and very quick turn around.

The old unit goes back in the reusable shipping containers, and is returned to a regional reman facility (possibly even in Mexico)where assembly line workers are happy to make $12 an hour rebuilding the things in a very fast, efficient and controlled way. Every bit of waste is squeezed out - refrigerant is cleaned and recycled on-site. Parts that are out of spec are recycled, everything is reclaimed.

Gone are all of the truck charges, tools, trained (or not) techs, $30 a pound refrigerant, $100 an hour workers, recovery fees, etc. Also gone are decent paying jobs.

None of this would be hard to do right now.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2009 at 7:48PM
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CJ Mechanical of North jersey llc.

Jake your concept on equipment replacment is farthest from the truth.A kidd making 15 a hour swapping out a unit with no tools needed. no wonder you left the have NO CLUEWith the internet in just about everyones home, I would expect the homeowner to get at least 3 bids to replace the comressor and or search for lower priced R-22. I will say that here in north jersey my price seems to be in line with
others out there. I charge what I charge And have very hapy homeowners.(I must have had the lower price bid). with 25 years in the trade I have never left a house thinking I ripped someone off nor will I change.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2009 at 9:05PM
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Of course it's furthest from the truth currently. And it may never happen at all. But the point is that it's doable. Anytime an industry gets complacent and uncompetitive, someone comes in and changes the game. Look at the automakers, look at what Walmart did to retailing. Look at how roof trusses, floor trusses and wall fabrication has reduced the need for skilled carpenters.

As far as your customers getting three bids... perhaps. But the industry is really set up to make it impossible to shop price. The average non-tech consumer doesn't have the wherewithal to dissect the quotes - you see that on this board also. If they were ever to really shop price, you wouldn't be able to get a 500% markup on anything.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2009 at 9:58AM
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And there are still people paying sticker price for cars, it will always remain that way.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2009 at 10:53AM
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I was just given a quote with now breakdown for labor, no description of the make and model of the "1 ton unit".

$2800. A basic one ton unit (base model) can be ordered for 750 to 1000 dollars. How does 1800 trans sound for labor.

I have read about half a dozen threads on what things cost. I appreciate the cost of overhead. I run a business but I also see plenty of gouging in my business and recognize gouging in this business.

For 3 or 4 hours of work, my quote works out to 450 dollars per hour. At that rate I can hire an AC tech, buy the freon, the vacum pump, the torch and do the job for less. Dont get me wrong it is a hassle to become the contractor but these are fat proft margins.

If I ever should retire from my current profession, medicine, I am eyeing this AC career for its sheer profitability. The R410 conversion is one of the bigger boondoggles in the industry.

"oh that new refrigerant is coming and you need to swap out these air handler too and while we are at it lets swap out all your units because they are old"

You know how to tell when you are being gouged. When they are so profitable complacent and lazy that they dont even offer to consider a option to fix any part of your system.

It is so tempting and profitable to just rip it all out but the problem is that AC repair requires careful well done installation so you really run the risk of going to hell in a handbasket with poor quality install.

Is there anyone in the AC business, honest, conscientous and fair priced in the greater Orlando area?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2009 at 11:31PM
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In regards to olandosam saying that his next profession will be A/C and all the other so called experts who think that they are being ripped off by A/C Company�s. It�s a sad fact that the national statistics say that 90% of A/C companies have an average net profit of 1% or less and $300,000 or less in revenue. Only 50% of an 8 hour day is billable. Those 4 hours must cover all expenses and leave a small profit at the end, so you can survive in off season, when revenue dips below what it cost to keep the doors open. The truck that is fully stocked in order to get you�re A/C up and running as quickly as possible, takes nearly $100 dollars to fill, its filled 2 to 4 times a week, gets an average of 10 miles a gallon, because of what it must carry. The part was ordered by someone, picked up and put on the truck by someone, the invoice for that part is paid for by a book keeper, when the part is used and the invoice is processed the procedure starts all over again. The excessive charges by the credit card company�s so you can receive points from your purchases. All of the expenses are paid for by what you call gauging! We will have to go back on some of those calls, because of product failure; this cost is covered by the initial charge. Workman�s comp for an A/C tech is very high because of the danger involved, general liability insurance, commercial automobile insurance, land line phones, cell phones, advertising which is how you heard about us in the first place, all paid for in that 4 hour window a day. The person that answered the phone to help you, the repairs on the truck, uniforms, I could go on and on, but you already know all this since you�re an expert. I do understand when customers see the sticker shock for a part that seems to be so small and so cheap to buy, I myself can�t believe what we must charge in order to keep the doors open but the fact is, no matter how efficient we run our business, the total cost of running a service based company that comes into your home is thru the roof.
So come on, get out of that cool office you sit in, come on up in the 130 degree attic, crawl on your hands and knees thru the insulation, take the chance of going thru the celling since there�s hardly ever wood in the attic, or touch an electrical circuit with your sweaty hands because most diagnostic must be made while the unit is powered up. It is a glamorous life, never knowing when you�re getting off from work. It does not sit well with the family who has no idea when you will be home. Hope you don�t mind a bad back and worn out knees because that is what you have to look forward to.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2011 at 12:11PM
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Well, it should have never taken 4 hours....

