Is a Manual J Load Really Necessary on Residential Retrofits?

Is a Manual J Load Really Necessary on Residential Retrofits?

Why is it essential to provide a load calculation before retrofitting a new heating and cooling system in an older house? To make sure the right size systems get installed, use Manual S. To design the proper distribution system, use Manual D. Neither of these, though, can be performed without having done a Manual J calculation first.

Why does everything have to be so progressive? An industry full of real-world, detached experts tells residential installers that we should perform load calculations anytime we change a system. Sure, I can understand new construction mandates. Everything is drawn out and perfectly planned. But ask anyone who installs retrofit HVAC systems in 20- to 50-year-old homes and we’ll tell you nothing ever goes as smoothly as the salesperson told the customer it would.

Let’s discuss a few things:

  • I have been in the industry since 2010. Been through a few load calc classes and I still can’t get it right!
  • The 1% summer design temperature was 8% in 2022. Customers don’t care about a 30-year average.
  • Who has a design specialist at the average “mom-and-pop shop”?
  • The five questions to ask to bridge the gap between design software and the way that house will perform after the new system goes in.
  • Like this article, I have limited time to get in, present, and get out.

It’s Not Just Me

Three times, I attended a course from our local utility company on how to perform load calcs with popular design software. Over two days, we learned to draw the house, input R-values, U-values, insulation levels, shading, and other building envelope details needed to perform a Manual J.

I’ve run a successful, double-digit net profitable business that has grown year-over-year by 15% to 20% each year since it started. So I’m pretty savvy at learning, understanding, adapting, and executing tasks. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out how the numbers they have me enter in class compute to a 2.5-ton system for a 2,000-sqare-foot home.

Sacramento New AC, Furnace, or Heat Pump 2022-2023

Are You in The Sacramento Area Looking for A New A/C, Furnace, or Heat Pump? Residential Air Conditioners and Heaters Sacramento County 2022-2023

Sacramento Area

If you ask someone who isn’t from Sacramento County what they think of when you mention it, you may hear things like “It’s the State Capitol” or “That’s where gold was discovered, right?” or, more notably, maybe “the American River Bike Trail.” Contrary to the slightly disappointing answers you might get (minus the American River Bike Trail, of course), Sacramento County is full of rich history, fun things to do, and weather that can be pretty predictable.  With exceptionally hot summers being commonplace, though, Sacramento County can be the perfect place to get your old air conditioner and heater replaced if you’re not too keen on paddling through Folsom Lake.  Let’s take a look at Sacramento new AC, furnace or heat pump information for 2022-2023.

Quick Fox Family Heating & Air Fun Fact: Another reason folks call us out is to have an air conditioning tune-up or furnace tune-up performed. Some of you have all-electric heat pumps – and of course, we can perform a heat pump tune-up. These tune-ups are preventive maintenance visits that take about 45 to 90 minutes to test and clean your HVAC system. But you’re here to find out how much it costs to put in a new air conditioner and heater in Sacramento. That is what we are going to talk about today for you. We’re going to discuss several things regarding buying a new heating and air conditioning system in Sacramento County, which includes seven cities – five of which we work in.

What HVAC system options are available for Sacramentans? What might you pay for installation and maintenance after you buy a new HVAC system?

Furnaces, Air Conditioners, and Heat Pumps available in Sacramento County + Costs

In Sacramento County, you will find a few types of HVAC system designs – split systems, package units, and mini-splits. Do you want to know which one is right for you? I’m going to take this opportunity to explain what the difference between them is.


Picture of an HVAC split system


Flexible installationA split system – not to be confused with a mini-split system – can be installed in a few places. But typically, you will have an indoor unit paired up with an indoor unit. The outdoor unit is the condenser or heat pump. You may have seen it over on the side of the house. On the rarest occasions, you’ll find neighborhoods where the condenser is on the roof. The indoor unit is the furnace or air handler and can be located in the closet, garage, attic, or under the house in the basement or sub-floor. These two units are connected with a copper or aluminum lineset that carries the refrigerant. A low voltage wire also communicates when to turn on and off to and from those two units. Sometimes people will have a unit in the closet and want it moved up to the attic or other spot in the house. Sometimes a person wants the unit in the backyard moved around to the side of the house. And with the flexibility of a split system, you can move them around.

Central air – Central air conditioning units are attached to a ducting system that evenly spreads the air around the house. You’ll see those supply vents on the ceiling, sidewalls, or floor of the rooms in your house. That’s where the air comes out. And when you have one in each room, it distributes the air evenly throughout the home.

