50 Expert Tips on Identifying, Comparing, Evaluating, and Dealing with Heating and Air Professionals
Your HVAC system is one of the most expensive systems in your home, so you probably do everything that you can to keep it running efficiently and properly. You may be comfortable checking your thermostats and changing your filters, but you probably seek out reliable, professional HVAC/heating and air specialists when it comes to diagnosing and repairing your system. The problem is knowing which HVAC company is the best in your area.
If you’re not sure how to hire the best heating and air company, you’re not alone. Lots of homeowners are unsure how to go about identifying, comparing, evaluating, and eventually dealing with contractors and HVAC companies. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best tips and quotes from HVAC/heating and air experts; to guide you through the process of finding top-notch local professionals who can expertly diagnose, repair, or replace your HVAC unit. We’ve divided our tips and quotes into the following four categories, to make it even easier for you to find exactly the information you’re looking for so that you can find just the right professionals to ensure the comfort of your family in your home.
- Tips for Identifying a Reliable, Professional HVAC/Heating and Air Company
- Comparing HVAC/Heating and Air Companies
- Evaluating the Credentials and Qualifications of HVAC/Heating and Air Companies
- Tips for Dealing with HVAC/Heating and Air Companies
1. Use your resources to identify a reliable, local heating and air company. “After creating a list of candidates, call the Better Business Bureau, your state’s board of contractors or builders’ association to check on their reputations…. Avoid companies who have many complaints on their record.” – How to Choose an HVAC Company, Fredericksburg.com; Twitter: @NewsInTheBurg
2. Professional standards are a sign of a reliable HVAC company. “Reliable contractors are professional. Their people are prompt and courteous. How a company treats you now reflects how they will treat you if there is a problem. They should have an office or shop facility, and they should not be ashamed to have you visit them. An office or shop is an indication that the company has been in business and intends to remain in business.” – How to Choose a Contractor: Choosing Heating and Air Conditioning Contractors, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; Twitter: @ACEEEdc
3. Call references to determine if you have chosen a quality heating and air company. “Ask contractors for customer references and call them. Ask about the contractor’s installation or service performance, and if the job was completed on time and within budget.” – 10 Tips for Hiring a Heating and Cooling Contractor, ENERGY STAR; Twitter: @ENERGYSTAR
4. Find an HVAC company known for its honesty. “A good contractor should be able to explain to you the problem on the spot without confusing you with too much information and using too much technical jargon, proving once and for all that he is knowledgeable of the job and that he is honest about it. This will also prove that he looks at things in the big picture.” – Karl H. Abbott, Choosing a Heating and Air Company and What Qualities to Look For, EzineArticles; Twitter: @EzineArticles
5. Choose the heating and air company that takes the time to accurately assess your home. “In fact, you should be wary of the contractor willing to give you a quote over the phone. To provide the most precise estimate, a technician will need to physically see what your system looks like and what the work will potentially entail. Consequently, you should look for someone who is willing to take the time to inspect your home and give you a more accurate assessment.” – How to Hire an HVAC Contractor, Yellow Pages; Twitter: @YP
6. Do your homework and know what to look for in a contractor for your area. “Most states require that HVAC contractors obtain a certification or license to practice, so be sure to ask potential contractors for verification before securing them to work in your home. Technicians also need to complete specialized training in order to repair, maintain and set up the advanced systems found in today’s homes.
Heating and cooling technicians may be certified by a variety of organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and North American Technician Excellence (NATE), an independent, third-party certification body that provides rigorous, optional tests that validate the technician’s knowledge.” – Tips for Finding an HVAC Contractor, 17512 Columbia
7. Check for complaints against the HVAC company you are considering hiring. “Next you’ll want to hit up the Better Business Bureau. Search for the local Bureau and check to see if there are any outstanding complaints against the contractor. While you’re at it, check your local Chamber of Commerce and Department of Consumer Affairs…. Ideally you’ll find no complaints lodged against the contractor you want to hire.” – Jason Fitzpatrick, How to Hire a Contractor without Getting Hosed, LifeHacker; Twitter: @lifehacker
8. Beware of HVAC and heating and air companies that sound too good to be true. “HVAC companies are always running deals and seasonal specials throughout the year. But the companies that advertise service calls that are far cheaper than all the others or even offer FREE service calls are the ones you want to avoid. These companies may bury those charges in other repair or replacement fees.
