ac advice

I turned on the AC today and nothing comes out of it. I was kind of expecting that. Last winter, during a snow storm, some branches from a nearby tree fell onto my house and onto the AC. It was in the middle of the night, and I heard them falling and I also heard a hissing noise, as in gas leaking. I thought it might have been the AC, but I couldn't detect anything under 2 feet of snow.
So today I go and check the outdoor unit, and I did find a small hole in one of the copper pipes, between the unit and the house wall.
I called several local contractors, and I got some shocking prices: just to come to my house, one would charge $110. All would charge between $75-100 for the first 1/2 hour and then in increments of 1/4 hours. All but two didn't want to tell me anything by phone. One said that the hole can be fixed, but the system would need also to be cleaned/de-contaminated (he may have used another word), and that I'd be looking at about $1000 job. The second contractor who did talk to me, said the same thing about the repair but he also said that he would recommend changing the AC alltogether, because since it's been so long since the leak occurred, the system may be beyond repair. A fix may not work at all, or may work in the short run, but eventually the compressor would get burned from the moisture/dirt that contaminated the system. He recommended a Trane system, and a rough estimate would be some $5000.
So given the unexpected importance of this problem, I have to ask for some advice here. I imagine the interest of any contractor is, of course, to sell me stuff - the more expensive, the better. I feel it's kind of ridiculous to throw away an entire AC system for a leak and a refill. It's not a swiss watch afterall.
In case I do have to replace the entire system, I spent the better part of today researching the various options. What I have now is a 3-ton Goodman, probably old (the house was built in 72). The contractor who recommended Trane said a Goodman vs. a Trane is like a Chevrolet vs. a Cadillac. Truth is, I drive a Dodge, not a Cadillac, nor can I afford one.
This site http://www.consumersearch.com/www/house_and_home/central-air-conditioners/index.html rates the following AC systems: carrier ($5000), Bryant ($3000), Rheem ($2500) and Amana ($2100). Nothing about Trane. Other sites say Lennox is the best, by far, etc. This other site rates AC units by popularity: http://www.splise.com/Air+Conditioner/category_2482.html Carrier Sanyo Trane Goodman Lennox,
then Bryant at a distant 10, Reem on 12, Amana on 16 - i.e. very different than the first site I mentioned.
So now I'm confused. I want to know in the first place if I'm being ripped off by the local contractors. Secondly, which AC should I buy, if I need to? I want a 3-3.5 ton, 13/14 SEER, reliable, 2-speed, and not too noisy. I could hear my old Goodman, but didn't bother me - no more than my neighbors'.
In dire need of cool air...
Thanks!
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Amadeus W. M. wrote:

I will not try to advise you on one vs another brand. Rather I will suggest first that you do really need to replace the whole unit. You may be surprised at how much you will save on operating cost with the modern more efficient unit.
I will suggest that you should not worry so much about what brand you are getting, what you really should worry about is the contractor who will be choosing it and installing it for you. A good contractor will not choose an over priced or junk equipment, and no matter how good the equipment is, a poor tech can make it work poorly.
Ask around of your neighbors who may have had recent replacements friends co-works etc and find someone you can trust and let them pick the equipment that is right for your specific needs. A good indication of a good tech is one who comes out and does a survey of your home and the cooling needs first and does not just rely on seeing a 2 ton unit and replace it with the same.
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How old is the existing unit and what's the SEER rating?
Where do you live and ow much do you use your air conditioning?
Without knowing that info I can't advise. If it's old and inefficient, you may as well get a new one if you use it a lot. You will save moeny in electricity in the long run and most likely get a tax credit. But without more specific info we can't say. If it were mine I'd pay one of the HVAC techs who lives in my neighborhood to fix it (for cash), but that's just me.
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On Tue, 30 May 2006 18:53:54 -0700, scott21230 wrote:

The tech who recommended changing the unit was supposed to call me back today with this info. I gave him the serial number and the model of the unit. He said off the top of his head that it was a 3-ton unit, but he said he had to look up the age in some database.
I'm not even sure this unit has a SEER number. Unlikely if it was installed back in '72 when the house was built. It might be newer though. As soon as I have this info, I'll post here.

Annapolis, MD. The area is unreasonably expensive because it's right between Baltimore and Washington. I do/should use the AC for the better part of the summer. Till 1-2 weeks ago we were freezing at night, and now we're boiling.

You mean hire a tech neighbor and bypass the AC company? Not a bad idea, I'll ask around. Thanks!
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On Wed, 31 May 2006 01:28:50 +0000, Joseph Meehan wrote:

These are all good points, and I know sooner or later I'll have to upgrade the appliances one by one, in this old house. I've already replaced the refrigerator a couple of months after I bought the house, and the next on the list are the windows, unless some emergency comes up, like the AC. (That idiot house inspector, he screwed me!).
Of course a newer, energy efficient system is better than what I have now. I have no problem upgrading for this reason (although now it wasn't exactly the best time for that), but I have a hard time understanding how a simple leak can warrant a complete system change.
Also, regarding which brand, I've seen brands for under $1000 and brands over $5000 (with comparable specs), and, as with anything else, I imagine you get what you pay for.
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How did he screw you?
FWIW, I don't think a '72 house is very old. My last house was 1947. My son's house is 1760. Benedict Arnold lived just down the street from him.
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Amadeus W. M. wrote:

That simple leak in a system that is as old as yours appears to be may be just the first of a line of cost that are soon going to add up to the cost of a new system. Now add in the energy savings of a new system and it is a no brainer to buy the new system rather than try to keep the old one patched together. Consider it an opportunity.

