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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Air Conditioner (AC) purchase Experience, Chennai

I have been resident of Chennai for close to 9 years now and till date somehow managed without the comfort of an Air Conditioner at home.  Every summer I was tempted to buy an AC but kept postponing the purchase, partly because earlier rental house didn’t have proper provisions for split AC (and owner kept insisting we get a window AC to prevent any changes to building- window AC is now out of fashion, costs almost as much as split and has little resale value) and partly because my need for AC was only in the night, as day time was spent in office. One year ago I seriously evaluated portable AC (detailed findings in this post) but eventually concluded that it is not practical. Fans tried their best to comfort us but there were many mornings of discomfort that pushed me inch by inch towards the comfort a proper air conditioning can provide. Finally made up my mind to go buy an AC this summer. 
Once I made up my mind, had to decide on the brand, type, model, where to buy and so on. This post shares the process I went through. I do not claim to be an expert in AC purchase and urge you to use your own discretion and validation before making a decision.

Step 1: Deciding type of AC
As I had decided on Split AC, window AC and portable AC were out of consideration. But within Split AC, I had to decide between the tonnage, star rating and standard/inverter type. I did some readings, spoke to my relatives who had expertise in this area and decided to settle for 1 ton Inverter AC. Below were my considerations.

Difference between standard split AC and inverter AC
In standard AC power to compressor is cut off once desired temperature is achieved. But then, after sometime temperature raises again and compressor has to be started again to supply cool air to regain the desired temperature. This frequent start & stop of compressor is believed to consume more power than inverter AC which (explained below0

In an Inverter AC, once desired temperature is reached, inverter is NOT shut down. Instead, inverter AC calculates how much airflow is required to maintain the temperature, keeps the compressor running in lower capacity and keeps injecting small quantity of cool air continuously. This is believed to cut power consumption and result in savings.

Inverter technology ACs are believed to be more flexible in their tonnage abilities and they don't have a star rating yet. The terminology is somewhat misleading, because they don't have any inverter as such don't work if there is no power supply.

Difference between 3 star and 5 star
Star ratings indicate energy efficiency and in turn savings in electricity bill. 3 Star and 5 Star ACs are common, but you might find 2 star and 7 star also (Godrej has recently launched a 7 star one- one of the shops I visited had a poster on it, but pricing and stock was not yet available). For an industrial/commercial usage, star rating makes huge difference in electricity bill, because industrial power connection is priced much higher than domestic electricity supply. For domestic usage, the electricity saving is measured at 50 paise per hour (A 1.5 ton 5 Star AC saves 50 paise worth of power every hour compared to 1.5 ton 3 star AC)- The price difference between 1.5 ton 3 star AC and 1.5 ton 5 star ac could be about Rs 4000-5000 approx for same brand and other features. – This means it will take about two to three years to recover the cost difference- actual duration depends on power tariff in your city, hours of usage per day, exact brand/model chosen etc). Similarly a 1 ton inverter AC is expected to save about Rs 1.5 per hour, compared to 1.5 ton 5 star AC. There are many tools online to help calculate required tonnage, power consumption for different types of AC etc.

If the need is minimal (like for a guest room, to be used just a few days a month) then cheaper, less power efficient ones will be good idea.
  
Selecting the tonnage
Tonnage indicate cooling capability of the AC. Following factors play key role
  • Room size- length, width, height (A false ceiling can reduce cooling area and hence save money in long run)
  • Heat sources- does the room receive direct sunlight? Is the roof same as terrace or there’re floors above? Do you plan to use any heat generating equipment inside the room?
  • How quick you want the room to be cooled? As fast as possible or can you wait for a few mins?
  • To what temperature you wish to cool- like very cold at 18-20 degrees or at reasonably comforting 24-26 degrees?
  • Primary usage is in day time? Or night? (temp will be bit lower in the night and no additional heat like sunrays)
  • City in which you live (all factors being same, a room in Chennai might need 1.5 ton while same setup in Bengaluru or Pune can manage with 1 ton)
  • How many people will be using the room?
General rule is that if the room volume is 1000 Sq feet or above, you should consider 1.5 ton
Again, price difference between a 1 ton 5* vs 1.5 ton 5* can be about Rs 5000. While 1.5 ton will give you faster cooling over larger area, it will also consume more power, part of which will go waste if there is no real need for 1.5 ton.

