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?
Hybrid system?
Heat pump?
Straight 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?
3 ton?
2?
Or something else?

 

If it is a heating system, what fuel type and size is it?
Natural gas?
Oil?
Electric?
LP?
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.

Home sellers often offer a home warranty to the buyer as an extra incentive because they can be easily acquired and provide buyers with added peace of mind when making a large purchase.

 

Home warranties are “supposed” to cover any repairs your home will need over the term of the warranty policy and they are “supposed” to protect buyers from unexpected expenses that may arise such as: a malfunctioning dishwasher, roof leaks, plumbing issues, HVAC issues, etc. This is how it is “supposed” to work, but this is not usually the case.

When I first started my company I (like many other contractors just starting) thought any work was work I wanted, so I took on anything and everything. I signed up with six different home warranty companies. After six months I quit all six the same day. This is why:

 

Home Warranty Companies pay way below industry standard for services; this causes myriad issues. Contractors will catch the warranty calls last, in favor of their higher-paying regular clients. A contractor cannot make a living with what warranty companies pay, so this encourages price gouging on the items the warranty does not cover. The warranty companies strongly encourage the contractors to find reasons to not cover the claim; this allows them to get out of coverage and gives the contractor an opening to sell repairs themselves at inflated rates.

 

As a result of the low pay provided to contractors by the warranty companies and very little vetting, you will generally get one of four types of contractors:

 

1) The New Guy – The brand new contractor that is just starting out and doesn’t yet know what they are getting into (this is the one you want). They haven’t been corrupted yet and want to do good work and make you happy.

 

2) The Veteran – This is the contractor that has been with the home warranty company for many years, knows how to play the game and how to make serious money by billing the warranty company for his work in addition to billing the customer inflated prices for uncovered items. This is double-dipping…win/win for the contractor and the loser is the client.

 

3) The Train Wreck – This is the guy that has absolutely no customer service skills and has been fired from every other company in the area. Without warranty work, he would not be working. Not the guy you want working on anything in your house.

 

4) The Hunter – I call this contractor “the hunter” cause he doesn’t really need to work. He has his own business but really only works to support a few hobbies, and hunting is usually one. He makes enough to supplement his spouse’s income and probably works six months out of the year. He will say he will be at your place Tuesday, but is it this Tuesday or next?

When I worked for the warranty companies, my calls typically went like this:  they would give me a service call, upon arrival I had to diagnose the issue and then call in to the warranty company to get approval on whatever needed to be done. Calling in took between 30 and 40 minutes. I did not get paid for the travel or the time on the phone. If another issue arose during the repair I had to call in again (another 30 to 40 minutes and I was also chastised for not finding this issue the first time, even though the second issue was not apparent until the first repair had been done) and get approval. Anything not approved would not be paid. If the paperwork had any mistakes, I would not get paid. During the call, they would ask a bevy of questions looking for any excuse to deny the claim. If they did have one they felt was valid, they would tell me to collect the copay and leave without giving the client an explanation. They would call the client 10 to 15 minutes later and tell them that the warranty that they have paid for over the past however many years is not going to cover them. The client would then often blame me for the denial. The low pay, extremely poor customer service and fraudulent promises of security is what made me stop working for them. I did not go into business to become a vehicle to scam others.

 

If you already have a Home Warranty in place, here are some things you can do to increase your odds of getting needed HVAC repairs covered:

Before you call for service, make sure the air filters have been changed, make sure the outdoor unit is clear of debris, make sure all of your vents are open and your return has plenty of access to pull in air (no couches or furniture in front of the return). Any of these things can be used as a reason to deny a claim; they will call it  “differed maintenance” or “abuse”.

 

When the contractor arrives, pay attention. Ask questions and take notes. If you get a bad feeling about the contractor (like they might be shady) make them leave and immediately call your warranty company to get a new contractor. Treat them like rental cars, if you don’t like them, get another. Your “little voice” is probably yelling at you for a reason.

Be nice at first. When you call the warranty company, be polite but do not volunteer a lot of information other than “It’s broke”. If you tried to repair it yourself earlier, or if a friend already diagnosed the issue or you tell them or you heard a noise a few weeks ago and didn’t call in, they will use any of these statements to deny the claim.

