Heating and cooling is one of the less glamorous aspects of maintaining a healthy and livable home. However, your home’s internal systems such as plumbing, heating, or cooling are essential to the health, safety, and comfort of your family. A heating and cooling contractor is a specialized contractor who installs and services heating, cooling, and ventilation equipment including ducts, programmable thermostats, furnaces, boilers, central air conditioners, and heat pumps. Some contractors even provide specialized services like air balancing, duct sealing and energy audits. When the time comes to call a heating and cooling specialist it’s vital to choose a highly qualified, trained and full-time professional. A number of factors need to be taken into consideration when searching for your ideal healing and cooling contractor. Below are 8 tips toward finding a good, honest contractor.
1. Prepare and gather necessary information- It’s crucial that you have a basic understanding of what you need and what you need to convey to your heating and cooling contractor. Make sure that you gather pertinent information for them including the climate in your location, the amount of sunlight you get every day and areas in your home which may be hard to ventilate. Contractor’s normally ask for this type of information in order to take the correct measures when installing new air conditioning units, heaters, furnaces, ducts and ventilation. You’ll also need to explain if there is any type of heating, cooling or ventilation work that your home requires or any problems that you may have encountered in the past. These details are important and will allow them to project a more accurate cost for the job. In addition, you’re always going to pay more during extreme hot or cold weather so the best time to shop for a new system is during the fall and spring when the weather is mildest. During this down-time companies will compete hard against one another for your business. This is the best time to get a phenomenal deal on a great heating or cooling system.
2. Find a Contractor- Once you have armed yourself with some preliminary information it’s time to find a contractor. Websites like goodhonestcontractor.com are devoted to matching people like you with their ideal contractor. You may also ask friends and other homeowners if they have any suggestions. A contractor's reputation among former clients is the best gauge of his or her work. It's also a good idea to look at the work a contractor has done for previous clients. If they have a website where you can look at projects they have completed, even better.
3. Set Appointments- Set up appointments with at least three contractors in order to find the best contractor for you. Here are a few ideas of questions to ask a prospective contractor:
- Ask the same questions of each contractor so the comparisons are fair, and when you’ve narrowed it down to one or two, check their references thoroughly.
- How long has the company been in business?
- May I visit a site you're currently working on?
- How early will work start in the mornings, and what time will workers leave each day?
- Who will be the contact person if I hire this company?
- What kind of payment schedule will you expect?
- Ask about the technical qualifications of the technician, who will work on your equipment.
- Ask if there are special offers or rebates available for purchasing ENERGY STAR qualified equipment.
- Ask the contractor to size your new equipment to meet the needs of your house. A bigger system isn't always better. New equipment should be sized based on the size of your house, level of insulation, type of windows and other factors. The Manual J, from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), is a common method used by contractors to properly size heating and cooling equipment.
- 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.
- Ask about the number of jobs they have done, their specialization, the length of time needed to complete the job for you, do they do the job themselves or do they hire subcontractors and if they will do all the work from removing the old materials to installing the new unit.
4. Conduct a thorough prospect check- Once you have narrowed down the list of potential candidates, it’s important to do your homework. Your contractor is going to be in your home and involved in a large financial investment so make sure to check them out thoroughly.
Gather References- A professional will easily give you a list of references and volunteer this information from the beginning of the process. If certification is a requirement in your area, make sure to see their credentials. If they are unwillingly to supply any of this information it may be a red flag.
Call References- Call references directly and ask them the following questions:
- Would you use this contractor again?
- Were you satisfied with their work?
- Was it easy communicating with the contractor? Were there any complications? If so, did the contractor respond promptly, was he courteous and did he charge you for any additional work?
- Did the job come in on budget? If not, by how much did he exceed budget? Were the extra charges justified?
- Was a designated foreman available to address your concerns? You want a point person for questions and concerns you have throughout the job.
5. Licensing, certification and insurance- The first thing to keep in mind with a potential heating and cooling contractor is if they have the appropriate certification, licensing and insurance that they can show you as well as verify through regulation boards. When they give you their resume and list of qualifications, it’s up to you to check each of these sources to see if they’re legitimate.
Check local licenses- Many states and towns require that plumbing, heating and cooling contractors be licensed to ensure that all health, safety and building codes are followed. If that's the case where you live, ask the contractor for his or her license number, or call the Building Inspection and Licensing Department at City Hall.
Confirm insurance credentials- Ask to see proof that the contractor has both liability and worker's compensation insurance. If the contractor doesn't, you could be liable for any accidents on your property, including injury to the technician. Double check on their insurance policy before you agree to their services in order to know what is covered and what is not.
Check into building permits- Most localities require a building permit for large home improvement projects. Contact your local licensing or permit department to see if you need one for your project. Make this call before the work begins.
Look into service agreements- Many contractors also offer service agreements that provide periodic check-ups of your plumbing, heating or cooling system. They are usually offered at a reasonable cost, especially compared with the cost of a major emergency that periodic inspections can avoid.
Accreditation- You’ll also want to check with the BBB. Search the Better Business Bureau website at HYPERLINK "http://www.bbb.org" www.bbb.org to locate your local bureau. Enter the company’s name on the website to see if they are BBB accredited and if they have any complaints against them. It’s a good idea to see what your local Chamber of Commerce has to say about the company. It speaks well if they are a registered member and in good standing. Whether your modernizing an entire system, need a repair or are getting air conditioning for the first time, one of the best ways to find a qualified contractor is to choose one that is a member of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association (PHCC)
6. Get an estimate- To get an idea of the overall cost, ask for an estimate. Remember, however, that choosing a contractor should be based on more than just the lowest estimate. Quality of work counts too. Estimates should be free and should be given to you in writing and include these essentials:
- The work to be done in detail
- The equipment they propose on using
- The specific materials to be used
- A time frame for the work to be completed
- A firm price
7. Get it in writing- So you’ve chosen your good honest heating and cooling contractor but before you sign the final paperwork do a thorough inspection of the contract. Ask your contractor to provide you a signed written pricing, timing, quality and warranty agreement as well. If you have any questions, ask your contractor. You’re spending a lot of your hard-earned money, so you deserve to get exactly what you agreed to. After the work is completed, be sure to ask him or her for some written handling instructions for the new installations as well.
8. A few additional points to consider- It’s a good idea to ask about the install crew and whether or not they are drug tested and have had a criminal background check completed. If you’re concerned get their full names so that you can go online and pull up your cities court data and verify yourself. All employees of your contractor should have a company ID card that they’re willing to show the customer when they open the door. These workers are going to be in your home and possibly interacting with your family, it’s smart to ensure that these are the types of people that you want in your home.