Which brand of AC is best?
There are a dozen prominent brands to choose from- Voltas, LG, Daikin, Godrej, Samsung, Haier, General, Onida, Blue Star, Videocon and so on.  I am no expert in this regard to suggest which one is best- but my observations in this regard are as below
-          LG and Samsung seem to be giving better margin to dealers and more incentives, so if you leave it to showroom guy to recommend, he will almost always suggest an LG or Samsung
-          Some brands are exclusively into cooling systems- like Voltas, Blue Star, Daikin, whereas for other brands AC is one of the several products in their portfolio. If you feel like going with a specialist, you can select these marquee brands
-          Daikin, Blue Star and General are about 10% more expensive compared to Voltas/LG/Samsung. But these brands seem to be have better international reputation than the rivals
-          Primarily as a marketing gimmick, there are several additional features advertised by brands. Check if they really appeal to you and add value.
o   Some LG models promise to repel mosquitos. (If you are using AC, you need to close all windows and insulate the room, so mosquito intrusion should not be there in first place)
o   Few models come with Wi-Fi. You can connect the AC to home wifi, download the app on your phone and switch the AC on while you are on your way home-this way, as soon as you step in you will be in cool ambiance- no need to wait till the room gets cool
o   Most models promise few layers of air filtering to eliminate harmful substances
o   Stabilizer free AC- some Samsung models do not need additional stabilizer- but if your locality is prone to frequent power fluctuations, do check if the model can really withstand extreme voltage fluctuations.
o   Extended compressor warranty (5 years is standard, some brands/models offer 10 year warranty on compressor)
o   Colour- while white is the universal colour for Air Conditioners, some brands like Hair, Onida etc have ACs in different colours- if that excites you try such brands.
o   Display- Some AC models have LCD display on them showing temperature and other info. Most other models will only have a few LED indicators
-           
Stabilizer for the AC
Single Boost stabilizer usually comes with the AC at no extra cost. Single Boost implies it can operate comfortably within a voltage range of 170 V to 270 V. A double boost stabilizer can operate between 140 V to 270 V (Input range). Double boost stabilizer costs 2k extra. V-Guard is a reliable brand which is stylish as well, but Everest is the other brand which is cheaper and sells in good numbers. It is not practical to change/upgrade stabilizer later, so chose it wisely depending on worst case power fluctuation scenario in your locality.

Where to buy? Will it be cheaper to buy an AC online?
Online? Flipkart and Amazon do have lower price than brick and mortar stores. But then they may not have delivery to all areas (at least for my PINCODE, there was no seller)- so I couldn’t pursue AC via this channel and had to go conventional way of visiting a store and buying from them. Unlike a book or a mobile, AC is a complicated machinery. If you receive a defective unit dealing with refund/replacement can be a nightmare. If it is a local shop, you can walk in and demand an answer. So unless price difference is huge, it might be worth to buy from a nearby physical store.

I checked with popular retain chains like Croma, Reliance Digital, Viveks etc. But their prices were a few thousand rupees more than less popular stores.  It is natural because these chains have to pay huge amount of rentals every month, have to pay dozens of staff and other overheads like advertising- all of which need to be recovered from people who buy from there.  Most won’t let you take photograph of the model/price list. I realized that I won’t be getting best price in these shops. (There were no offers running when I visited- if there is a sale then their price might be at par with less popular shops)

I spent most of my Saturday going from one AC dealer to another, asking for quote of specific models to assess who is selling cheap and who is quoting more. At some shops, staff would give me standard quote and when I asked for their best possible rate, I was asked to select a model and make a decision, then they would reduce a bit. I am not interested in bargaining- I need shopkeeper to offer best deal he can offer and I will either say Yes or No. After branded retailers, I visited few smaller traders- like Chandra Traders and Kumaran traders in Chennai. These folks don’t have fancy showroom or army of staff, so their overheads are lower and they can give better rates. We had bought our TV from Chandra Traders- so they were my first preference this time. But I didn’t get a consistent experience- on day 1 evening, staff said LG and Onida are best brands, are trouble free and sell in good numbers while rest are selling average numbers. On Day 2 morning, some other guy was hell bent on making me buy a Samsung AC highlighting various features. The price they gave on phone was lower but when I walked in, they quoted a higher amount. Checked with two different stores of Chandra Traders- got slightly different quotes. Similarly only after I zeroed in on a model, they told me that that model is not in stock and asked me to buy a more expensive model. Also they said Inverter ACs are available only upon booking- this is not true. Because I didn’t get a consistent experience and their tactics seemed manipulative, I decided not to buy from them.