Beware of price estimates that are too low – granted, you want to save money and avoid costly HVAC repairs whenever you can. However, cheap prices are usually an indication of a contractor or technician that is cutting corners and not doing things according to the manufacturer’s specs.” – 4 Things to be Aware of Before Hiring an HVAC Repair Technician, HVAC Tips
9. Get all of the information you need about the heating and air company’s staff, guarantees, and maintenance service agreement ahead of time. “Make sure the contractor has adequate staff to install the system and respond promptly to service calls. What guarantees, warranties and follow-up service are offered? Warranties vary, so it’s important to know what is included in the warranty and what is not. Ask about a maintenance service agreement – what does it cost and what does it cover?” – Questions to Ask when Replacing Your HVAC, Touchstone Energy Cooperatives; Twitter: @TSECooperatives
10. Ask for specific information about the installation technicians for the HVAC company. “Are the technicians NATE (North American Technician Excellence) certified? Will they perform detailed load calculations, and duct design/installation?” – Five Questions to Ask when Replacing Your HVAC System, Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corporation; Twitter: @SurryYadkinEMC
11. Determine exactly who is covered by the company’s licenses and insurance. “Keep it legal. Ask to see state and local licenses, liability insurance forms and worker’s compensation documents. Be sure that these documents apply to the contractor as well as any technicians and subcontractors in his or her employ.” – Choosing a Heating and Cooling System Contractor, AboutHVAC.com
12. Know exactly how and when the company wants to be paid. “Be careful with any contractor who pushes for part of all of the payment in advance, or with any contractor who needs payment in advance to purchase equipment for the job. This is especially true if it was the contractor who initiated the contact. Smart people pay at stages of work, or when the job is complete. Some specialized, one-of-a-kind custom work requires a good faith deposit, but you should exercise good judgment when doing so.” – Consumer Awareness: Tips for Choosing and Dealing with Contractors, North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors
13. Determine whether the company has liability insurance. “State insurance requirements vary depending on the contractor’s incorporation status and type of license. If there is no insurance requirement, you may wish to ensure that the contractor has voluntarily acquired liability insurance. If the contractor has liability insurance, they should be able to provide you with a copy of their insurance certificate.” – Tips for Hiring an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) Contractor, Concord Municipal Light Plant; Twitter: @CMLPmedia
14. Determine if your HVAC company offers rebates and other incentives. “While in the process of finding an HVAC technician, ask what rebates and incentives might fit with your situation and needs. PG&E offers a number of different rebates and incentives, which can save your business money by offsetting the costs on HVAC repairs and upgrades.” – Gary Fagilde, 6 Things You Need to Know Before Contacting an HVAC Contractor, PG&E; Twitter: @PGE4Me
15. Ensure the heating and air company you’re doing business with offers twenty-four hour service. “A quality ‘HVAC Expertise’ contractor will have technical assistance available around the clock, every day of the year, including holidays, to solve heating and air conditioning emergencies. Often times, the technician will be able to help the customer determine if the problem actually warrants a potentially expensive service call.” – Choosing an HVAC Expert, HVAC Expertise; Twitter: @HVACExpertise
16. Choose the HVAC company that truly values your business. “Truly professional contractors care about your home’s indoor environment system, because they care about your business… and they want your referrals. True professionals offer employee training, provide state of the art equipment, ask you questions about your lifestyle needs, and provide options for service, so you can make the right decision.” – What’s a Good Contractor Worth?, ACCA; Twitter: @accausa
17. Understand what to expect from a qualified HVAC company. “A qualified home performance contractor will help you solve problems in your home such as comfort, indoor air quality, moisture, and combustion safety, and will help you reduce your energy bills. [He also will] use technologically advanced tools to diagnose your home before makings suggestions for improvements.” – Top 10 Questions to Compare Home Performance Contractors, Building Performance Institute, Inc. (BPI); Twitter: @_BPI_