Actually that is you get no more than you pay for, but you sure can pay for more than you get. :-)
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Amadeus W. M. wrote:

old one. Lets say it cost you $100 a month last summer. This summer, with higher energy prices it could cost you $120 per month. If a new, more efficient one would cost you $80 per month to run you save $40 per month. If it costs you $5K for the privileged of saving $40/month for max 5 months a year it will take you 25 years to reach a payback! That doesn't make sense to me. On the other hand, if it costs you $500 to fix what you have now and $500-1000 per year for the next couple of years then of course it would make sense to get new. Thats what Joseph M is saying. There is no telling.
What I would do - Fix the leak and re-charge the system. Nothing more. No 'upgrades', etc. I would also insist on a guarantee against leaks for the rest of the summer. Its very possible that you have one big leak and one or more small, hard to detect, leaks. You want any and all leaks fixed now. Spend as little as possible to get OK results and then start saving for a new unit.
Also - Don't get into credit card trouble over AC its not really a necessity of life, we CAN live without it.
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On Wed, 31 May 2006 01:28:50 GMT, "Joseph Meehan"

they're all alike, and he may well have been here before and have already concluded that the original AC was the right size. If not these 100 houses, other townhouses like mine.
I don't want to be hard on a tech and reject his company if this would be ok.
For that matter, the AC takes the house from say, 85 down to what's comfortable in a half hour**. That seems pretty short to me, so it must be big enough now, right?
How would I know it's not *too* big? Presumably the builder would not have wasted money, but shoudl I be concerned that what I have now is too big?
**Maybe it takes longer to get to 70, but it does get there before I notice that it's taking a long time.

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Typical of any service call in any trade today. Fifteen minute service call on a water softener was $98 plus a $120 part. Boliler service I pay $98/hr plus an hour travel at $40. My plumber works cheap and is $65 minimum.

Sounds about right.
but he also said that he would recommend changing the AC

Sound about right also. Contamination can easily kill an AC system. I tis expensive to repair and recharge.

True. Swiss watches are easier to open, clean, and lubricate. Soldering on tubing for an AC requires it be be filled with an inert gas first, to prevent oxidation. Many years ago I worked for a company that build AC coils. Every component was brazed with nitrogen inside, put into an ultrasonic cleaner, leak tested and sealed. Cleanliness is critical.

Goodman is low end. Personally, I'd not waste money repairing a 34 year old AC. It may work another year or two, it may die the next day and have nothing at all to do withg the repair. Won't you be pissed the when the company will not fix it under any warrranty. It is also using much more energy than a new model. .
I'm not up on the latest features and brands so I won't attempty to say what is best. Very important is the size (if yours is adequate, do not go bigger) and a good install.
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And an ongoing need for professional caretakers with attitudes.

You might replace it with 7 $100 5500 SEER 10 window ACs and occupancy sensors (eg X-10 hardware) to run them as needed, with better zoning and large savings on energy bills. If one breaks, the others keep working.
Nick
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On Tue, 30 May 2006 20:27:05 -0400, "Amadeus W. M."

You and I must have gone to the same school of life. This is something I would do, but the better idea would have been to test the AC as soon as we had a 70 degree day (or less?) and call someone when it wasn't HOT out. I'm pretty sure they have work in May, but not as much as when it's over 90.
I don't know if that means they'll be cheaper, but they'll have time to come out quicker, etc.
With the hissing sound making it pretty darn clear that there's a problem, I wonder if the AC guy should have been called as soon as the snow melted. I personally don't know if it makes a difference if it sits 3 days with a hole or 3 months, or if the more humid days now (we've had maybe one or two) cause more problem than dry winter days. Do they?
Also, in 23 years here, last year was the first time I remembered to test my furnace before it was cold out. So there's hope for me yet.

They repair swiss watches too.
I can't say about new versus old, but I do know that many people love new. At work we had AC, but still I put a little fan on my desk. It was from 1930 or 40 maybe, and had one blade (two if you count both ends) All steel,black, removed I think from some factory machinery, where it was placed to blow on the operator. It worked fine. But without asking me or saying a thing, others in the office bought me a new fan, I think just because they thought I looked poor and pitiful with my old fan. The new fan was ok too, but no better. And it took up 2 or more times as much space.
I do use the new fan at work now, because I found the old fan was the only small enough to sit on my window sill, above my bed. I run it slow and it gives a wonderful light breeze over me.
BTW, I'm in Baltimore, not far from you, and last night with the window open was lovely. Yesterday day the upstairs was hot, but tolerable with no shirt and short pants. But today it is fine. (I found the switch for the fan next to my computer desk, and that breeze is lovely too.)

Dire? Open the windows, and get fans, one for each room you spend time in. :)

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On Tue, 30 May 2006 20:27:05 -0400, Amadeus W. M. wrote:

http://www.consumersearch.com/www/house_and_home/central-air-conditioners/index.html
Thanks to all who have replied so far. More questions. If I do decide to replace the AC, can I only change the outdoor unit, or do I have to change both? I imagine it'd be better to change both, as in changing all 4 tires of the car, not just the front ones, but is it mandatory? On the car, it's good, but not mandatory to change all 4 tires.
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Amadeus W. M. wrote:

the system, but there's no technical impossibility involved.
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