After considering my current needs and possible future scenarios (increase in power tariff, need for better cooling etc), I zeroed in on 1 ton Inverter AC. (1.5 ton inverter AC is about 10k more expensive, I felt it is not needed). Our room size was coming to about 1300-1400 cubic feet and I should have ideally opted for 1.5 ton. But I was fine with little slower cooling and usage was mostly in the night, so felt 1 Ton Inverter AC is adequate. My choice of brand was Voltas, but most dealers I visited didn’t have stock of Voltas Inverter AC. They only had 3* and 5* ACs. Then I spotted a sweet deal on DAIKIN by one of the sellers (Kumaran traders) and sealed the deal. Note that packaging doesn't spell out the tonnage.

Rathna Fan House is another prominent dealer in Chennai for ACs. However their shop it bit too far so didn’t consider. If you have access to Military Canteen or Mega stores like METRO, then do try. 

I thank my relatives and friends who provided input in this matter.
 Summary:
  • Buying a more energy efficient AC will ensure payback over a period of few years, assuming you use regularly and AC lasts without any trouble and/or you won’t be selling it off. Do your research before visiting a shop and have your priorities set. Else shop guys will confuse you and make you buy what gets them most profit.
  • If you are cash trapped and fine with a low capacity AC, then 1 ton 2*/3 star split ACs are available for 20-25k onwards. But for serious buyers, factor a budget of 30-35k.
  • Before paying check what are all included in the price and what is not. If you are ignorant, you might be asked to pay for delivery, stabilizer, installation etc. While installation labor charge was included in AC, I had to cough up about Rs 1300 for outdoor unit stand and 5 meter cable (Stabilizer to outdoor unit)
Quick feedback on Daikin Inverter AC after 2 days of usage

  1. Model is plain, simple and feels small. Fine with me but if you need your AC to impress your guests, get some other model
  2. Cooling is pretty satisfactory
  3. Remote control battery can't be turned off, so will keep draining whole day (Wireless mouse comes with a button to turn off battery, so you can save on AAA battery
  4. Coming out of bedroom to living room now feels like stepping on to an oven, because body is used to cool ambience. Couple of days ago it was quite comfortable to move around anywhere in the house at the same normal temperature

18 comments :

The wild said...

Regarding your experience not being consitent that is a standard selling tactic in India ,they only want to strike a deal if you are prepared to buy .So you go ahead and negotiate the best deal -if the price is something that doesnt suit your purse -you walk on and tell them that price doesnt match mine.Its been that way for ages

Price difference between different branches is again due to selling margins ,one guy is willing to forgo more of his margin to make the sale -all depending on how much they sold that month and their respective internal targets ,nothing out of the ordinary there as well.

Personally i have experienced Samsung TV,refrigerators -generally their products are worthy.Again its personal preference etc.I would be personally pulled towards going towards buying market specialists such as voltas ,daikin etc but regardless of brand they are very prone to outsourcing the manufacturing of their products to third parties (good research required to zero in on the right brand even in this band).

Reminded me of the Kelvinator ad from yester years - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UdrKqEkyEs&ab_channel=AbhijeetKasbekar

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@The Wild
Thanks for the detailed inputs. Yes,there is some element of risk with all brands. Usually most of them will survive warranty period without any problems

Destination Infinity said...

I bought a Onida 3 star AC recently. It was one of the ACs in my budget and the performance is fine. Others are too expensive. Should I have bought the AC three months back to get a better price?

Destination Infinity

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Good to know Rajesh

If you had bought 3 months ago, you would have gotten cheaper, but probably old stock...

Bushra Muzaffar said...

Congrats on your new purchase. Summers are going to be great for you :) I have a Hitachi window A/C. It's been seven years...so far no issues. It is really good.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Bushra for your wishes and thanks for the feedback on your AC

Sreedhar Bhattaram said...

Congrats on the new purchase.. Good market survey carried out.. Valid points of the right selection!

Tomichan Matheikal said...

I learnt something about ACs though I have no plan to buy one. Whenever I slept in AC room I woke up feeling uncomfortable. Some people are born losers :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Sreedhar

@Tomichan- where do you live? May be your locality doesn't need an AC

Girish said...

Is Temperature Indicator there in Indoor unit of Daikin Invertor AC.
can it visible in Night time?
pls reply.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Girish

No, there is no indicator. You can see temp only in remote...

wolverine said...

Thanks for the helpful post.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

You are welcome

revathynarayan murali said...

Where is Kumar an traders. Can you please give me the contact details. Thanks

Shrinidhi Hande said...

between Vijaya Nagar bus stand and Saravana bhavan in Velachery. I saw few other shops with same name in Velachery-Tambaram road

rbreedy said...

Does any one know who is the fabricant for TelStar A/C?

sai kumar said...

Can you please suggest me a place in Chennai where I can find more options in ac?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

For portable AC, refer my other post. They have an office in Ethiraj Salai

For regular AC visit any Viveks or Croma showroom