Hiring a Qualified HVAC Contractor: Everything a Homeowner Needs to KnowPublished on: December 27, 2013
When facing the challenge of replacing an existing HVAC system or installing a new one, you want to be sure that the equipment is installed properly, maintained correctly, and kept in the best operation condition possible. A homeowner wants to be assured that the furnace, air conditioner or heat pump is safe to operate, that it’s working efficiently, and that the level of heating and cooling provided is the best the equipment can offer.
The best way to ensure all these conditions are met is by hiring an HVAC professional with the knowledge, experience and ability to take care of all aspects of installation, maintenance and repair. Hiring an HVAC contractor can seem confusing, even intimidating when facing a competitive field of possibilities. This brief overview will give you a general outline of what to look for and what to expect when hiring an HVAC contractor. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to make a better choice and find the contractor that will provide the best service for your HVAC project.
Why Hire a Contractor?
Some economy-minded homeowners may balk at the rates charged by a professional HVAC contractor for installation, maintenance and repair. While it’s true that there are some minor maintenance tasks, such as cleaning and air filter changes, that homeowners can do on their own, the majority of HVAC work should be handled by a trained and qualified professional. Hiring an HVAC contractor makes sense when you consider everything a professional brings to your job:
- Licensing and insurance: HVAC professionals must be licensed by your state and are required to be either bonded or carry proper insurance. Licensing ensures that the contractor is approved by your state or local agencies and is properly recognized as an HVAC service provider. Insurance means that the contractor will be financially responsible for certain problems, errors or other issues such as accidental damage to your home.
- Knowledge and experience: When hiring an HVAC contractor, you’re not just hiring someone to come to your home and work on your furnace or air conditioner. You’re also buying that contractor’s hard-won experience and knowledge of all facets of HVAC work. Hiring an HVAC contractor with demonstrated ability and experience means you’ll benefit from the knowledge the contractor has gained from both successes and failures in the past. You can be sure that the professional you hire will have the proper tools and equipment for your job and that he will be able to complete the project in a reasonable amount of time.
- Certifications: A contractor should hold proper certifications in equipment installation, maintenance and repair, especially for more complex or sophisticated equipment such as geothermal heating and cooling systems. A professional will be more likely to belong to industry groups, which indicates an interest in and concern with what’s going on in the larger world of HVAC. Many contractors will also hold certifications from industry organizations such as NATE, which tests and certifies HVAC technicians.
- Safe and proper installation: A practicing professional will be up to date on current HVAC technology and will be able to install the newest and most efficient types of equipment. He will know, understand and apply state and local building codes, and ensure the equipment is installed to manufacturer’s specifications. He will be able to ensure equipment is installed so that it will operate safely and correctly, without fear of problems such as electrical troubles, fires, explosions, fuel or refrigerant leaks, or exposure to exhaust gases such as carbon monoxide.
- Security and respect: When a professional HVAC technician enters your home, he or she will be respectful of your property and will do everything possible to prevent damage or inconvenience to you. An HVAC pro will understand your requirements for security and will respect your belongings, valuables, and other equipment.
Finding and Hiring an HVAC Contractor
The process of finding and hiring an HVAC contractor who will provide the best service for you requires some effort and research. However, this diligence will be repaid many times over in quality of service and homeowner satisfaction with the equipment installed and tasks performed by the contractor. Use the following checklist to help cover the necessary steps in a contractor search:
- Make your initial choice: Ask friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers and other trusted sources for referrals to contractors they have used. If the contractor has done good work for someone you know, he will likely be able to do good work for you, too. Ask your sources for details on contractor performance, any problems encountered, and how the contractor resolved any disputes or other problems. If you choose a contractor recommended by someone you know, let him know who referred him. He’ll be pleased to know that positive word-of-mouth is spreading.
- Research contractor licensing, insurance and credential requirements for your state: Make sure the contractor you’re considering meets all state and local requirements for licensing, insurance, bonding or other professional credentials. Contact the state HVAC licensing board or local building authorities for more information. A reputable contractor will be happy to show you his licensing material; be cautious of any contractor who hesitates or refuses to produce credentials.
- Check references: Ask the contractor to provide the names and contact information for three of their past customers. Contact these individuals and ask about their experiences with the contractor. A reliable contractor should have a readily available list of references and prior customers who will be happy to talk to you about the service they received.
- Get an in-person evaluation of the project: Ask the contractor to visit your home to provide an in-person assessment of the scope and requirements of your HVAC project. A simple task such as putting in a window air conditioner might not require an on-site visit, but more complex projects will benefit from a visual inspection by a professional. By seeing the project site ahead of time, the contractor can plan his approach to the task and provide more accurate bids and estimates.
- Ask for written bids: Request written bids from your top-choice contractor and at least two other qualified professionals. Written bids indicate genuine interest from the contractor and will help you control costs and prevent unexpected problems or cost overruns.
- Prepare and sign a written contract: Make sure there is a written contract specifying in detail what the contractor will do, what equipment will be installed, what materials will be used, and other details of the job. The contract should also clearly state what the contractor will expect from you in return, including total costs, payment terms and homeowner responsibilities. A written, signed contract helps protect both you and the contractor, and clearly sets out the terms of the agreement between you. Be sure you understand all of the terms of the contract before signing it; if you have questions, make sure they are answered to your satisfaction.
- Ask the contractor to take care of permits: If construction or remodeling permits are required, ask your contractor to acquire them. An HVAC professional will know whether or not your particular project will require a permit and will likely be thoroughly acquainted with the local authorities who grant permits.
- Ask about discounts, incentives or other cost-saving measures: Your contractor may offer a discount if the HVAC work you need is done in an off-season or when the contractor is otherwise not so busy. There may also be tax credits or other incentives available for the purchase of certain types of HVAC equipment, such as high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, geothermal systems or heat pumps.
- Use high-efficiency equipment where possible: Ask your contractor about installing high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment if possible. This type of equipment can cost more initially, but in the long run, it will save significant amounts of money on your ongoing home comfort costs. Look for Energy Star-certified equipment and other high-efficiency units.
Another important task you should leave to a professional HVAC contractor is preventive maintenance. Annual or semi-annual tune-ups and function checks for your heating and cooling systems will ensure the equipment runs at its best possible level.
What should you expect after hiring an HVAC contractor to perform maintenance on your furnace or air conditioner? Some of the more common maintenance tasks include:
- Inspect vital components, such as coils, heat exchangers and controls.
- Adjust or repair components as necessary.
- Ensure proper overall operation of system.
- Adjust thermostat.
- Clean and tighten electrical connections, removable components, and other parts that could be loosened during normal operations.
- Make sure air ducts are clean, sealed and insulated.
- Clean and lubricate fans and other moving parts.
- Check belts for condition and replace when necessary.
- Check for and repair fuel leaks, refrigerant leaks and similar problems.
- Make minor repairs and indicate where more significant repair or replacement is needed.
A safe and effective installation of HVAC equipment requires a knowledgeable and qualified contractor. Contact us today for help hiring an HVAC contractor for your residential project.