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Community and Q&A

High Quotes for HVAC System Installation

LBrittBrattleboro | Posted in General Questions on

We’ve had 2 companies here in VT give us quotes for the cost of installing a system in our home and the prices we are getting from them are 3 times what seems to be typical. Our neighbor said she had one put in 5 years ago and it cost less than $5000.

What should we expect to pay for 30k btu system with 2 zones? The “estimates” we are getting back are around $15,000. I put “estimates” in quotes because there is no breakdown of costs. Just a really basic number.

Thanks for your help,


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  1. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #1

    Pricing from 5 years ago is no longer "typical". Labor availability is very scarce right now. Materials are up A LOT! Copper wire, for example, is about three times the cost it was about a year and a half ago. Steel is up maybe double. Lumber is up. Pretty much everything is up, and often a large amount. As a result of all these cost increases AND the tight labor market, quotes to do just about anything are going to be a lot more than they were a few years ago.

    BTW, not only are prices higher, but lead times are lots longer now too. It's not uncommon to have a months-long wait to get materials in many cases, so keep that in mind when planning your project.


    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #30

      Probably the most accurate response to a "How much should I pay for..." question, whether it involves something building related, buying a house or car, getting a neighborhood kid to babysit, hiring a hit-man to kill your business partner, or really anything else is: "Whatever someone will do it for".

      For better or worse we all live in an economy largely organized around free market capitalism. The price of goods and services are largely unrestrained, and fluctuate based on supply and demand. With very few exceptions no one is obliged to price their goods or labour based on what others think is fair.

  2. user-2310254 | | #2

    What Zephr7 said.

    I had an electrician quote a project, and his price was 4 times higher than what he had charged for very similar work about 4 years ago. (I found another electrician who was much more reasonable. So shop around, but keep in mind that you often get what you pay for.)

    I just had two windows installed after a 3 month wait, and the price was about twice what I would have typically expected. Same story on appliances. We've been quoted wait times of 3 months to 3 years!

  3. LBrittBrattleboro | | #3

    Thanks for the responses. How hard is it to install something like this yourself if you are handy?

    1. Expert Member
      Akos | | #8

      What exactly are you looking to install? Is there already two air handlers you are looking to replace?

      Some installs can be relatively straight forward if you do a bit of reading. You can look at something like the MrCool Universal DIY unit. This is a hyper heat cold climate ducted heat pump that can replace most standard furnaces. The lineset is precharged and has quick connect fittings so you don't have to do any vacuum or pressure testing.

      Generally for HVAC, what I find works the best is to only have the HVAC tech quote installing the equipment. Power, drains, mounting bracket and ducting is installed by someone else.

      1. Expert Member
        NICK KEENAN | | #9

        I suspect we may be entering a golden age of DIY HVAC. The combination of high prices, labor shortages plus the way the Internet makes it easier to shop and learn will motivate a lot of people to go for it themselves.

        1. brian_wiley | | #22

          I think you’re right, DC. That was ultimately the decision I came to in replacing our system. Between some of the articles here and YouTube, it seems like there’s more than enough information to at least consider doing it independently .

      2. aunsafe2015 | | #33

        Wow, I had never heard of this before, but a DIY ducted hyper-heat heat pump that doesn't require a nitrogen test or vacuum sounds interesting.

        Any feedback on these units so far? Would one reasonably expect to get 5+ years of life out of it?

        1. Expert Member
          Akos | | #34

          There are a couple of threads on here of people installing these. They seem to be pretty good.

          I don't see why these won't last as long as any AC unit. It will never be as well sealed as a brazed connection, so you might need to top up the refrigerant eventually.

    2. brian_wiley | | #23

      There is another QA thread here if you search for MR Cool Universal that goes over the process and considerations of installing one yourself.

  4. user-723121 | | #4

    HVAC is a skilled profession. If brazing is required to make connections, experience is invaluable. A lot of heating and cooling problems are due to poor installation.

  5. bongo30 | | #5

    I just had a quote for 2 zones, 2 floors, 2,880 sq ft in NY. Contractor grossly oversized and quoted me over $60k (Mitsubishi). Needless to say, this is so unreasonable that we are going to rethink our plan.

  6. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #6

    Ductwork is often custom made for the project, and requires both some skill and sheet metal bending/shearing equipment. You can use some standard parts, but you probably won't be able to put in an optimal design that way. Note that mechanical supply houses are notorious for not wanting to sell parts to non-licensed individuals -- even trades with licenses other than "mechanical". This can make it difficult to purchase a forced air furnace, for example.

