My fiancé and I recently found out that our monstrous 50 year old 255K BTU furnace (70% efficiency in its day) has cracks in 4 out of 6 of the heat exchangers and was emitting carbon monoxide (yikes!). They no longer make residential furnaces of that size, so deciding how to replace it has been an exercise in frustration and confusion. We have gotten 5 separate estimates, all providing vastly different opinions as to what should be done to replace our furnace and adequately and most efficiently heat our home. How is one to know who to trust and believe? My head is spinning from all of the different advice we've been given (which I'll detail further down in this post)
To complicate things further, our home was custom built by the previous owner, and has a very unique open floor plan on the upstairs level, which constitutes about 2600 sq feet of the home. There are 11 registers and 2 large returns on the upstairs level (although both my office and our dining room have NO registers and we've been told they can't be added). The downstairs level accounts for approximately 600 square feet and contains our family room (which has a single register in it)and a guest bedroom with no registers in it.
The entire length of the house, on both levels, has floor to ceiling windows facing south that provide a breathtaking panoramic view of the bay. However, they are older windows, with metal frames, and are very inefficient -- the house loses a lot of heat when it is cold through those windows, yet when the sun is out the vast southern exposure beams through the house, heating it sometimes to the point where I literally feel like a dog locked in a car on a hot summer day. We are in the hills, and it can get windy, meaning it can get super cold at night. Yet when the sun is shining, it actually heats up to the point that by mid-afternoon I'm opening windows because it's too warm -- even in November (although once the rainy season starts it will be cold all the time -- I know this from our first month in the house, last February, wherein we got a $550 PG&E bill that almost gave me a heart attack... -- after that I had tried not running the heat, but even with wool sweaters my fingers were still too cold to type and you can't operate a touchpad with gloves on..)
We have a home warranty, which should cover the cost of replacing the furnace, although it turns out that the list of uncovered items is much larger than what is covered.. The home warranty sent out Company A to provide an estimate for the furnace replacement. They came back with the suggestion of replacing our 70% efficient 255K BTU furnace with an 80% 100K BTU furnace to the tune of $6300, $2100 of which we would have to pay out of pocket. As we were shocked both by the price, and by the size of the unit they were suggesting (how could this adequately heat our home?), I did a little researching on the Better Business Bureau website and found Company A had several unresolved complaints filed against them. Not good.
I decided to get some estimates of my own, and had 3 separate companies come out to the house. Companies B & C each suggested getting a single 80% efficiency 155K BTU unit. However, we were concerned whether even this would provide adequate heating AND we were informed both by the home warranty company and by Company E (who provided estimate number 5 as a 2nd opinion on behalf of the home warranty company) that it is illegal to install a furnace larger than 125K BTU in a residential home in California. Is this true? If so, I'm even more bewildered as to who to trust, as Company C is Sears - a brand I thought was highly reputable.
Then there was Company D, which is a member of the BBB, has no complaints filed against them, and is also an authorized installer for Home Depot. This company provided the most thorough examination of our home and took into account the materials it was made of, the layout, and all of the windows, in addition to the square footage, in making their recommedation. They suggested getting two seperate 80% efficient 100K BTU furnaces and using a "twinning kit" to make the units operate as one, providing a total of 200K BTU to heat the home. In addition to seem the most knowledgable of the contractors thus far, they also had worked with our home warranty company in the past (and is only no longer on the list of approved contractors b/c they didn't send their latest proof of insurance over, which they are now doing so that we might be able to have the home warranty company authorize their doing the repairs)
When we called the home warranty company and told them of Company D's recommendations, the home warranty rep who answered told us that twinning is not a proper furnace installation, and could actually cause our home to blow up! The home warranty company said they wanted to send another company out of their choice for a 2nd opinion (the abovementioned Company E).
When Company E showed up, they told us they would recommend putting in two 80% efficient 90K BTU units -- that were twinned! We told them what the home warranty company said about twinning, and they said that was inaccurate and that they did twinning systems all the time and it was the only way to heat a home of our size, and that the same home warranty company had previously authorized such repairs in the past.
Yet when we next spoke with the home warranty company, we found out that Company E had actually sent in a completely different job estimate to them, with recommendations of a zoned system with a single 125K 80% efficient BTU unit for the upstairs, and a 75K 80% eff. unit for the downstairs. As such, there would be extensive ductwork modification that would need to be done to zone the system, leaving us with almost $2900 in uncovered costs.
(thanks for your patience if you're still reading this far!)
By this point I felt like my head was spinning, and could not understand why the contractor who came to our home would tell us they would be installing 2 twinned 90K BTU units, only to then send an estimate to the home warranty company for an entirely different job. The home warranty rep suggested I call Copmany E and ask why there was a discrepancy between what they'd told us and what they told the home warranty company, and to explain why they'd want to do a zoned system over a twinned system.
I'm already beyond 'house poor', so if I'm going to be spending this much money I want to know that the job will be done right, that the house won't "blow up", and that we will actually have enough heat for our home (particularly the upstairs level)
So I called Company E, and was told that the estimater said he thought it would be more efficient to do the zoned system. When I expressed my concern as to whether the single 125k BTU unit could really heat the 2600 sq foot open floor plan windows everywhere upstairs of the house, which had 11 registers, not to mention the fact that the downstairs level only has a single register and no returns I was told they'd have to call the guy who did the estimate and then get back to me. They later called me back and said "Yeah, he said you could do it as twinned". I then asked why did he submit it as being a zoned system to the home warranty company, to which I didn't really get an adequate response. I also could not get an adequate answer over which would actually be the better choice for my home, but that if I went with the twinning it would only save me $235 for the install of a second thermostat (how can that be? wouldn't all the extra ductwork modification needed for zoning drop the price down if the system were twinned?)
I am looking to cut costs b/c I'm pretty broke right now, but not at the expense of safety, comfort level, or decreasing the value of the house by not getting the right furnace installed. Meanwhile we have no heat, and I've no idea which (if any) of these contractors I can trust.
This is my first home, and I've been told by numerous friends who have been homeowners for far longer that it is *very* difficult to find a good HVAC contractor - and of course, no one had any they could recommend. I feel like I just don't have enough information to possibly make a decision as to whether to go with a twinned system, or a zoned system, which contractor to choose, etc.
I literally am desperate for some advice from those who are more knowledgable regarding heating issues. TIA for the help, and also for having gotten this far in my huge rambling anxious post!!!