 

Your claim was denied…now what? The verbiage in the contract is written so they can literally deny anything, for any reason at any time. This can still be overcome if you put in some work. Call them, call them a lot, multiple times per day. Don’t be afraid to be aggressive, all you need to repeat is “I bought a warranty! Fix it!”. Make them cringe every time your name comes up. The phrase “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” could not be more true in this instance. If they won’t fix it, get anyone and everything you can think of involved. Use social media, go to their Facebook page, Twitter page, LinkedIn, everywhere. Contact your realtor who helped you buy the home; they can often contact their home warranty rep. If you have to, don’t be afraid to contact a lawyer, assuming the repair is large enough to justify it. Basically the bigger mess you can create for them, the more likely they will either offer to buy you out or repair your issue.

Home Warranty companies only care about their yearly expenditure. They will spend $2,000 to fix a system that would only cost $3,500 to replace. All they care about is their numbers, not you. Having said all of this, some people actually do get results with their Home Warranty companies. I have had a few clients get their entire systems replaced for only a copay, but they are the minority of cases. In my experience, 95% of the people completely get shafted. The other 5%, because of the work they put in and how they handled the situation or for some just because they “knew people,” they will make out fine.

 

Buying a home warranty is NOT insurance, or even a safety net, as they market it. It is a substandard product that yields lackluster results while giving buyers a false sense of security. You are better off to open a savings account for home emergencies and keep it funded. Then when something does go wrong, not only are you prepared to pay for it, but you are in control, not some nameless cubical warrior whose sole purpose is to limit the services you already paid for.

My best advice is to forego the home warranty. Instead, use that money to hire a quality home inspector, then get an HVAC inspection, a plumbing inspection, an electrical inspection and a roof inspection; and be there for these inspections, ask questions, lots of questions. With all of these professionals at your disposal, you can then make an educated decision about the potential pitfalls of your new purchase. Then proceed with cautious optimism knowing that you made your decision based on the best possible guidance available. Use the knowledge and connections of your realtor, they can be a valuable resource not only for buying your home but for maintaining it afterwards.

 

As with all of my blogs, this information is strictly my opinion based on my 23 years of experience in the HVAC industry. Your experience may vary.

 

 

Contractor referral services may appear to be free for the consumer, but you still pay, just indirectly. Even the pay referral services charge the contractors for your information. Contractor referral services such as Home Advisor (formerly Service Magic) HACOA, Angie’s List, Upwork, Porch, and the hundreds of others out there all charge the contractors for your information; a cost which is then passed on to you. All of the referral services charge the contractor to provide them with your information; many charge the user as well.

 

Referral fees can be passed on to the client several different ways. Some are a percentage of the potential sale, and some services charge per call, depending on the nature of the request. Using one of these services to call a contractor and ask for a quote will cause a contractor to be billed $9, $25, even $75 and up, depending on the service being requested and the referral service.

 

Even if the contractor never comes to your home, they will be charged. Some services will send out information to many contractors and then they will all call you. You may only accept one or two of the requested appointments, but all the contractors are still charged for the lead. Other services will offer a “Premium Service” where the contractor is given leads for a specified area exclusively, but they come at a stiff cost. Other services will just send a text blast, and any contractor that accepts will pay a fee.

 

A few services will vet their contractors; all the contractor has to do is have a few good reviews (which can be done by employees or relatives) then they check for licensing and insurance. Others will claim they “qualify” the contractors; all this means is they make sure the contractor has licensing and insurance. Others do nothing but alert any contractor for which they have contact info. Basically, all this does is give the victim…um…client a false sense of security. These services are selling convenience and claim to sift through the multitude of contractors and provide only the best when really all they do is gather info off the net and act as a lazy match-maker. Having said this, they do have info for some very good contractors, but they will be mixed in with the riff-raff, or the contractors will be paying dearly for the service…or both. You will be paying for the service on one end or the other and you will be taking an unnecessary risk.

 

The best thing to do when looking for a reliable contractor is to use the free resources all around you: social media, the Better Business Bureau, friends, family, other contractors you already have a relationship with, or a real estate agent you trust (they know EVERYONE). People that have already used the type of contractor you are looking for are usually the best resources. I have had many instances where I was doing work at a customer’s home or business and a neighbor stopped by to get my card. Doing the leg work yourself with a few simple clicks of a mouse, a phone call or text can save you money and the frustration that comes with finding your referred contractor is inept.

