Friends often ask me which brand of airconditioner they ought to buy, and though I have some I’d recommend I usually tell them to choose one the best and most reliable installing company recommends because a good installation is far more important than the brand.

Time and again I see consumers taking the lowest bid and then just a few years later they have to replace the entire system. Believe me, you don’t want jackleg low-bid contractors doing any work for you because they take shortcuts and make basic mistakes. On the other hand, companies with a long track record of excellent work seldom make mistakes and usually sell the most reliable brands because better equipment manufacturers don’t allow the unqualified to install their equipment.

Case in point:  Back in the 1990s, NASA put the plans for the Hubbell space telescope out for a bid and two companies replied. NASA, of course, took the lowest bid and the winning company met the specifications to the letter. On the other hand, the losing company (I believe it was Kodak) lost the bid because it required the telescope be tested first. I guess Kodak thought it was the logical thing to do!

What happened? Well, the story of how the Hubbell telescope was out of focus when it first went into orbit, which caused NASA to spend hundreds of millions of extra dollars (our money) to send people back up into orbit to make necessary the corrections, has been told time and again. Penny wise, pound foolish. The government seldom learns.

I see the same sort of thing all the time on commercial jobs where equipment replacements or new installations are let out to bid by company representatives who wouldn’t recognize a bad job from a good one.

Case in point: Things called “economizers” often make good energy sense when installed on packaged rooftop equipment because in mild weather they keep the compressor or furnace from coming on and instead use the free outdoor air to condition and freshen the indoor space. A no-brainer, right? But if a contractor adds its cost into his bid when it isn’t specified, he’ll lose the job. Penny wise, pound foolish.

Through the years, I’ve seen HVAC equipment companies make the same types of mistakes when it comes to proper equipment designs. For example, back in the middle 1980s when they all were trying to come up with cheaper ways to create high-efficiency furnaces, many companies ended up with huge recalls because their inexpensive heat exchangers were rotting through after a couple years.

The same thing has proven true when it comes to cooling equipment. On cheaper systems, the manufacturers reduce costs by leaving off safety devices and by breaking the electrical connection to compressors on one leg instead of both. Of course, most compressors fail because they have to run under extremely high- or low-pressure conditions or because some spike in the voltage shorts the internal motor winding to ground.

But everyone is doing this, and only the best contractors care or know the difference.