One or two main controls – Split systems have only one or two central thermostats to turn the system on and off. That alleviates having to go into each room to condition those rooms individually.

One drawback – When you have a furnace or air handler in the attic, servicing the unit requires going in and out of the attic access using a ladder. Not only does this require a nimble repairman, but it tends to dirty and bang up the access trim over time. You always want to keep up on your annual maintenance, so someone going up in the attic twice a year to do it increases the potential of this happening.

One surprise – The mini-split technology mentioned below is usually room-by-room conditioning. It’s very customizable. But if you really like your central airflow around the house, there are now “ducted” mini-split air handlers. If you remove your old gas furnace (or heat pump) and decide to move to an all-electric heat pump, the super-efficient variable speed ducted mini-split is a great choice. It simply reconnects to your existing duct system, and voila! You now have a variable speed system – at a way better price (about the same as a two-stage system.) Mitsubishi makes them up to 5 tons so that they can fit any residential house.

Mitsubishi SVZ Air Handler

Generally, your typical split central air conditioning system will start at around $15,000 and be as high as $25,000. And that’s not including the ductwork! Ductwork alone can cost $5000 to $10,000 to install or replace. But do you have to replace your ducts every time you replace your HVAC system? No. Watch this video I made to explain better why you don’t need to replace your ducts every time you replace your HVAC system. If you have an existing HVAC system and would like to have one or both parts of it moved, of course, that will add some money to the job too. It could be up to $5000 with everything entailed in the project.

While you can DIY the replacement of your HVAC system, the EPA requires certification to handle the refrigerant that goes into the lineset between the indoor and outdoor unit. They actually fine people for handling refrigerant with that EPA 608 certification. But once you have it, it’s a lifetime certification.



Space friendlyPackage units are the least expensive of the systems. If you are converting a house with a wall furnace and window air conditioner to a house with central air conditioning, a package unit may not only be your choice; it may be your only choice for getting central air. Package units are one combined unit that takes care of the heating and cooling portions – all in one “packaged” unit. They are always found on rooftops or the ground. Either way, they sit outside. When package units are placed on the ground, they usually sit against the house on the side or back side of the house. In Sacramento County, you’ll find 90% of package units on the rooftop. How does that 400 lb unit get on the roof? A crane lifts it up there! An adjustable sheet metal curb is flashed into the comp-shingled roof, and the unit sits on top of that.

Central air – Package units attach to a ducting system that spreads the air around the house evenly – pretty much the same as split systems. You’ll see those supply vents on the ceiling, sidewalls, or floor of the rooms in your house. That’s where the air comes out. And when you have one in each room, it distributes the air evenly throughout the home.

One control unit – Very rarely will you see a package unit system with two thermostats. Homes with package units are used mostly on single-story houses with just one zone controlling the air for the whole house. If you’d like more information on what a zoned house is, you can follow this link.

One drawback – Package units mounted on the rooftop are a bit noisier than split systems and mini splits for one reason – vibration. For some people who are used to it, it’s just white noise in the background while they sleep. But if it’s new to you, it could drive you crazy. The compressor kicks on and off every time it turns on and shuts down. Compressors are a heavy 80 to 100 lb. motor that sits on the bottom of the unit, which is connected to the curb it sits on, which is flashed into your rooftop, which is laying on top of the roof joist, connected to the walls of the house. This dull vibrational noise is one drawback of the space-saving package unit.

Bosch 19 SEER hp packaged

One surprise – The efficiency of package units used to be very limited. But Bosch now sells a variable speed heat pump package unit that reaches 20 SEER. Granted, its blower speed is more of a three-speed motor. The system’s true nature is still considered variable speed due to its ability to ramp up and down the compressor at micro increments. It’s also much quieter on vibration since it tends to run at lower speeds most of the time. Doubly awesome!

Generally, your package unit installation will start at around $14,000. The higher, more efficient ones, around 20 SEER, are about $22,000. And that’s not including the ductwork! As I said before, installing or replacing ductwork can cost $5000 to $10,000. If your current setup is a wall furnace and window AC, you can ditch those and modernize your home to central air conditioning via a “package unit cut in” to your rooftop.

