Friday, January 27, 2012

Are Home Warranties Really Worth Buying?

This is my objective opinion as a contractor. I have no experience from the contractee side. I have dealt with many different home warranty companies, and one seems to stand above the rest for me.  First American Home Buyers Protection is my favorite because they seem to be the most fair for both the customer and the contractor.  I have been doing more service calls for them than all of the others combined.  You may ask why I can have an objective opinion since I work for them.  Fair enough question and I am prepared to answer that. I have consistently tried to put myself in peoples positions when it comes to service companies.
This is, of course, because I am one but I want to always evaluate the value to the customer and not just to the contractor.  I have been on many calls that only took two different sevice calls in one year and the whole year's premium would be used up.  A home warranty generally protects your cost by the fact that you only have to pay a small service fee per call and the home warranty covers the rest.  Often, the service fee is only about half of the smallest service call. 
When choosing a home warranty, always consider their claim coverages by checking with someone who has the same company and call them and ask them their experience with the company and how well do they pay claims. From my side of things, as the contractor, "First American" pays in a very timely fashion. They also rarely turn down paying for repairs.  I worked for the some of the other home warranty companies, and they seem to have tried everything to deny a claim.  The fact is sometimes with certain home warranty companies, I wonder what they will cover. Home warranty companies are essentionally insurance companies and the same thing applies.  It's not just how cheap is the premium, but also how well do they pay their claims.  This is why I say that First American is one of the best home warranty companies and my favorite one to work with. The only thing that really bites about home warranty companies is:  They are the ones to make the decision as to whether to repair or replace. Most often it is always to repair and repair and repair.  Also though, when it comes to replace, you are at their mercy as to what type of component they will replace with.  Most often they use the least expensive item they can buy. There is usually one option given you if you do not want to have the replacement item be chosen for you. Most companies offer what is called a buy out. This is the cost of the replacement item including the labor will be paid to you in a check and you can contract anyone you would like to put in whatever component you would like. Of course, you will likely be adding more than twice the buyout amount to put in a quality item including the labor.  But one must remember, any amount that you get is more than what you would have to take off of the bill had you had no home warranty company. Often, I find that it is a very good deal to have a home warranty especially if it is a good company.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Heat Pumps 101. A homeowner's guide.

First let me say that homeownership brings enough with it without having to worry about the mechanical parts. Unfortunately, no one in the buying process sits you down for an education on the workings of the heating system.  Most of the time they are quite simple, however in the case of a heat pump, (air source which is most common) there are things that you need to know.  In fact on my first call to a heat pump owner, I generally give them this short little infomercial about how they operate. Most of them are appreciative to know how they work so... here is that class. The first thing you need to know is that a heat pump system is like two integrated heating systems in one.  For us in the north at least.  The first thing that happens is a call from the thermostat for first stage heat which is the heat pump. Now depending on the temperature, this will try to satisfy that call for heat.  If it cannot because of the outside temperature or the heat loss being too great it will, after a one degree drop in temperature, call for second stage heat which is in most cases an electric strip heater. Similar to a toaster oven element. This is usually when it starts to blow much warmer air and this then satisfies the thermostat until the next call for heat.  That is when the whole process starts over.  One of the big myths that homeowners go for is the setback thermostats will save you money.  This is true if you have a system that is not an air source heat pump. A heat pump has to run for a long time to add enough heat for the house and as the temperature drops outside, the heat pump produces less heat. This is why it needs a backup system.  The electric strip heaters are that back up system.  A setback thermostat attempts to drop the temperature for a specified amount of time and then suddenly brings the temperature up at a specific time. When the thermostat jumps up two degrees or more it skips right to the electric strip heaters bypassing the efficient heat that comes from the heat pump.  One other part about heat pumps is that the thermostat often has both auxillary heat and emergency heat which are both confusing to homeowners and often give the wrong impression.  Auxillary heat is simply the same strip heaters working as a backup after the heat pump could not get the job done.  However, when you set the thermostat to emergency heat, it bypasses the running of the heat pump altogether and goes straight to the electric backup.  Note: When the outdoor temperature is below 20 degrees you may as well set the thermostat to emergency if it is not setup to automatically do that, because at the temperature you are using more energy between the defrost cycles and running the heat pump than you would to just skip it and turn on the electric back up. But you will want to remember to turn the thermostat back to normal heat after it gets above 20 degrees again.  The most common complaint with a heat pump is that they blow cold air for a long time.  This is not technically true, but practically true, meaning the air temperature feels cold because it could be as cool as 75 to 80 degrees which certainly feels cold but technically is warm.  Since you are only adding a small amount of heat to the house at a time at the lower temperatures a heat pump will run a very long time.
That is another complaint I get often especially when homeowners have grown up in a gas furnace heated home. It seems to run all the time. While this is not technically true again, it seems to them to be the case.  The fact is that in order for heat pumps to do their job, they must run a long time. This does not mean that they are using more energy.  Actually what uses more energy is to skip the heat pump running and turn on the strip heaters. Those will make your electric meter spin really fast. The heat pump is basically an air conditioner in reverse. Taking the heat from outside and bringing it inside. Even though there is not as much heat outside in the winter, a heat pump can use what is there down to a specific point. One more thing to keep in mind, keeping the thermostat at a constant level is the most effective way to use a heat pump.  If you are constantly turning it up and down, you will be going in and out of auxillary heat instead of just using the heat pump. 
    As a side note: I personally like installing what I call a hybrid sytem. What that is- is a heat pump with a gas furnace as a back up. That way you get the efficiency with a less expensive backup. Of course everyone doesn't have that as an option if you do not have natural gas.

These are my thoughts and small educational quips. If you live in the North Indy area or anywhere in the Anderson area, I am a professional heating and air conditioning contractor that can service your system. My company is McConnell Plumbing, Heating, & Air Conditioning.