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Why Do Million Dollar Homes Get Cheapo HVAC Systems?

Atmospheric Combustion Furnace In Million Dollar Home

atmospheric combustion furnace in million dollar homeI just don’t get it. OK, I do get it, but it drives me crazy. It’s not just that it drives me crazy, though. This is just plain stupid.

I just don’t get it. OK, I do get it, but it drives me crazy. It’s not just that it drives me crazy, though. This is just plain stupid.

See that photo to the left? If you know anything about HVAC systems, you’ll recognize immediately that the furnace you’re looking at is a standard efficiency (80%), atmospheric combustion model. (In case you’re wondering, the flue is intentionally disconnected and won’t be left this way.) The problem here is that it’s in a million dollar house with a million dollar view on a beautiful lake. Why would anyone do this?

Well, here are my conjectures:

  • The owners contracting to have their beautiful new home built don’t know anything about HVAC and rely on the builder to make the right choices.
  • The builder wants to give them the nicest looking house he can, and he knows the owners don’t know or care much about the furnace.
  • Most builders don’t know much about HVAC and rely on the HVAC contractor.
  • The HVAC contractor is working within the limited budget given to him by the builder and wants to make as much profit on the job as possible.

I haven’t actually met the builder or HVAC contractor for this house, but I’ll bet my conjectures don’t lie far from the truth.

The problem with this is that it’s atmospheric combustion furnace diamond and platinum necklacelike hanging fuzzy dice from the rearview mirror of a Rolls Royce. It’s like wearing a diamond necklace with a duct-tape dress. But it’s even worse than either of those because it’s not just tacky, it’s stupid.

In addition to an atmospheric combustion, low efficiency furnace just not fitting in, there’s also the problem of it being an atmospheric combustion furnace. They’ve put it in a mechanical room in the basement in this house, which means that room will have to be isolated from the rest of the house, and that won’t be done well, I’m sure. They’ll also have to put two big holes in the house to bring combustion air into that room. (Read more about the problems of atmospheric combustion inside the house.)

If you’ve got the money to build a fancy house, do it right and make sure that it’s not just the finishes get all the attention.


If you’re building a house and need help figuring out what kind and size of HVAC system to install, contact us for help with your HVAC design needs.


Photo of necklace by cliff1066™ from, used under a Creative Commons license.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. As soon as people in general
    As soon as people in general begin to value substance over style, you’ll have the answer to your question. However, as we all do, I’m forced to continually go to the auto industry for analogies, etc. People (generally) don’t buy a beautiful car with a crap engine. Perhaps the difference is that they have to actually “drive” the car. But they have to drive it without paying for the first tank of gas. Maybe there is an answer to that problem too; instead of posting the “mileage”, which is a suspect measurement for most of us, post the cost of fuel on a monthly basis…

  2. This is one of my favorite
    This is one of my favorite scenarios. Another variation of this we often encounter is when we go in to a home to do an energy assessment and the home owner tells us ” we just had the furnace and AC replaced.” And sure enough there sits a brand new 80% furnace.

  3. Speaking purely from the
    Speaking purely from the consumer’s point of view: 
    If I build the best house with the most efficient equipment that saves the most money in the shortest period of time and offers me the best air quality and does all of this if only I would change the way I live (reset my thermostat), ask me to change my habits by turning off the lights that are in my own home, and ask me to care if my city’s dump runs out of space or my house causes the earth to warm and all the while ask me to pay more money for the piece parts that makes all this magic happen…what makes you think that I’ll (as a consumer) listen to what you say?  
    Do you think that I’m a dumba**?  
    If you want me to use a better HVAC system and you think the cheap one sucks, then why don’t you make the cheap one obsolete by spending your time advocating that it should be considered a crime to build that cheap a** crap that the cheap a** builder forced upon me?  
    I need a vacation! 

  4. Another twist is the home
    Another twist is the home with ground source heat pump coupled with batt insulation and a two-story foyer. That’s done in the 1/2 million dollar range in our area and sold as energy efficient/green.

  5. As an insulation contractor I
    As an insulation contractor I see this all the time. Builders won’t offer insulation and air sealing upgrades to the homeowner because they are supposedly on a budget. I bet the same builder will give the homeowner a choice of $5,000 front doors and $10,000 granite counter tops. We try to educate builders and homeowners alike but many builders seem reluctant to offer upgrades to things you can see.  

  6. Ben, better use of your time:
    Ben, better use of your time:  
    Spend time educating the appraiser so that when you finally talk the builder into spending the money he won’t feel like he’s creating value.  
    It’s been proven over and over and over and over that folks buy on emotion and to “Keep up with the Joneses”.  
    Granite is emotional.  
    Deeper insulation isn’t sexy…Just saying… 

  7. I went into a house that was
    I went into a house that was purchased for $1.5 Million and they had builder grade 80% furnaces and builder grade 13 SEER A/C units. A guy that came by to see the spray foam job being completed had 30 years in building (not this particular house). His comment was “the only difference between this and a tract house is that its just 3 of them put together”. That about said it all.

  8. Observation: Many homeowners
    Observation: Many homeowners can’t afford major upgrades at present because their homes are underwater. At the other extreme, they can’t be bothered with a mere utility bill. In the middle, the upwardly mobile tend to make irrational decisions based on emotion, as Gary said.  
    The trick is to find the folks who make decisions based on logic, and can afford to look beyond the present. The problem is, those are the same folks who wear you down by over-analyzing and then beat you up on price.  
    We’re doomed.

  9. Perhaps we should concentrate
    Perhaps we should concentrate on building value with other benefits besides energy savings. No housewife would turn down a home with less household dust or one that is less likely to promote mold growth. How about radon free or fewer pest problems. Less mainteance is desirable for folks on the go in a sound bite world. Then maybe people would value uniform comfort where every room was within a couple degrees of the thermostat. Then again maybe not if we don’t tell em.

  10. Danny, I agree with you. My
    Danny, I agree with you. My main focus has shifted to improving comfort with the utility savings being an added benefit. Because more people are stuck in their current homes, more of them are saying “Well, if I’m stuck in it, might as well make it comfortable to live in it”. Actually being able to cool you upstairs lower than 78 degrees in the middle of the summer adds a great deal of value to what you are offering.

  11. How does a tile job cost the
    How does a tile job cost the customer more than an HVAC system? And why when cuts are necessary, does the contractor come the the heating guy first?  
    In my experience the home owners aren’t even aware that their HVAC is being done on the cheap. Shame on you builders.

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