18. Only hire an HVAC or heating and air company that has licensed, experienced technicians. “If your heating and air conditioning system needs to be repaired, there are a lot of service companies willing to do the job. However, it’s important to remember that due to the sophisticated nature of HVAC technology, system maintenance and repairs should only be performed by a licensed technician. Hiring an unlicensed, inexperienced company will not only affect the quality of your repair, it can also create a dangerous situation for everyone in your home.” – James Florence, The Importance of Hiring a Licensed HVAC Technician, Diamond Certified Blog; Twitter: @diamondcert
19. Narrow your choices to heating and air companies that are available 24/7. “If your heater quits working during a deep freeze or your air conditioner goes on the blink just when the temperature rises about 100 degrees F, it’s a comfort – and safety – emergency. That’s true even if it’s Christmas Day or the 4th of July. You want a contractor who is available 24/7 every day of the year. Hopefully, you’ll never need to make that weekend or holiday call, but we all know Murphy’s Law so make sure when you need them, your air conditioning and heating contractor will answer your call for help.” – Erin Emanuel, Find a Great HVAC Contractor – And Stick With Them!, Strategies Online
20. Hire the company that requires NATE certification. “Technical training is a must, whether it is through an on-the-job apprenticeship, a short-term vocational course or a full-fledged certification program at a technical or trade school. Also, many states do require a license to become an HVAC technician – this license is usually obtained by passing an exam. Federally, techs must become certified with the EPA in order to work with refrigerants. NATE certifications – North American Technical Excellence – are also valuable, although not required by all HVAC employers.” – What is an HVAC Technician, Explore the Trades; Twitter: @ExploreTrades
21. Choose an HVAC company that employs the best technicians with customer service and safety in mind. “We built our reputation and business on reliability, convenience, and the best warranties in the industry. Our team strives to provide 100% customer satisfaction built on respect for you and your home. Most importantly, we only hire the best heating technicians by utilizing stringent hiring practices and conducting thorough background checks on all of our technicians. We employ these hiring practices for our customer’s safety and peace of mind. Our technicians are licensed, bonded, and insured. SolvIt technicians are equipped to repair, maintain, and install all major appliances. We provide service on your schedule with upfront pricing.” – Scott Bilodeau, President, Heating Technicians Available 24/7, SolvIt Home Services; Twitter: @SolvItHomeSvcs
22. Determine which professional and trade organizations the HVAC companies you’re considering belong to. “Reputable HVAC companies will usually belong to recognized professional and trade organizations. Some well-known organizations include the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers. Membership in one of these organizations is not automatic. Applicants are required to have certain certifications, meet professional standards and meet or exceed other requirements before they are admitted.” – How to Choose an HVAC Company, Missoulian; Twitter: @missoulian
23. Check with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) about the company’s reputation. “The ACCA is a non-profit organization comprised of more than 60,000 professionals and 4,000 businesses in the indoor environment field and energy services. ACCA helps customers who are looking for quality contractors find reputable businesses and their members. These businesses are sure to be in good standing and able to provide a number of referrals for previous jobs.” – Svetlana Guineva, 6 Tips on Choosing a HVAC Contractor, Buildings; Twitter: @BuildingsMedia
24. Check to see whether the company is a NADCA Member. “Trade associations are a common way for members of an industry to band together in support of higher standards and performance. NADCA is a trade association comprised of about 1,000 companies in the HVAC inspection, maintenance, and restoration industry who have signed the NDACA Code of Ethics, and they have also invested time and resources into industry-related training and education.