What makes this system cheaper to install than a split system? You have extra components to add when modernizing your wall furnace setup to a split system. I have a good video explaining this as well. For instance, when you have a furnace inside, whether in the closet or garage, you need a particular setup, including upper and lower combustion air vents. A special return air vent and furnace stand must also be constructed. These extra little things need to be brought up to code to cut in a split system versus a package unit on the roof.

Once you place a package unit on the roof, you aren’t going to be moving it. I mean, you can. But some expert roofing will need to be done to cover the 4’ x 2’ hole that is cut into it.

While you can DIY the replacement of your HVAC system, the big issue is getting the unit up and down from the rooftop. Crane companies typically only want to work with contractors who are insured.


Multi head systemCharacteristics:

CustomizableMini-splits, also known as variable speed ductless splits, are the most customizable of these three types of HVAC systems sold in Sacramento County. You can use a one-to-one or two-to-one setup (etc) if you just want to add supplemental heating or cooling to one or several rooms. One-to-one means one indoor head blowing the air into that room and one outdoor unit like the traditional splits system discussed above. You can also heat and cool the entire house if you want.

The quietest – Mini splits are by far the quietest units of the three compared here today. Talk about whisper quiet – you almost have to be right at the unit to tell that it’s even running. Its variable speed technology tends to run at lower speeds most of the day, which causes less noise, less rattling, less vibration, and less starting and stopping noise.

Space saving – Mini splits are super-efficient on space. You can choose from various indoor heads that blow the air into the room. You can choose the rectangular wall-mounted units that are so common with mini splits. But you can also choose between a couple of versions of ceiling-mounted units and even a floor-mounted unit that sits up against the wall.

One drawback – The upfront costs. Building out a system for your whole house gets pretty expensive. The reason is that the outdoor unit’s capacity needs to be higher the more heads are on the house. So while a one-to-one system might be around $6,000 installed, a small house with five conditioned rooms can be upwards of $30,000. But if it’s worth the system’s upfront cost, you can expect to see some great electric bills in the future for many years as these units are so reliable.

One surprise – Individual control of the rooms. One of the reasons you see lower electric bills with ductless mini splits is the ability to control each room’s temperature individually. You can do that if you want to keep an unused bedroom or two at 78 degrees, while the rest of the house is set at 72 degrees. Each room can be at a different temperature if you like.

DISCLAIMER: While some HVAC manufacturers sell indirectly (online stores) to homeowners, Fox Family HVAC systems are not available to purchase for DIY projects. For a turn-key installation, a complete Fox Family Heating and Air HVAC system could cost anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000. And while you can DIY heating and cooling systems, we strongly recommend going through an experienced installer to avoid potential mistakes or having to throw way more money at your efforts later than you would have if you went through a professional. A licensed contractor with a conscious will pull your Sacramento County building permit for you and take care of the Title 24 documentation done through a HERS rater. It’s also regular practice for Sacramento HVAC companies to only work on the mini-split systems they install. There are so many DIY’ers of HVAC systems that the quality of installation is dicey at best. Companies usually don’t even want to touch these units to avoid any liability of it breaking down further due to best practices not being followed with the electrical and refrigerant piping systems.

Other Considerations

When Getting an HVAC system In Sacramento County – Do You Need a Permit for a new heating and air conditioning system in Sacramento County?

Yes. You must pull a permit in Sacramento County whenever you have a major project that alters the house’s electrical, plumbing, or structure. Incorporated cities like Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, and the city of Sacramento have their own building departments, so you would go through them for your project. Fox Family completes this process for you when you want to replace your AC system.

What do you do with the old HVAC unit?

We have a contract with a salvage company that comes out to the job on the day of the installation and hauls it away. They capture the old refrigerant inside the system, which the Environmental Protection Agency requires. They also break down the system to recycle all the metal and copper in the system and repurpose it for future use on a new component, structure, etc.

Check out this blog – If you’d like to learn about 11 Red Flags to Look Out for When Buying A New HVAC System, check out the blog I wrote.


If you are in the market for a new A/C, Furnace, or Heat Pump in The Sacramento Area, I hope this helps with your venture. Most people simply replace the system they have now with a new version of the same. Others want to take the opportunity to try something different. The good thing about Sacramento County HVAC system installations is they let you make these changes. Some cities don’t. For instance, Sacramento city won’t let you cut in a new package unit on a rooftop unless it’s entirely not visible from the street – which can be hard to do with a package unit since they are around 40” tall.