    If you're planning on a mini/multi split system, keep in mind that refrigerant work needs a license, so you can't even purchase the refrigerant to charge the system without the required license. It is often possible to purchase the system itself, physically install the equipment, then run the lines yourself but have a contractor come out to evacuate (using a vacuum pump). and charge the refrigerant lines. That might be an option for you if you want to do a partial DIY installation to try to save some money.


  7. brian_wiley | | #7

    I’ll second what Bill said about supply houses not selling to anyone that doesn’t have a mechanical license. I did my own duct work, and it was really difficult to even get the correct sheet metal. I can’t imagine the difficulty of getting some of the more specific fittings and specialty items.

  8. LBrittBrattleboro | | #10

    Thanks for all the input!! So we just asked the guy that quoted us the $15,000 price if he could break down his estimate in more detail so we could better understand and his response was " We don't break down estimates"

    What kind of answer is that??? The initial estimate he gave was literally just a final price, no details whatsoever.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #11


      Presuming that the scope of work and equipment necessary were agreed to prior to seeking the estimate, let me play devils advocate here.

      The contractor has told you what they charge to do the work you want done. You are free to accept or reject that estimate. Should giving an estimate mean you have to open your business practices up to the customer so they can see what your overhead, labour charges, mark-ups and profit margins are? Does any other retail or service business you deal with provide that sort of breakdown? Are you paying any remuneration for the time the contractor put into preparing the estimate?

      1. AC200 | | #13

        I would tend to agree with this. The important thing is the scope of work. Once that is clear, a final price is all that is required. Clarification questions are always good so both sides are clear what's in and what's out.

        I'm reviewing quotes now for framing, foundation, window packages, etc and some of them are in the hundreds of $K. It's a one line price. And yes quotes, are much higher now than a year ago. If you can wait and postpone, it should improve, if not, you just have to make the best of it and find a reasonable contractor.

        1. Expert Member
          MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #16

          Allan C,

          To broaden the discussion around this topic a bit, here is the preamble I include when I send out the Instructions to Bidders for a project:

          Thank you for taking the time to price this project. Preparing bids is a time consuming and expensive process for which often the bidder sees no return. Consequently please be assured there is no "preferred bidder". You have been invited to bid because of your reputation and the high quality of your past projects - not to provide comparative prices - and should have every expectation of being selected.

          1. AC200 | | #18

            That's good idea Malcolm. Even though that's how I approach the bids, it's always good to reinforce it. I'm going to borrow your language. I mean who the time and energy to sort through so many bids?

            On the flipside I have taken the time to send out a customized spec sheet with my working drawings on more complex bids like windows and HVAC only for the contractor/supplier to ignore it and quote quickly just off the drawings. I am usually asking for extras and upgrades. The responses I get are really non compliant. I understand they are really busy to begin with but they are making me decide to make us both invest more time to modify the bids and are frankly wasting more of their time by ignoring the spec sheet. I haven't figured out the answer to that yet even though I make a point of noting the spec sheet and verbally tell them in any phone calls.

          2. Expert Member
            MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #21

            Allan C,

            "On the flipside I have taken the time to send out a customized spec sheet with my working drawings on more complex bids like windows and HVAC only for the contractor/supplier to ignore it and quote quickly just off the drawings"

            Don't you just love the boom times? I can't wait for things to slow down a bit. No recession thanks, but a period of calm would be nice.

      2. LBrittBrattleboro | | #14

        I think if that's what it takes to make a customer feel comfortable working with you then you should make an attempt to satisfy them, even if you think it's unreasonable. Being unwilling to give even a basic break-down of costs makes you seem shady.

        We have had free quotes given for 2 projects since we bought the house - roof repairs and remodeling our bathroom. Both of these included what I would consider the basic details (labor costs, materials cost, estimated hours of work) and the roofer even broke down the exact materials to be used and what he would charge for each.

        1. Expert Member
          MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #15

          "I think if that's what it takes to make a customer feel comfortable working with you then you should make an attempt to satisfy them, even if you think it's unreasonable."

          I guess we will just have to profoundly disagree on this. A potential client who approached our relationship with that sense of entitlement would raise red flags for me.

        2. AC200 | | #17

          I don't understand how a line item breakdown is required in a fixed price bid and not providing one could be considered shady. What would you even do with a breakdown? Try to cherry pick between bids? All that matters is the scope, price and quality of delivery including schedule.

          If you are contracting on time and materials and are taking all risks, then yes a line item should be estimated.

        3. Expert Member
          BILL WICHERS | | #19

          Let me add another possibility here: I do a lot of specialty work. My "quotes" also involve a lot of engineering, since my customers are usually asking me to solve some problem they have. I have to do a lot of work to figure out what to quote prior to quoting. I have had customers take my quotes and use them as bid specs before, so they have other contractors bid against me when I'm the one that did the design work. I had one particular customer that did that multiple times before I figured out what was going on -- and I wasn't getting any of the work.