Hiring a NADCA member provides consumers with an added level of security, since members possess general liability insurance, and have at least one person on staff that is trained and certified. NADCA requires that all members have at least one certified Air Systems Cleaning Specialist (ASCS) on staff, and they must clean and restore your heating and cooling system in accordance with NADCA standards and guidelines.” – Why You Should Choose a NADCA Member, NADCA; Twitter: @Duct_Cleaners
25. Be sure your HVAC company has two of the most important credentials. “When seeking a contractor we strongly recommend choosing a professional contractor who is a member of a national trade association such as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACAA) and whose technicians are certified by the North American Training Excellence (NATE).” – Choosing the Right Contractor, ZoneFirst; Twitter: @ZONEFIRST
26. Know which questions to ask a heating and air company. “Start by calling and asking the following: How long have they been in business in your area? Which manufacturers do they do installs for? (They should work with at least two different companies.) Verification of trade licenses. Verification of insurance. (Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property.) Verification they are properly registered with the state and local authorities. References of former customers you could actually talk to.” – Choosing a HVAC Contractor (Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning), Better Business Bureau; Twitter: @bbb_us
27. Be sure you know exactly who will be doing the work at your home. “Be sure their technicians are current with new HVAC optimization maintenance processes and upgrades and possess the necessary training and industry certifications. What can you tell me about the skill level, years of experience and training of the service technicians who will perform work on my building? How does your company encourage its technicians to earn HVAC industry certifications? What forms of ongoing training does your company make available to its technicians?” – Choosing the Right HVAC Contractor, Southern California EDISON; Twitter: @SCE
28. Rely on industry resources to check an HVAC company’s credentials. “ACCA strongly recommends hiring a licensed contractor with technicians certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE). The nationally recognized, industry-supported certification organization has its own website with helpful Tips and Resources covering everything from safety to HVAC terminology.” – Kevon Storie, Around the Web: Find Qualified HVAC Installation, Energy Services Bulletin; Twitter: @WesternAreaPowr
29. Know all of the heating and air company’s credentials ahead of time. “Check with your local Better Business Bureau and consumer affairs office for complaint records. It’s a plus if technicians are certified by a trade organization, North American Technician Excellence or HVAC Excellence, to service residential heating and cooling equipment. These and other similar programs assess the technician’s knowledge of specific types of equipment and its proper service methods. We believe that a contractor who has made the effort to get certified and has practiced this trade and learned from several years of service and installation experience will be a better service provider.” – Choosing the Contractor, Consumer Reports; Twitter: @ConsumerReports
30. Find out about warranties when choosing a heating and air company. “Most HVAC warranties cover parts but do not cover the labor to replace the parts. For this reason, it is important to ask your contractor if he or she offers a labor warranty on a newly installed unit. Most reputable contractors will offer a parts and labor warranty for one year following installation. However, past the first year, you typically have to purchase an extended labor warranty (either from the manufacturer or the contractor), because the manufacturer won’t reimburse the contractor for replacing a faulty part.” – Gary Sprague and Chris Brooks, Choosing a Heating or Cooling Contractor, Furnace Compare; Twitter: @FurnaceCompare
31. Check into the company’s background with reputable sources before you hire them. “Check out trusted companies with your BBB at www.bbb.org. Make sure the company you hire has proper licensing and insurance – if they do not have these, the company may not be legitimate, and could end up blaming you for mishaps. Find out if the contractor you are interested in licensed and insured.” – Angie Barnett, Keep Your Cool with BBB’s HVAC Tips, BBB Consumer News and Opinion Blog; Twitter: @bbb_us
32. Determine whether the HVAC company has completed background checks on their technicians. “Does the worker have a picture ID badge and a uniform? Does the company perform rigorous criminal and drug background checks? This can be a sensitive subject to bring up, but I have personally heard of numerous instances where unlicensed contractors or their workers have been linked to crimes, including removing items while homeowners were gone, selling contents of a home, and copying keys and returning to a home later to commit a crime. [I] urge homeowners to speak up and ask for licenses and badges.” – Rocco DiBenedetto, The Dangers of Unlicensed HVAC Contracting, The NEWS; Twitter: @achrnews
33. Ensure the technicians who come to work on your heating and air systems are NATE certified. “To become certified installation and/or service technicians, these technicians must pass both core and specialty parts of either an installation or service test with a score of 70 or better. Specialties include heat pump, air conditioning, air distribution, oil heat and gas heat.