We hope this quick overview was helpful in your HVAC system search. At Fox Family Heating & Air, our passion lies in servicing and installing gas furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, and mini splits across Sacramento County. Want to get a quick estimate on what that HVAC system you’re envisioning might cost? Please fill out our contact form, and we promise to get right back to you today or on the next business day.

Are Old AC’s Better Than New AC’s?

Are Old AC's Better Than New AC's?

A question that pops up pretty often for us technicians at Fox Family revolves around people wondering if newer AC’s are better than old ones. As governmental regulation evolves and the world keeps spinning, every industry tries to make things run smoother, quieter, more intelligent, sustainable, and definitely more efficient.

So, I can tell you without a doubt, yes, a new central air conditioning system with today’s efficiency standards are going to save you money. Some people like their old AC system and think the old AC’s are better than new AC’s. It’s tough sometimes letting go of your old, faithful air conditioner that has served you for 20 years. But if you think it’s time, I may have some information to share that you didn’t already know about new air conditioners.

Compressors Have a Better Design Now

Let’s start with the heart of the air conditioner, the compressor. Compressors are one of the most expensive things to power in your home. But they’ve gotten much more efficient. One of the reasons they’ve gotten better is in their design. Old piston or reciprocating compressors had parts that, if exposed to dirt, moisture, and other contaminants, could cause it to fail easier. They had more moving parts, so more things to go wrong.

Today’s compressors use less energy to run because of the modern scroll compressor, which requires fewer moving parts. They’re not completely fail-proof because they still have motor windings that are susceptible to contaminants. Over time, the protective barrier shielding the copper wires of the motor can wear away and cause permanent damage. Its design allows it to handle errors in the system better than old compressors, making them less likely to fail, saving you money over time.

Condenser Coils and Evaporator Coils Transfer More Heat

You have two coils in your air conditioner that are responsible for removing heat from your home. I tell people, you have a cold coil and a hot coil. The cold evaporator coil at the air handler or furnace absorbs heat from the home and sends it outside to the hot condenser coil, where the heat is released into the air. How are air conditioners more efficient today? Because they have larger coils that can complete this heat transfer process easier than old AC units.

Trane SpineFin™ Coils

Condenser coils sold by our company come with Trane SpineFin™ coils, the world’s leading heat exchanging process in the industry. It’s made by splitting an aluminum strip into teeth, called the fins. Each tiny fin is a heat-transferring vehicle. Then those thousands upon thousands of fins get wrapped around the aluminum tubing that makes up the condensing coil. They are so much more efficient because the fins offer a larger surface area for heat transfer, which also allows the SEER rating of the system to maintain for years longer because they don’t get impacted with dirt as quickly, allowing for more airflow between the tubes.

Standard radiator-style coils work too.  As we said above, they are bigger now, so they allow more effortless heat transfer.

SEER and Ratings Identify Efficiency, AHRI Certifies It

SEER and Ratings Identify Efficiency, AHRI Certifies It SEER is the efficiency of the air conditioning system over the entire span of the summer. From May until September, what was the average efficiency of the unit? On 80-degree, non-humid days, your “14 SEER” air conditioner may actually be running at 16 to 20 SEER efficiency because it doesn’t have to work as hard on those days to reach the exact temperature you want it at inside.

On 100-degree days, your system may never shut off. Just pumping away night and day to keep you at that nice cool temperature inside the house. So, the system has to work harder on these days, which can stretch over a matter of weeks. The average number of times it hits 100 degrees in Sacramento is 22 days. These hot days, you may only see 7 SEER efficiency from your system. Now take that average over the entire summer, and you have your SEER rating for that air conditioner.

SEER ratings these days are more efficient. A system installed in 2000 could be running at 8 to 10 SEER. (And that’s the average over the summer!) In California today, you can’t get anything less than a 14 SEER system.

The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute posts up-to-date, real-time SEER and EER ratings of the equipment installed in today’s homes. Their certifications validate the manufacturer’s claims for the efficiency of their systems. They are independent results, so customers can feel assured the numbers they see on their contracts are legit!

Blower and Condenser Fan Motors Require Less Maintenance

Like compressors, the motor on top of your air conditioner  that disperses the heat to the atmosphere runs smoother. Digital ECM blower motors use DC voltage to make systems more efficient. Some motors have been completely reengineered and flipped the stator and rotor windings to allow for variable speed operation in increments of 1% adjustments!

Blower motors inside the furnace are designed with better housings to let the air flow through the system more evenly, translating to easier work for the air conditioner. Condenser fan blades are designed to sweep hot air out of the air conditioner quieter and more thoroughly and put less stress on the motor.

