I called the Woodlands AC and Heating at first looking for just a competitive bid for a complete new HVAC solution for my 20+ year old home. I knew my existing American Standard system needed to be replaced, and I already had a trusted provider of AC services, so I originally intended to get just a price comparison. Phil Musial, the owner of Woodlands Heating and AC came over and examined my old system, and discussed at length with me a number of options. As an Architect I was immediately impressed by his technically sound advice and his no-nonsense approach. He explained above and beyond what was necessary for a sale. I asked plenty of pointed technical questions and he delivered honest answers every time. Furthermore he did not try to up-sell me the highest-end system he had, or even any particular system…but instead discussed with me several scenarios and the best bang-for-buck approach with an old home like mine…leaving every decision to me with a balanced, sensible array of options.
Like me his view was not black-and-white or in any way pushy, instead he also considered the pros and cons of various solutions. It was as though he was my next door neighbor evaluating the same scenarios that he might install for his house. Here’s an example; I was considering a dual zone system (1st and 2nd floor), or even the highest end systems available, multiple zone, double (or dual-stage) condensers and humidity control enhancements. Any of those would have been 50%-100% (or more) expensive. I indicated I was open to anything and he gave me bids for those more expensive options, too. But Phil pointed out that a wood framed developer-built home like mine that is 20+ years old probably won’t see major efficiency benefits from either of those higher-end systems, at least not enough to convincingly justify the large price difference. A house like this just isn’t insulated and sealed well enough. Likewise in terms of air quality he advised placing an air filter box right at the input where the duct work enters the air handler. Why? Because once again an old house is leaky in all kinds of areas so the best way to improve air quality was to filter the incoming air right at the air handler. The older system almost certainly had plenty of input air bypassing the air filters that I was installing from Walmart. And the new filters are actually less expensive than the old ones. Likewise the old duct work was almost certainly hurting system efficiency because it was squashed in several areas and probably had plenty of internal airflow resistance. Phil also mentioned how going to Home Depot and renting a machine to blow in insulation into the attic is a great cheap way to improve efficiency. This and other practical advice made absolute sense and my original provider did not mention any of these points.
For a solution I opted for a mid-range Carrier Performance system coupled with a high-end internet-connected electronic thermostat (NEST V2, ~$250). I also replaced my old squashed duct work, and installed the new filter box. The goal was to get maximum bang-for-buck efficiency, better air quality, and some added convenience features for a reasonable price. Instead of going for the much more expensive total system, the NEST V2 thermostat ($250) might offer a measurable advantage for the whole system because its price is comparatively low vs. the whole installation. After all, the most efficient AC system out there is the one that’s turned off, right? Plus the NEST added all kinds of convenience measures like being able to adjust it on my phone from bed, or on vacation, etc. But as an example of Phil’s approach he did not try to up-sell me the fancier proprietary AC systems with their elaborate custom systems and thermostats. Likewise he did not distribute the NEST as a company and so he didn’t get to markup that sale. Instead I purchased the NEST on Amazon.com for the best possible price and his guys installed it for me free of charge. How cool is that? This is what it was like to work with Phil, like some neighbor who happens to be a subject matter expert and is also carefully considering all the options from the standpoint of you; the home owner. He considered with me the overall best approach…not just the one that benefits his company and his profits. Do you know many contractors or installers like that? I don’t, and I’m an AEC industry professional.
Then there’s his workforce. His guys are hardworking full-time exceptionally smart installers who also know their business. I don’t expect the HVAC installers to be college-level graduates with a polite and professional demeanor. And I don’t know if they’re actually college graduates, but they certainly deliver that impression. Totally professional, polite, hard-working and knowledgeable. Phil’s got to have some genius instinct for finding and keeping great employees…this is another sign of his quality value-oriented business, its totally above what I’d expect.
Typically with contractors and installers you find the head guy is knowledgeable but his employees are unmotivated, underpaid (and often temporary) workers. That’s a serious liability for the owner because the slightest lack of oversight means you’re going to get screwed by the guy that doesn’t understand or care about his work; that final work is in fact what you are really buying. In fact, that’s the single biggest problem in the entire construction industry, even on giant commercial projects on which I’ve been a project manager. You the owner, are almost certainly going to get the lowest common denominator of quality because the guys doing the actual work don’t understand or care about what they are doing. Rest assured that is NOT the case here. For the original install several guys showed up and clearly paid attention to the details. They didn’t track crap through the house, they were fast and thorough, they were polite and professional. They cleaned up after themselves. They even parked sensibly without upsetting the neighbors. Brian was the lead installer who worked on my home for the install and afterwards and he leaves one the impression that one day he’ll be a top guy in the company. There’s a smooth transition in this company in terms of expertise from top to bottom and from the boss to the execution. There’s a fine gradation of professionalism throughout, and that’s rare and essential.
So now about my chosen Carrier hardware. I read up a lot beforehand on the various HVAC manufacturers and I felt as though they all have some good reviews and some completely horrible reviews. Its tough for me to objectively say if Trane or Carrier or American Standard is better. It may well depend on the specific model, and/or system. I’ve found that’s the case with manufacturers, Company A has two great models and two mediocre ones. Company B has two (different) great models and two so-so ones. The high end from one company might be outstanding while the low end might be great. Or vice-versa with the competition. And these things change over time. However one thing is certain; final performance with an HVAC system most definitely depends heavily on the installer. A great system badly installed will give one the impression that the manufacturer is bad and vice-versa. If you read reviews out there or get advice from contractors or homeowners be careful to discriminate, its easy to mix and match installation vs. hardware and blend impressions from the two. That leaves you as the end user with real confusion; its really tough to tell if there are objective differences in terms of the manufacturers and systems. Luckily Woodlands Heating and AC supplies both Trane and Carrier so if you go with them you will have decent choice and no one pushed me in either direction.
Overall great service above and beyond what you’d expect. I’d give them the highest possible recommendation in a heartbeat…if you go with them you will not be sorry.