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Community and Q&A

How can a heat and AC system cost so much?

davecookie | Posted in Mechanicals on

I am putting estimates together for a 4000 sq ft ICF new construction house. I just recently got an estimate from a HVAC contractor here in central PA. Me supplying and installing the radiant heat tubing, supplying and installing my track of choice for it to go in, and NO geothermal field. It would be just a very good boiler, connections to radiant manifold (manifolds supplied by them), ac unit(s), thermostats and ductwork. Several zones of course and bathroom fan ducting including. A grand total of $176,000!!!
Can anyone tell me how on earth HVAC can be THAT expensive. I’m still in shock. I also got an estimate for the same thing, at 40% the price. Green building is going to go through some rocky times if contractors are out there, especially in this economy, estimating like that. Talk about scaring people away! I understand there can be significant differences in some materials, and of course, quality of workmanship…but that seems ridiculous. Any comments? Dave

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    Good boiler, $6,000 installed
    radiant tie-in to tubes set by you to good specs $2,500
    AC installed for a well insulated and tight 4,000 sf home $18,000
    What I would expect to pay for this project in central North Carolina, $26.500

    Contact your Energy Star HERS rater and pay him or her run your Manual J,D and S calculations and hand them to your AC guy along with the request for bid and the plans. The HERS rater may have some experience as to who the HVAC trades of choice are for green and energy star builders in your area.

    Or maybe he's giving you a really good price but just accidentally put the decimal place in the wrong spot, maybe he meant to say $17,600

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Add me to the list of people guessing that the contractor made an order-of-magnitude error by misplacing the decimal point.

    Here's the bottom line on HVAC system costs: to keep a house affordable, you need a house-as-a-system approach. An inexpensive HVAC system is possible, but it requires:
    - that the house be kept as small as possible;
    - that windows be properly sized, properly glazed, and properly shaded;
    - that the envelope have a very low level of air leakage;
    - that the thickness of the insulation is significantly above code minimums;
    - that the HVAC system designer is informed of envelope improvements; and
    - that the HVAC system designer is experienced at designing systems for low-energy homes.

    In my latest blog, "Heating a Tight, Well-Insulated House," I provide several examples of installed HVAC systems that cost $2,000 to $6,000. Some of these systems include air conditioning.

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