The NATE test is not easy, and not all technicians pass it the first time. NATE certification verifies that the technicians who pass are the best in the trade when it comes to knowledge and experience installing or servicing your home heating or cooling system.
Call your dealer for an appointment and ask if their installation and service technicians are NATE certified. Look for the NATE logo when you need service on your current system or a new comfort system.” – NATE Certification, Trane; Twitter: @Trane
34. Understand how the company determines the size of your replacement HVAC system. “To determine the right size for your home, reputable companies and contractors use the Manual J load analysis when installing a new system. Manual J is a calculation that takes into account your home’s age, number and condition of its windows, insulation, number of floors, square footage, local energy rates and other factors.
Beware the contractor who merely bases the size of the new HVAC on the size of your existing one. Often these systems are out of date or were not properly sized from the start. A good contractor should also ask you about any heating or cooling issues you’ve been having to ensure they’re addressing all possible solutions.” – Leah Lerner, 8 Questions to Ask an HVAC Contractor, Yellow Pages; Twitter: @YP
35. Don’t settle for an HVAC or heating and air company that does not have NATE-certified technicians. “Consumers can rest assured that with a NATE-certified technician, they are getting the best installation and service for maximum comfort and economy in their heating and cooling system. Better installation and service mean longer life for your heating and cooling equipment and increased energy efficiency. Technicians who are NATE certified know that NATE stands for excellence and quality service.” – Why Should I Choose a Contractor with NATE-Certified Technicians?, North American Technician Excellence (NATE); Twitter: @NATEtechnicians
36. Find an HVAC or heating and air company who will work with you before something goes wrong with your system. “We strongly recommend that you find the right contractor and develop a relationship with their company before something goes wrong. When your system breaks down in extreme weather, your first priority will be to get the system working as quickly as possible for your family’s comfort. This is when you can wind up spending a lot more money than you might want to.” – What’s a Good Contractor Worth?, ACCA; Twitter: @accausa
37. Ask about the company’s staff and service plans. “Make sure the contractor has adequate staff to install the system and respond promptly to service calls. What guarantees, warranties and follow-up service are offered? Warranties vary, so it’s important to know what is included in the warranty and what is not. Ask about a maintenance service agreement – what does it cost and what does it cover?” – Questions to Ask When Replacing Your HVAC, Tipmont REMC; Twitter: @tipmontremc
38. Choose the HVAC company that will put everything in writing. “Sign a written contract before work gets started. This protects you by specifying project costs, model numbers, job schedule, and warranty information.” – How to Find, Select, and Work with an HVAC Contractor, BGE Smart Energy; Twitter: @MyBGE
39. Schedule service during slow times of the year. “Arrange for service calls before the start of heating or cooling season. You’ll get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling the appointment.” – Danny Lipford, Tips for Dealing with HVAC Pros, Today’s Homeowner with Danny Lipford; Twitter: @DannyLipford
40. Know that you are getting full service from your HVAC company. “Ask the contractor to inspect your ducts for air leaks and insulation if you have a forced-air system (i.e. furnace, heat pump or central air conditioner). It is especially important to check ducts located in an attic or crawlspace.” – Recommendations for Finding a Contractor, ENERGY STAR; Twitter: @ENERGYSTAR
41. Get as much information from the heating and air company as possible when dealing with service and repairs. “When you call, describe symptoms in as much detail as possible. Ask the company to explain how it calculates service charges. Have the company provide a written description of needed work and total price to do it before it begins work. Ask to see replaced parts. Be present, but not in the way, as work proceeds. Get a detailed invoice.” – HVAC Repair Tips, Consumers’ Checkbook; Twitter: @CheckbookOrg
42. Have a good working relationship with your HVAC company. “Never sign over the insurance check. Do not pay with cash or pay the total charges before the work is complete. The Home Improvement law prohibits contractors from asking for a down payment of more than 1/3 of the total contract.” – Tips for Hiring a Contractor, TN Department of Commerce & Insurance; Twitter: @TNCommerceInsur
43. Expect an HVAC contractor to evaluate your home’s system and provide information to you in writing. “The contractor should thoroughly inspect your current system and home to assess your needs. A contractor should size the heating and cooling system based on the size of your house, level of insulation, and windows.