          After that one customer, I no longer provide as much detail in my proposals. I also put a line in my proposals that basically says that use of the proposal for competitive bids is prohibited (probably won't really accomplish much, but I can hope :-). This is a risk of being a specialty contractor such as myself that does both design AND implementation of that design. I'm OK doing just the design, and then bidding out the work for my customer, but that has to be agreed to IN WRITING prior to me doing anything. With those contracts, my contract is for design work, usually on an hourly basis, then "cost plus" for the construction part which means I bill a percentage of the total of the project in addition to my design fee. This is because I act as a specialized GC and manage the project too.

          When you ask a contractor to bid a job and you don't have a bid spec or plans, the contractor is doing design work AND bidding to build whatever they come up with. If you ask them to break it down, they are giving you details that are part of their work that they may never be paid for. A breakdown of materials and labor is probably reasonable to ask for (something like "can you just tell me how much of this is labor and how much is materials?", getting two dollar amounts as an answer), but if you want to see a full materials list or something like that, it looks like you want the contractor to design a kit for you that you'll then try to build yourself. If you built the "kit", using the contractor's detailed bid as a "design", you are essentially stealing from that contractor, by using the design that was done using the contractor's knowledge and experience, and the contractor was not compensated for that. If that's what your contractor is worried about, I would have to agree with the contractor -- your request in that case would not be reasonable.

          Remember that contractors, and most all of the expert members on GBA (and probably a lot of the other frequent contributors too), in some way make their livings in the trades or in related fields. We all have to look at these projects from a buisness perspective, since our livlihoods depend on it. Try to remember that when working with any contractors, and try to see things from their perspective. If you understand their side, and you keep that in mind when working through your project, contractors will appreciate you're being reasonable and are likely to be more helpful.


          1. AC200 | | #24


            "A breakdown of materials and labor is probably reasonable to ask for (something like "can you just tell me how much of this is labor and how much is materials?", getting two dollar amounts as an answer), "

            I'm not even sure how useful that is to most clients. Contractors buy materials for same cost (unless they are massive developers). Assuming scope of work is the same, the split just asks them to expose where they decide to make their margins. Some may mark up materials and some may chose to pass them through at cost and charge a higher labor rate. These are not apples to apples and a typical homeowner can't make good use of the numbers.

            Where it does help is identify if a contractor has made a mistake in estimating the labor hours , either too high or too low, but it takes an experienced homeowner to discuss it with them, productively.

            A bit off topic, but one practice I wish contractors would stop is throwing out super high bids when they are really busy under the premise that if the client accepts they will find a way to accommodate them because the profit is so good. I wish they would just say, I don't have the bandwidth to take on your job now, but if you can wait until xxxx, we can bid it based on that.

          2. Expert Member
            BILL WICHERS | | #29

            Not all contractors pay the same. Discount schedules at supply houses is based on your annual purchase volume, so smaller contractors will usually pay more for stuff than larger contractors. This isn't a universal rule though. I spec and bid a lot of work that is installed by other contractors, and I have a few electrical supply houses that give me good discounts even though I'm not buying as much as the big guys, but the supply houses know I bid out a lot of work, so the supply houses get a lot of buisness indirectly from me. I'm also friendly with the branch managers and they sometimes call me to ask about "wierd" things customers ask for. An example I remember was when I happened to be at one of my supply houses when they were about to ship out stainless steel faceplates to a customer that specifically requested non-magnetic plates (probably for a medical facility). I helped them avoid a problem with their customer by advising them to check the plates with a magnet before shipping them, because some of the common stainless steel alloys used for electrical boxes and plates are magnetic. The plates at the supply house were magnetic, so they had to order in special ones for their customer. The supply house was VERY appreciative that I helped them avoid shipping incorrect product to their customer and having to deal with a return and the hassle of reordering and reshipping product.

            I agree that for a typical end user, a labor/materials breakdown doesn't really do much aside from seeing if a contractor is over or underestimating labor, or has way different materials included in their bid. If you need specifics, write your own bid spec -- specify things you want -- then you'll get more comparable quotes. When I'm working as a consulting engineer, I'll often get asked to write a bid spec, in which case I detail manufacturers and part numbers for all the "important" equipment (circuit breakers and panels are "important", brand of wire or conduit not so much, for example). The more detail I write into the spec, the more comparable the quotes are. Contractors prefer to work this way too, since they know they are all bidding on the same job, so it's a fair bid process for them. Homeowners don't usually work this way though, and would need to contract an architect or engineer first, which adds significant additional expense to their projects.


