Old Central Air Conditioning Replacement with New Bryant Evolution High Efficiency System

My 17 year old Heil central air system was replaced with new Bryant Evolution high efficiency air conditioner and gas furnace. This project explains the brand & dealer selection, solicit quotes, cost comparison, warranty, ductwork upgrades and building permit process.

This is a multi-part series:

Failing Compressor and Evaporator Coil

The house had two 10 SEER 3 ton Heil central air systems that served the 1st and 2nd floors. The problem was the compressor in the 2nd unit vibrated and made a loud rumbling noise when it started. It also was taking a much longer than normal to cool the 2nd floor because the air blowing from the vents was cool but not cold.

17 year Old Heil Condenser Units

17 year Old Heil Condenser Units

The HVAC serviceman checked the unit and said liquid refrigerant was pooling in the compressor (liquid is incompressible which causes the compressor to stall, hence the vibration & noise), the pressure was 320 PSI and it was pulling an unusually high electrical current (AMPs). Compare this to the 1st floor condenser which was operating normally at 200 PSI and normal AMPs. The 2nd floor unit was also about 1 lb (or 20%) low on refrigerant which indicates a leak in the evaporator coils, probably due to a failed braze joint. The 2nd floor is warmer so the system runs more often & longer causing it wear out sooner than the 1st floor unit.

Given the failing compressor and refrigerant leak it was time to replace the system.

Risks of Waiting too Long to Replace the AC

Homeowners tend to delay replacing the central AC system because it’s a major expense. The risk of waiting until it fails are increased cost and delays:

  • An overheating compressor can contaminate the copper refrigerant lines that run from the outdoor compressor to the interior air handler with baked oily sludge that can’t be flushed out. A new line set can cost around $500 depending on length.
  • Manufacturer’s tend to offer AC system discounts and 0% interest financing during the slower/cooler months between Labor Day and Memorial Day. If you wait until summer discounts may not be available.
  • AC systems tend to fail during the hot summer months when you need it the most.
    Summer is the busy season for HVAC dealers and you may have to wait days or weeks for a schedule opening. People may go all winter long with a broken furnace but won’t tolerate living without AC. (I live in the Atlanta, GA area with hot humid summers and mild winters.)

Old Central Air Conditioning Replacement with New Bryant Evolution High Efficiency System

Choosing a Central Air Conditioning System

There are many brands (Carrier, Trane, Lennox, Goodman, Bryant, Heil, York, American Standard, etc.) on the market and it’s challenging to decide which is best. Price is the primary consideration for most homeowners but I also wanted high efficiency and quality. In reality there’s not much difference between brands for AC systems with similar specifications – SEER and Stages (single, two or variable speeds). Manufacturers often sell what is basically the same unit that all roll off the same manufacturing line and are identical except for the nameplate and paint color. For example:

UTC Climate, Controls & Security owns:

  • Carrier – name brand commercial and residential units. Sold through Factory Authorized Dealers.
  • Bryant – Residential units made in the same factory as Carrier. Sold through Bryant Factory Authorized Dealers.
    Costs about 10% less than Carrier.
  • Payne – Residential air conditioning units. Not as heavily marketed as Carrier and Bryant. Sold through distributors meaning the contractor doesn’t have meet Factory Authorized Dealer training standards.

Ingersoll Rand owns:

Goodman air conditioners are a popular choice due to lower cost and can be purchased online. My brother is a industrial mechanical foreman and with a HVAC tech installed two Goodman central air & heat systems in my retired parents home to replace their 20 year old Trane systems. It’s worked well for 3 years.

Trane vs Bryant Air Conditioners

The Consumer Reports’ 2016 Central Air Conditioner Brand Reliability Survey (paid subscription required) surveyed over 14,000 owners. Trane, American Standard, Carrier, Bryant, Lennox and Amanda had the same reliability within the survey’s statistical margin of error. Goodman was somewhat less reliable which may be caused installation issues given it can be purchased on the Internet and installed by non-Factory authorized personnel.

Initially I focused on Trane and Carrier. I’d bought a Trane XL16i at my former home in Florida and was very happy with it. I have an annual maintenance contract a local HVAC service company that sells both Carrier and Bryant. I asked about Carrier but they recommended Bryant because the main difference is the logo but with better value.

