Your HVAC system just died. Now you have the daunting task of finding the right contractor to replace it. Unfortunately, this is when most people begin their crash course into the mind-numbingly boring world of HVAC. Since there is nothing really that interesting, sexy or remotely entertaining about heating and air conditioning, most people only learn about it when they are forced to, like when your AC dies mid-July and it is 102 degrees with a heat index of 115 or 10 degrees and snowing. You are now tired, stressed, sweaty (or cold, depending on the season) and angry cause you had NO idea it would be this difficult to choose not only what equipment you need but who to select to perform the task. Here is a quick synopsis of what you need to know.
First, find out what you currently have.
Is it a gas furnace with AC?
Do you know where the equipment is?
Is the indoor unit in the attic?
Are the furnace and AC coil in the garage?
Is the heat pump blower under the house?
Next, what tonnage is it?
Is it a 4 ton?
Or something else?
If it is a heating system, what fuel type and size is it?
Or is it a boiler?
What is the BTU rating?
The contractor that told you about the equipment’s untimely demise can provide you with all of this info, so ask questions. If you know the answers already, CONGRATS! You are more informed than 95% of the population.
Next, do you know what you want to replace it with?
Do you want to upgrade to a higher efficiency system?
Change fuel types?
Move or add to the existing system?
Or do you just want something dependable and fast?
Now, the most important part of this process…which contractor to use for the project? Most premature equipment failures are due to improper installation at the beginning. Choosing the right contractor is actually more important than the equipment. The best equipment can become a nightmare with improper installation, and you can bet most of the time the equipment will get blamed for the issues, not the contractor. You can call 10 contractors and they will have 10 different ways of doing the same thing. You will have three that are right, three that are terrible ideas, and the others will be different shades of wrong. Same thing with pricing, you can get five prices: one high, one low and the others some grade of middle ground. What you need to know is WHY the prices are what they are. Sometimes one price can be really high, not because the contractor is shady or trying to gouge you, but because they did a more thorough evaluation and found some other things that needed to be corrected, or special circumstances that require a specific brand or type of equipment. And yes, sometimes the guy is just shady. Also, when comparing quotes, check the equipment types as well as other key factors such as: Is one a higher efficiency than the other? Is one an “off brand”? Is one contractor doing more to correct or alter the system than the others? Is one including more accessories? Did the contractor with the high quote take his time look at and measure the old unit or just snap a picture and write it up?
If a quote is lower than most, you must also find out why. Did they look at the job closely enough? Are they licensed and are they insured? (These two are VERY important, if you knowingly hire, or in some cases unknowingly hire, an unlicensed contractor and something goes wrong, your homeowners insurance may not cover it). Do they have workman’s comp? (If not, and an employee of that contractor is hurt on your property, you can be held liable). Are they an established contractor that you can count on for warranty work? What is their standing on social media? (Do they have good reviews? Do they have “followers”? Do others enthusiastically refer them to friends?) Do they have any complaints that have been filed with the state governing body or local Better Business Bureau? These things are very important. Not having insurance, not properly caring for their clients or not maintaining their tools and equipment can all be reasons why the cost is so low. If the guy shows up to do the install in an ’82 Chevy dually with a horse trailer and three friends (I have seen this), you may want to rethink it. It could also be that they didn’t really look at the job and when the install starts, the real can of worms will get opened.
In my opinion, personal referrals from trusted friends are one of the best validations of a contractor, but don’t stop there. See if they post pictures of their work. Contact someone on their social media page that has used them, preferably one that may have liked their page a year or two prior and see if they are still happy with them. Also, do not discount the little voice in the back of your head, if it is screaming at you “NOOOOO!” there is probably a very good reason for it. I cannot count how many times we have shown up on a job to correct a bad install and the client said “Something told me not to go with this guy, but I did it anyway,” or “ He had a great price, he was way less than all of the others”. Intuition is a valid resource and should be taken into consideration.
Another thing that happens way too often is an established company in a death spiral. Make sure when looking at the reviews that the oldest reviews are fairly similar to the newest. If the older reviews are great then suddenly last year they get worse, they may be on the way out. Also when looking at reviews, don’t just look and see what the overall rating is, look at the actual reviews. A five-star rating from five reviews that are all the contractors friends and relatives doesn’t mean anything, however 60+ reviews that are all four and five stars over a period of several years is pretty promising.
Lastly, once you settle on a contractor, talk to them, ask questions. Ask them what they plan to do when they arrive, if they have any reservations and if they have any suggestions that may make the job more suitable to your needs. Do you have allergies? Ask about indoor air quality products. Do you like to maintain your own equipment? Ask for a short tutorial after the job to familiarize yourself with the unit.
You are the one that has to live with the system after it has been completed, the contractor will go home after. Make sure that you do all you can to ensure you are getting the job you want and the quality of work you are looking for. Choosing incorrectly could lead to years of frustration, discomfort and often spending even more money to correct an issue that could have been avoided.