Choosing a good contractor to install a new furnace or central air conditioner can be as important as the brand of equipment you choose, because proper installation and maintenance is needed for the equipment to operate safely, reliably and efficiently. Here are some suggestions for selecting a specialist:
1. Study up — Find out about license and insurance requirements for contractors in your state. Before you call a contractor, know the model of your current system and its maintenance history. Also make note of any uncomfortable rooms. This will help potential contractors better understand your needs and offer solutions to any heating or cooling problems.
2. Ask for referrals — Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for HVAC contractor referrals. The best contractors get work through satisfied customers’ referrals. You can also contact local trade organizations for names of members in your area. Most leading residential contractors belong to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) or the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA). Both sites provide listings of heating, cooling, ventilation and refrigeration contractors in your area.
3. Call the BBB — Find out about the contractor’s installation and service performance by contacting your local Better Business Bureau (BBB). Ask them what the potential company’s overall rating is and what it is based on.
4. Find special offers — A heating and cooling system is one of the largest purchases you’ll make as a homeowner. Keep your costs down by checking around for available rebates on energy-efficient ENERGY STAR qualified heating and cooling equipment. Begin your search at www.energystar.gov . Also check out the website of the brand that you are considering such as www.Lennox.com and www.Trane.com.
5. Look for ENERGY STAR Products — ENERGY STAR qualified products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and offer significant long-term energy savings. Contractors should be able to show you calculations of savings for ENERGY STAR heating and cooling equipment. Using their heat-load or cooling-load calculations, contractors should be able to estimate the annual operating costs (energy bills) for the equipment they are proposing for your home.
6. Expect a home evaluation — The contractor should spend time inspecting your current system and home to assess your needs. Many furnaces and central air conditioners are not properly sized for the homes they serve, because of improper sizing years ago or energy efficiency improvements. A bigger system isn’t always better; a contractor should size the heating and cooling system based on the size of your house, level of insulation, and windows. A good contractor will inspect your insulation and duct system for air leaks (if applicable) and measure airflow to make sure it meets manufacturers’ specifications. A reputable contractor should do a survey of your home and base his proposal on a heat-load calculation (or cooling-load calculation for air conditioning).
7. Get written estimates — When comparing contractors’ proposals (bids), be sure to compare cost, energy efficiency and warranties. The lowest price may not be the best deal if it’s not the most efficient, because your energy costs will be higher. Do not give your business to a company offering to give you an estimate over the phone without ever looking at the job to be done.
8. Look for Value — Good contractors may charge more, but they probably offer greater value. Be skeptical of extremely low bids; those contractors may not be including all routine services and customary warranties.
9. Get it in ink — 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.
10. Reliable contractors are professional — Their people are prompt and courteous. The way a company treats you now reflects how they will treat you if there is a problem. Be sure they offer you a 100% satisfaction guarantee.