Central AC System Replacement Quotes

Always request an on-site visit with the HVAC sales rep. to review what needs to be done and any recommended changes or upgrades.

I solicited quotes for Trane and Bryant central air systems from factory authorized dealers that are Better Business Bureau A+ rated accredited businesses. The first question the sales reps. asked was:

“How long do you plan to stay in your home?”

Your answer indicates if you’re looking for a low cost system because you’re planning to move soon or staying and want to invest in an energy saving high efficiency system.

For example, a friend recently sold a rental home but had to replace the old AC system as a condition of sale. He chose a Carrier Comfort 3 Ton, 14 SEER Model #: 24ACC436A003 and matching evaporator coil that cost $3,200 installed. The furnace was not replaced.

I wanted a premium high efficiency system with a metal louvered coil guard versus an economy wire guard that doesn’t do a good job protecting the fins from damage because I plan to stay in my home for a long time.

The Trane and Bryant sales reps. inspected the attic air handler ductwork and both identified several issues:

  • The return ducts had insufficient total air flow capacity.
    A 3 ton central air handler needs about 1200 Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) of air flow. The salesmen counted the quantity, sizes and lengths of return flex ducts then summed the total flow capacity based on a Field Duct Sizing Chart which came up short of the required 1200 CFM.

    • The main hallway return duct needed to be changed from 10 inches to 12 inches diameter. I also wanted to change the 6 inch return to an 8 inch in my home office due to the heat generated by the network equipment rack.
    • The rigid duct board supply trunks should be replaced with round sheet metal trunks.
      Duct board is rarely used anymore because the fuzzy interior causes friction reducing the air flow and acts as a dust filter. I’d previously replaced the flex trunk ducts with sheet metal and much preferred the upgrade.
  • I was concerned if the 17 year old copper refrigerant line set could be reused.
    The line set will be flushed before installing the new system but it’s unknown if the tubing is corroded or sludge has built up inside. The existing line set snakes below the 1st floor joists then up two floors inside the walls to the attic. Pulling a new line set through the house would be difficult and cost about $500. The alternative is to run a new line setup up the exterior wall, through the soffit and into the attic then conceal it in a metal chase. We decided to reuse the old line set assuming it’s in good condition.
  • The outdoor condenser units are too close together.
    The units should be separated by at least 24 inches for air flow and maintenance access.

I discussed the various Bryant models with the Green Heating & Cooling, Inc. sales rep, researched the equipment specifications and asked for a quote on Evolution system. The Trane sales rep. said he would quote three systems for a variety of budgets and features.

The Bryant Evolution vs Trane quotes including the ductwork upgrades are summarized in the following table (dated May 2017). Click here for the full size table:

Bryant Evolution vs Trane Central Air Conditioner System Quotes

Bryant Evolution vs Trane Central Air Conditioner System Quotes

Central AC Replacement Cost

The above quotes aren’t an “apples to apples” comparison because the approx. $1,000 in ductwork upgrades wasn’t listed as a separate line item in the Trane quotes and the Trane XL16i/18i are heat pumps. Heat pumps work well in milder climates, feature energy efficient heating and cost around $600 more for a 3 Ton system.

  • $7,262 for the Trane XR14 single stage compressor, 16 SEER air conditioner and furnace.
  • $8,368 for the Bryant Evolution 5 stage compressor, 19 SEER air conditioner and furnace.
    Final price after $1,045 in rebates & discounts and includes $600 for 10 yr labor warranty and $981 for ductwork upgrades.
  • $9,888 for the Trane XL16i heat pump single stage compressor, 17 SEER air conditioner & furnace.
  • $11,227 for the Trane XL18i heat pump 2 stage compressor, 18 SEER air conditioner & furnace.

Notes:

  • Trane prices include a 10 year labor warranty.
  • All prices include ~$1,000 in ductwork improvements that I elected to have done, so you should subtract this value to get an estimate of the base system cost. For example:
    • $6,262 Trane XR14
    • $7,368 Bryant Evolution – after $1,045 deducted for seasonal rebates/discounts
    • $8,888 Trane XL16i
    • $10,227 Trane XL18i

In my assessment the Bryant Evolution is the only system with variable speed 5 stage compressor, highest SEER rating and competitively priced at $2,859 less than the XL18i (= $10,227 XL18i minus $7,368 Bryant).