Sign a written proposal with a contractor before work gets started. It’ll protect you by specifying project costs, model numbers, job schedule and warranty information.” – Helene Siegmundt, 10 Tips for Hiring a Heating and Cooling Contractor from Your BBB, BBB Consumer News and Opinion Blog; Twitter: @bbb_us
44. Know what to expect from a full-service HVAC or heating and air company. “When hunting for a company to maintain your system, look for one that designs, installs and services the type of system you have. Full-service companies tend to be up to date on the latest advances in the field.” – Danny Lipford, Calling in an HVAC Pro, This Old House; Twitter: @ThisOldHouse
45. Be aware of what a maintenance check-up should include. “Maintain your equipment to prevent future problems and unwanted costs. Keep your cooling and heating system at peak performance by having a contractor do annual pre-season check-ups. Contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it’s best to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. To remember, you might plan the check-ups around the time changes in the spring and fall.
A typical maintenance check-up should include a technician checking thermostat settings, tightening all electrical connections, lubricating all moving parts, checking and inspecting the condensate drain, and checking controls of the system.” – Maintenance Checklist, ENERGY STAR; Twitter: @ENERGYSTAR
46. Know what a professional service technician should do when inspecting your air conditioning system. “The technician should check for correct amount of refrigerant, test for refrigerant leaks using a leak detector, capture any refrigerant that must be evacuated form the system instead of illegally releasing it to the atmosphere, check for and seal duct leakage in central systems, measure airflow through the evaporator coil, verify the correct electric control sequence and make sure that the heating system and cooling system cannot operate simultaneously, inspect electric terminals, clean and tighten connections, and apply a non-conductive coating if necessary, oil motors and check belts for tightness and wear, and check the accuracy of the thermostat.” – Maintaining Your Air Conditioner, U.S. Department of Energy; Twitter: @ENERGY
47. Ensure that the heating and air company has been in business locally for at least five years. “A contractor who’s been plying his trade locally for five or 10 years has an established network of subcontractors and suppliers in the area and a local reputation to uphold. That makes them a safer bet than a contractor who’s either new to the business or planning to commute to your job from 50 miles away.
Ask for a business card with a nearby address – not a P.O. box. Ask for references from one or two of his earliest clients. This’ll help you verify he hasn’t just recently hung his shingle.” – Oliver Marks, 5 Essential Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor, HouseLogic; Twitter: @HouseLogic
48. Look over the contract carefully before you sign on the dotted line. “A complete contract should state clearly all tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Guarantees made verbally by the contractor should be written into the contract. It should state how long the guarantee is valid, what it covers and who is responsible. Make sure to keep a copy of the contract and any receipts in a safe place with your home owner’s manual.” – Choosing a Contractor: HVAC Heating – Ventilation Air Conditioning, BBB and the Idaho Division of Building Safety; Twitter: @bbb_us and @IDAHOgov
49. Continue with the same technician, or at least the same HVAC company once you’ve found the right one. “If you can, request the same technician. But, even if you can’t, continue to use the same company. They’ll have your records and they’ll get to know your equipment. They may be able to spot problems quicker and get them fixed before they get bigger. That’s a real money saver. Plus, when they know your equipment, they should be able to give you good advice on what to fix and when to fix it. And, you should be able to trust the advice they give you. When you have a long-term relationship with a company, you are less likely to feel like they’re taking advantage of you or just trying to sell you something.” – Erin Emanuel, Find a Great HVAC Contractor – And Stick with Them!, Strategies Online
50. Know the recommendations for HVAC cleaning. “Is the contractor willing to conduct a thorough inspection of the HVAC system prior to performing any work? Does the contractor agree to disclose any problems discovered during the HVAC inspection? Is the HVAC system fully operational before cleaning? Will the contractor clean the supply ductwork? Will the contractor clean the return ductwork?” – Checklist for Residential Consumers, NADCA; Twitter: @Duct_Cleaners