Air conditioner motors themselves require less maintenance than older motors. We used to have to physically add oil to the engines through a port on its backside. Motors today have sealed bearings, so we don’t have to worry about these types of preventive measures anymore.

All of these parts work in conjunction with each other. Suppose details like airflow through the system aren’t right. In that case, parts of it like the compressor will work harder; evaporator coils can freeze up, causing unexpected wear and tear – not to mention a couple of days of being without air conditioning if it does break down.

Programmable Thermostats are More Intuitive

Thermostats have gotten a lot more intuitive, making it easier to set your thermostat up on a schedule for your weekdays, weekends (and yes, even individual days at a time.) Have you ever left the house and remembered you shouldn’t have left your AC cooling your home at 60 degrees while you’re at work? With smart thermostats, as long as you have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, you’re able to take care of that no matter where you are? 

You could be across the country or snuggled up in bed. If you want to crank up the heat a little, you don’t have to lift a foot!

Honeywell Home Google Nest Ecobee Emerson Carrier and Bryant Trane and American Standard Lennox thermostats Braeburn

Energy Star recognizes these brands for meeting its standard for energy efficiency and ability to save you money over the years to come:

  • Honeywell Home
  • Google Nest
  • Ecobee
  • Emerson
  • Carrier and Bryant thermostat
  • Trane and American Standard thermostats
  • Lennox thermostats
  • Braeburn
  • EcoFactor
  • Greenlite
  • IEC
  • LUX
  • Pro1
  • Prostat
  • Ventstar
  • And Zen Thermostats

Some of the more premium systems require the use of that brand’s proprietary smart thermostat. So before you buy a new system, do your research. Energy Star says the average household spends about $1000.00 heating and cooling their homes. Using a programmable thermostat tells your system when you would like to have it on and when to have it off on an automatic schedule, which will save you money over the next several years.

Single-Stage, Two-Stage, Multi-Stage, Variable Speed – Oh my!

When you start talking about where you can save money on home cooling and heating, everyone will steer you towards the conversation revolving around multi-stage systems. Here are some cliff-notes from another blog I did recently on this topic:

Single-Stage Systems

The single-stage option has the simplest form of technology, is the lowest in price but the lowest in value. While they are UL Listed and safe to put in any home, lower-end models have more vulnerabilities than higher-end equipment. Every time a single-stage system turns on, it gives you 100% power every time. Like a light switch, it’s either all the way or all the way off. Today’s minimum standard 14 SEER systems vs. your older 8 to 10 SEER system can save you about $200 a year, equating to about $4,000 over 20 years. But, there are better technologies that allow for better efficiency.

Two-Stage Systems

Two-stage systems have better technology. They run more efficiently and control the temperature in your house without fluctuating as much. The main feature of a two-stage system is that they all typically run at around 70% capacity in the first stage and 100% capacity in the second stage. These systems will run the majority of the time in the first stage, where you start seeing the money savings. Two-stage systems are great for two-story homes that have two thermostats or zoning. These systems can be set up to run in the first stage when only one floor is calling for air. The second stage will only come on when both zones are calling for air. This is how I have it set up in my house.

Other Multi-Stage Systems

Some brands out there offer something between a two-stage system and a fully variable stage system. I’ve heard of 3-stage systems, and I’ve heard of 5-stage systems. All advanced aim to keep your room temperature from swinging around as much as a single-stage system. If you’re not needing it to do a lot of work during that call for cooling or heating, it will just work at a lower capacity for that cycle. Two, three, five-stage, and I suppose even more will all dehumidify your home easier than single-stage systems too.

Fully Variable Stage Systems

Variable speed systems can adjust their capacity levels from about 25% to 100% in 1% intervals at a time. They maintain even lower temperature swings in the house and specialize in dehumidification. These systems can keep your home to within a half degree of the temperature you want it.

These are the quietest systems too. Because they typically run at a slower speed, they require less energy and create less noise with less vibration. 

All of these variable speed systems have WiFi capabilities, are communicating systems, and are ultra-quiet.


A lot of people SAY new AC systems are more efficient than older ones. Hopefully, we have explained HOW they are more efficient. Now you know what components or aspects of the HVAC systems are better now. Older systems were built strong and lasted a long time. But, modern HVAC systems are built more innovative, so saving money and being comfortable is attainable. 

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