So you paid around $500 for refrigerant (5 ton unit just an ~), plus whatever to vacuum out the old stuff and dispose of it. So that's $447 for disposal and labor. Divide by 4 and you're at ~$112 an hour. That's not bad so I assume the fact they were there for 4 hours (for whatever stupid reason) they cut you a break on the number of billable hours.

Refrigerant is stupid expensive and it's why people never want to replace only the condenser. Imagine paying $500 twice! Once to replace the condenser and again to replace the FAU.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2013 at 9:18PM
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Might as well have changed out to an all new R410A high efficiency system & saved the high $ R-22 costs...

A/C may also need downsizing; use the Whole House Calculator & use .4 or .5 Air changes per Hour (ACH) * cu.ft volume of your home to get the CFM...put in the blank___CFM; when U think U have it right print it; U can't save it; unless U use 'Snipping Tool' to capture the screen image of it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Whole House Calculator

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 11:28AM
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Ok, it is gauging in my opinion, and on top of that companies are just trying to profit from 410A conversions, which interestingly enough was based on the patent expiration of r22 coming up. I am sure the Dr here can relate to similar scenarios with pharmaceuticals.

Many of us are not ready nor interested in converting. I have rental property and to charge my unit the so called contractors are wanting to bilk me 100.00 / lb. when their cost for 30Lbs is On top of that, most contractors refuse to fix a broken R22 unit, and just push for new and leave. I have a broken unit. None of the 3 guys I had out offer to detect the leak.

Yes, it may cost 800 to replace a compressor, but sure beats 5000 for a new system, specially in a rental property.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2014 at 9:42PM
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Certified? Just buy a 30 pound tank on eBay. Heck, tons of times you'll find a used tank because people keep buying them, filling once then reselling them.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2014 at 10:37PM
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I had occasion three days ago to call a rooter company to address a sewer line blockage.

Guy shows up - $89 Flat Fee Service Visit... diagnoses blockage location. Quotes $579 to clear + $89 Fee.

The diagnosis took about 25 minutes. My choices were accept the offer OR pay the $89 and call someone else and again pay a similar Service Fee.

I paid the $579 and mentioned I got his name from Angie's List... that waived the Service Fee.

Clearing the stoppage took less than 25 minutes.

Do I think that was high? Yes. Do I think it was worth it to me? Yes... no realistic option.

Was I satisfied? Yup. The guy was fastidious in his effort to keep the house clean, his demeanor was professional and confidant. Would I hire them again? Yes.

Would I go DIY? Nope. I paid for a group of skill sets and equipment that I do not have.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 9:07AM
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Stop thinking you paid for labor it was some body raking your leaves and you supplied the rake .I have been in the industry for over 40 years . I realize this an old post, but to be honest I can't answer that question... I can replace the unit for less ,but so what . I don't have pay for all the expenses of running an ac company. You and I have always cost our employers way more than that small pay check we get.You don't see the shop expenses, taxes, insurance.heating and cooling ,, utilities . truck with stock . equipment. etc this list goes on forever . Let me remind that an underpaid teacher earns close to 70 k on average or about 450 a day before benefits .That's ok too , because they have 120 students a day That is only for starts because we have to pay for the school and building cost . utilities etc.What I'm trying to say . You are paying for company that had maybe five hats involved with your new condenser .That same installer may be sent on a industrial service call and making repairs that require a great deal more knowledge than any diy job.I can tell you it would cost me about 300 dollars for materials and I would want at least 300 for labor and that's cash... 600 total and I have no expenses To be honest I don't want that job, BECAUSE YOUR AC WILL BE MY RESPONSIBILITY NO MATTER OF WHAT GOES WRONG FOREVER .

    Bookmark   February 1, 2015 at 9:13PM
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I can't help but look at whether the 5-Ton is way oversized; also look at the duct system & other factors when replacing a condenser.

I never charged enough; always wanted them to get a quality job that saved them money firsthand & long-term.

I always did all the work; wanted it done right.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2015 at 8:54PM
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