Early next Spring I plan to replace the other 17, scratch that, then 18 year old central AC system so I’ll have spent $5,718 less (= 2 x $2,869) with a 2nd Bryant Evolution system assuming similar seasonal discounts are available at that time. I’m glad my last kid will have finished college by then.

Building Permit

The quote must state a Building Permit will be filed by the HVAC dealer. A Mechanical Service Change permit and will ensure the installation is Code Compliant. The benefits of a permit are:

  • Protects your property value.
  • Promotes safety.
  • Homeowner’s insurance may not cover damages for work done without permits and inspections.
  • The HVAC contractor is responsible for correcting any code violations.
  • If you sell your home the Seller’s disclosure statement may require a list of all improvements and if permits and inspections were obtained. Without a permit and inspections, fixing code violations will be at your expense.

Obtain a copy of the permit before work commences and schedule the final inspection shortly after the job is complete.

Warranty

The Bryant and Trane manufacturer warranties are very similar:

  • 20 years furnace heat exchanger
  • 10 years evaporator coil and compressor
  • 10 years parts
  • The Trane dealer included the 10 year labor warranty in the quote whereas this was an extra $600 for Bryant.
    The manufacturer warranty only covers parts. Without the labor warranty the homeowner is responsible for the cost of diagnostics, parts repair and replacement. I wanted the extended labor warranty for peace of mind.

Bryant Evolution Central Air Conditioner Installation

The new Bryant Evolution 3 Ton (36,000 BTU) central air cooling & heating system consists of:

The Bryant condenser unit with a Leaf Guard Air Conditioner Cover (32 in x 32 in size) I added to keep tree debris out of the cabinet:

Bryant Evolution 3 Ton Condenser with Leaf Guard Air Conditioner Cover

Bryant Evolution 3 Ton Condenser with Leaf Guard Air Conditioner Cover

This video explains the features and inner workings of the Evolution AC condenser:

The new Bryant furnace, evaporator coils, auxiliary drain pan and plenums in the attic:

Attic Air Handler Installation - Bryant Evolution 315A Furnace and CAPMP Evaporator Coil

Attic Air Handler Installation – Bryant Evolution 315A Furnace and CAPMP Evaporator Coil

The CAPMP model A-frame evaporator coil features a Split Delta Plate that’s easy to remove to inspect and clean inside the coils. Unlike some coils the refrigerant tubing is mostly on the left side so there’s a minimum of obstructions to access the Delta Plate:

Carrier Bryant CAPMP A-Frame Evaporator Coil Split Delta Plate

Carrier Bryant CAPMP A-Frame Evaporator Coil Split Delta Plate

Aside: The Trane aluminum Comfort Coil also has a two-piece easy to removeable end plate (.pdf see page 5) to clean the inside the coils.

Sheet Metal Ductwork Improvements

I’d previously replaced the supply plenum flex ducts with 12 inch round sheet metal ducts, however the duct board trunk mixing boxes that serve the branch ducts attach too are too small (the mixing box on other side of the attic looks very similar):

Rigid Ductboard Trunk Duct and Flexible Duct Branch Lines

Rigid Ductboard Trunk Duct and Flexible Duct Branch Lines

The mixing boxes were replaced with a 12 inch round sheet metal and the flex duct branch lines connected to the sides to minimize bends. Sheet metal is very smooth and has less air friction compared to duct board:

New Round Sheet Metal Trunk Duct and Flex Duct Branch Lines

New Round Sheet Metal Trunk Duct and Flex Duct Branch Lines

Bryant Evolution Performance

The new Bryant system blows harder and much colder than the old system. It’s very quite too. I had to raise the temperature setting a couple of degrees compared to the old system because the humidity is lower and the air feels way more comfortable. The 5 stage (speed) system runs longer at lower speeds which keeps the air moving so it doesn’t feel stuffy. I hadn’t realized how bad the old AC system was getting worse over time.

This series is continued in New Bryant Evolution Central AC Installation.

Best,

Bob

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