When we go to a client’s home to quote an equipment replacement, here are the things we look at:

 

  1. What is the type and size of the equipment currently installed, if any?
  2. Why are we replacing the equipment? Is it because it is old and the client is being proactive (not usually the case)? Has the unit has been riddled with issues (if so, we need to find out what the issues have been)? Is the equipment not performing correctly (if so, why)? Is the unit just not worth fixing (we also need to know why)?
  3. Then we look at the details. Is the unit sized adequately? Are there any issues with the duct work? Was the current system applied and installed accurately (how do we rectify this)? Is the current system code compliant (if not, we must figure out how to make it so)?
  4. We also need to know what the client wants and expects. High efficiency? Reliability? Simplicity? We have to determine what brand will best suit their needs. We also have to figure out how to best adapt the existing duct system to work with the new higher efficiency equipment.
  5. Once we have answered all of these questions, we present an estimate based on those answers. We devise our recommendation from decades of experience, knowledge of the industry and its products, the latest in industry news and training…lots and lots of training.

 

When you buy online, they say you eliminate the “middle man,” but that is not true. You simply exchange one for another. You remove the person who has spent thousands of hours immersed in the industry; the person who will actually come to your home and make a customized suggestion; the person you can call on if there are issues; the person that has built relationships with local vendors; the person that will stand by his/her work; the person who has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in his or her business; who has spent thousands of man hours on the job and in training to master his/her trade.

 

What you will get is an online retailer who will assign you a customer number and has no real qualifications other than shipping boxes. Admittedly, I have very little experience with shipping boxes.

Most, if not all, online retailers offer installation. They pay very little to the subcontractors they hire. Generally, you will end up with a new contractor; or one that is just “getting by”; or a contractor who relies on volume and not quality to pay the bills; or maybe a contractor with no customer service skills, so he relies on others for his/her customer base. Hopefully, the contractor they hire will have a business license and insurance, but that is not always the case. The online retailer will accept no responsibility for anything other than shipping the equipment to you or their contractor. Most reputable, well-established contractors will not install customer-provided equipment. It is often not worth the headaches involved.

 

Online retailers say that the units come with a factory warranty. This is true and false. Local equipment distributors depend on sales to contractors for their income. Anyone without a proper contractor’s license that attempts to obtain parts from a local vendor will be denied. Online retailers are the competition and the brick and mortar distributors are not going to help them – or their customers out. For warranty purposes, equipment serial numbers can be traced back to the original seller, despite what anyone tells you. The distributor will be able to tell where your equipment came from. So, even I, with my four Master Tradesman Licenses and my contractor’s license, will not be able to buy parts under warranty to fix your unit purchased from an online retailer. You, the buyer, not the contractor, will have to go to the original online seller to get the components you need for the repair. If the original equipment arrives damaged, you will have to contact the seller to get new equipment. Some manufacturers will go as far as to completely void the warranty if purchased online.

 

Unfortunately, many people find this out too late.

Yes, you can save money on the initial purchase, but the costs that you may incur later as a result of lost time, frustration and correcting shoddy workmanship will greatly overshadow any potential savings. In the end, as with most things, you get what you pay for. You can save a little money up front and risk potentially paying dearly in the future, or hire a reputable, local contractor to take care of everything for you and rest easy.

 

Richmond, VA—October 23, 2015—Premier central Virginia-based HVAC company, Mode Comfort & Air Quality, has been named one of the Richmond, Virginia, areas fastest growing companies.

Companies were ranked by average annual revenue growth percentage from 2012 to 2014. Mode was ranked #6 in the Under $1,000,000 Revenue category, with 46% growth over that time period.

Mode Comfort & Air Quality owner, G. Todd Rice, attended the October event to accept the award on behalf of the company.

Established in 2007, Mode is a full-service heating and air conditioning company, focused on the sales, service and installation of HVAC and home comfort equipment. www.modecomfort.com

Richmond, VA—July 8, 2014—Premier Richmond-area HVAC company, Mode Comfort & Air Quality, announced today the addition of David M. Eggleston to the company as Director of Indoor Climatology.

Dave began his career in the HVAC field in 2002, working for 12 years with a local heating and air conditioning company. He concentrates his practice on the installation of new HVAC equipment, in addition to sales and service.

Mode Comfort & Air Quality owner, G. Todd Rice, states, “We are thrilled to be adding Dave to our company. His skills and experience as an installation technician will be of great benefit to our loyal customer base.”

Established in 2007, Mode is a full-service heating and air conditioning company, focused on the sales, service and installation of HVAC and home comfort equipment. www.modecomfort.com