        4. nynick | | #25

          It's really easy. Don't hire that contractor and go find one that will give you the kind of quote you want.

        5. jasonknowles | | #26

          In full disclosure I am an HVAC technician.

          Imagine if one went to a restaurant, selected a steak dinner, and then expected a breakdown of price such as what did they pay for the meat? How much for the condiments and seasoning? What is the labor cost (kitchen staff, servers, bussers, hostess, managers, bookeepers, etc.)

          What would be the point? To negotiate the price of the raw goods? Or to argue that the cook gets paid too much? If the profit for the restaurant is an issue, how would they still be in business when you want to come back for another meal?

          Of course if the price of the sirloin is too much how about chicken fried steak or maybe a hamburger?

          I have certainty selected more or less expensive meals depending on my budget or other factors.

          1. brian_wiley | | #31

            I’m with you there. Trying to nickel and dime someone over the small stuff never ends well.

            I think one thing I’m curious about though is why there seems to be such a disparity between quoted prices for furnaces/AC and ducted heat pumps? From the outside looking in it seems as though they should be quoted the same assuming the equipment cost is the same. Both have air handlers, both have an outdoor unit, but the heat pump was quoted around $4,000 more over gas on a 2-ton unit that, according to a few different internet suppliers, costs within a couple hundred dollars of one another.

            Is there something fundamentally different about a HP versus a furnace install that I’m unaware of? Or does it just fall outside the norm for my area and no one wants to mess with the added complexity of doing something they don’t often do?

    2. severaltypesofnerd | | #35

      If you got a scope of work and a price, that's all you can expect. And keep in mind the guy may have loads of work and is quoting high prices because he can. Lots of people have retired, others are still on reduced hours due to Covid, fewer tradespeople are entering the business.

      You can legitimately ask "is there a change we can make to the scope of work that would lower the cost"?

  9. nynick | | #12

    I know it's becoming a trite response, but the pandemic has changed everything. Prices have gone sky high, workers are overworked (or claiming to be), everyone is "busy" and nobody feels like they have to compete to get your business anymore. It's a sellers market for just about every goods and services.
    Still, there are good subs out there who will give you a fair price and do a good job. You need to search around your market for recommendations and referrals. Just talking to one neighbor doesn't do it. They're all busy and can basically name their price. You just have to find the right guy.
    Good luck.

    1. severaltypesofnerd | | #28

      As well, covid recoveries took labor hours off the market so to speak in large numbers. Less clear but definitely large are lingering "long" effects. High unemployment payments let some people sit at home even when construction work was available. High stock prices mean many have money to spend, and a desire to spend it on homes.

      Many factors.

      Don't discount loss of productive hours to long covid as one of them.

  10. irene3 | | #20

    Doesn't sound that out of line to me, though admittedly I am in a high cost-of-living area. Ours was $13.5K before tax several years ago (it was a heat pump with the air handler connected to the old furnace ductwork, not a ductless system, if that matters). The bid included a description of the scope of work and had separate lines for electrical work and permit fees.

  11. PBP1 | | #27

    With a little searching around and back-of-the-envelope calculations, you should be able to get a good estimate for equipment/services and how much profit is reasonable.

    Be aware that trade secrets (whether in suppliers, labor, tools, techniques, etc.) are assets of the contractor. If someone has a "secret" way of increasing profit, they're under no obligation to share (unless you want to sign-off on/be bound by a non-disclosure agreement).

    Running a HOA, I was obliged to get at least three quotes for every job above $X, similar to most municipalities. To make that a bit easier/more informed, I dug through public city records to see quotes for jobs and then selected bidders based in part on what I saw. Municipalities contract out all types of work, from small jobs to big, and are generally required to be transparent by law (noting some quotes can include redactions).

    As a reference point, 5 years ago, in new construction, a multi-zone heat pump with three ducted units (line sets, sheet metal ducts and plumbed condensate drains) had a total install cost under $15,000.

  12. user-6623302 | | #32

    Twenty years ago, I designed and installed a UNICO system for my home in RI. I bought all the materials and equipment from local supply houses. I never have a problem doing that. I had a plumber do the water lines. I did everything else including the electrical. The air handler had an ac coil in it which was not hooked up until maybe 5 years ago. If you have some skill, are brave and can read, you can do a lot of the work on your own system. You can sub out a lot of the work yourself. You can use the same services the HVAC guys use. See what the building official requires. The only problem is if you have unexpected issues. Remember, be brave. Check out Heating Lot of helpful advice. So, more time than money, go for it.

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