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TLDR

If you ask what the best HVAC brands are, you should first know that they are all pretty much equal, due to only a few mega-corporations making all of the core components. Globalization is happening at every end of the consumer market, and the HVAC industry is no different. When it comes to riding lawn mowers, cellphones, or dishwashers, 20 to 30 years ago twenty different brands were fighting to be the best. When you fast forward to today, those twenty brands are now fewer than five. When it comes to the best HVAC brands, the real differences lie with the installing contractor, as proper design and installation is the key to getting the maximum performance and lifespan from your investment. When it comes to choosing one brand, we feel that Trane is at the lead of the pack (American Standard too because they are the same company).

Who Makes What

Before we can talk about the best HVAC brands, we need first to establish what brands are out there. When it comes to the HVAC market, brands are consolidating just like any other sector. You have only seven major, independent brands.

  1. Trane and American Standard
  2. Carrier, Bryant, Payne, Day & Night, and Tempstar
  3. Lennox, Ducane, Armstrong, Concord, Allied, and AirEase
  4. Rheem and Ruud
  5. Daikin, Goodman, Amana, and Franklin
  6. York, Coleman, and Luxaire
  7. Nortek Global HVAC, Maytag, Westinghouse, and Frigidaire

But, it gets even better. When it comes to residential AC equipment, one company makes the majority of the compressors, the critical component of the air conditioning unit, Emerson Copeland.

What You Get

What each of these seven major brands are selling you is the following:

  1. An Emerson Copeland compressor.
  2. A sheet metal enclosure.
  3. Two copper aluminum or solid aluminum coils.
  4. Switches, capacitors, electric motors, circuit boards, wire, and the like (I call these jelly bean parts) sourced from major third-party manufacturers in either Mexico and/or China.
  5. Warranty and parts support.
  6. Bragging rights on the neighborhood Facebook page, because you have the latest and greatest brand that everyone loves, due to the most recent TV ad campaign.

However, at the end of the day, everything is close to being equal, with the only MAJOR differences being the final price and the quality of the installation performed by the installing contractor.

Where Things Can Differ

When it comes to the motors, the wires, the capacitors, and the compressors, everything is just about equal. The differences that you will find between the major brands are more on the low tech side of things. For example, they design the sheet metal cabinet so you will see differences in how they tolerate debris clogging the outdoor coil. They also manufacture the coils so there are quality control issues that can arise there as well. Lennox would be a manufacturer that has had recent problems involving coil manufacturing quality control. If you do a simple Google search for “Lennox Coil lawsuit,” you will see that they recently had a class action lawsuit settlement over their coils.

The individual brands do design their coils, and this is one reason why we like Trane and American Standard, due to their “spine fin” technology on their outdoor coils. For one, they are 100% solid aluminum with no welds across the entire coil. If you only have one set of welds at each end of the coil, you have less opportunity for leaks. The solid aluminum portion is nice as well because it resists corrosion a lot better than copper, and even more so near salty conditions along the coast.

At the end of the day, however, I try to visualize it this way. Residential HVAC technology is in a very mature phase. Therefore, not one company has anything that revolutionary, to make themselves that much better than anyone else. Furthermore, when one company makes the compressors for almost all of the AC equipment out there, the critical component to the entire system, it is difficult for any particular brand to shine that much more above the rest.

Of course, over the short term, you will have one brand getting a bad batch of parts from a supplier, or manufacturing issues over the course of a year that causes their immediate Consumer Reports scores to go down for the time being. However, issues like this fluctuate throughout the industry and almost average out to zero over time.

It Is All About The Installation

You also have manufacturers like Goodman, that do not tightly control who can buy and install their equipment. What you end up with here is a bunch of cut-rate contractors installing their equipment, which then results in equipment failures due to shoddy installation. The majority of Goodman equipment failures is due to improper installation and not the hardware. The shoddy install factor then leaves the general public with the perception that it is the equipment’s fault. Compounding matters further, Goodman is the largest HVAC manufacturer in the United States, so they have a lot of equipment out there. The only company that comes close to them is Carrier, and they are still way beyond Carrier in production volume.

Conclusion

When the time comes for you to choose which HVAC brand is best for you, it is my opinion that you should focus on finding an excellent installing contractor. If you want the details on why the installing contractor matters so much, you need to read my article  “What makes the difference between an HVAC system that lasts 5 years vs. 15 years”.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, Anthony, at 33 Solutions LLC!

P.S. – Why We Like Trane

Of all the HVAC manufacturers, Trane and American Standard, both of which are identical and made by Ingersol Rand, are the two that truly stand out. I, Anthony R Toreson, genuinely feel that Trane is one of the best HVAC brands out there today and this is why.

  1. Trane HVAC equipment manufacturing takes place in the USA.
  2. Trane is owned and backed by Ingersol Rand, a global, multi-billion dollar company.
  3. Trane and American Standard are usually rated number one and number two every year by Consumer Reports.
  4. Trane always selects higher quality parts from the available suppliers on the market.
  5. Trane also has various design features that have a positive impact on reliability and serviceability. One of which would be Trane’s Spine Fin Coil but, more on this in a later post!
  6. Trane’s attention to detail when it comes to engineering and manufacturing is unsurpassed by anyone else in the industry. This is significant because while all residential and light commercial HVAC equipment performs well initially, Trane equipment can reliably perform on year TEN, just as it did on day ONE. Long-term quality is where Trane excels.
  7. Service and support after the fact. I have worked on 20 and 30-year-old Trane equipment, where I was still able to source new OEM parts. With other manufacturers, one piece of HVAC equipment may have 20 different motors used during the manufacturing period of five years. If your equipment had a manufacturing date of X where a Chinese motor was used for three months but is no longer available, you might be out of luck on finding a proper replacement part. The bottom line here is that whether it is in or out of warranty, Trane and its dealers will be there to support you.
  8. Trane and American Standard strictly control who can sell and represent their brand. So if my grandmother in Oregon asks me about a finding a good HVAC contractor when I have no idea about the local market, going with a Trane or American Standard dealer is usually a safe bet. You still need to do some research but starting at Trane or American Standards website is a good starting point. Furthermore, going to Trane and American Standard to complain if you ever have issues, will fix dealer customer service issues immediately.

Is Trane Expensive?

When most people think about Trane, they automatically associate it with being excellent equipment, but also expensive. However, with 33 Solutions LLC, we try to give you your cake and let you eat it too. We have a very efficient business model that allows us to pass on tremendous savings to our customers. At the same time, we are also able to meet the high standards that Trane requires of their dealers. In fact, we believe that we are one of the best Trane dealers, period. We are the best of both worlds. We can offer you the efficiency and pricing of a smaller company, but also the sophistication and professionalism of a larger company.