Your home’s heating and cooling system is important for your comfort and your health. When you purchase new HVAC equipment and need it professionally installed or require repairs or maintenance for your existing HVAC system, you can’t afford to get mixed up with a bad contractor.
Fortunately, you can avoid the headache of a bad contractor if you take a careful approach to the selection process. Once you know what to look for, your chances of picking an honest, reliable and highly-qualified contractor to handle your HVAC-related needs will be greatly enhanced.
What Does an HVAC Contractor Do?
HVAC contractors work on your home comfort systems like your furnace, air conditioner, humidifier, and air filtration system. They are installation, service, repair and preventive maintenance specialists. They are prepared to handle a range of duties related to HVAC systems, including installations, repair work and maintenance services, and they can make informed recommendations to clients who are in the market for new heating, cooling, ventilation or indoor air quality equipment.
Some HVAC contractors act as independent operators, employing a team of people who provide the expertise and services their company offers. Other HVAC contractors use a team of third-party technicians who are trained to perform a number of tasks related to indoor climate control. When you need service, these contractors will dispatch someone who has the expertise to manage the assignment, based on their skills and past experience.
How to Identify a Reliable HVAC Contractor
Unfortunately, the HVAC industry has had more than its fair share of shady operators– fly-by-night companies and individuals who are looking for a fast buck and aren’t afraid to cut corners to get it. But if you know how to spot (and avoid) them, you’ll stay well ahead of the game.
Here are 10 qualities that separate the hucksters from the true professionals in the HVAC industry:
#1 A good reputation
Any HVAC contractor worth their salt will be more than happy to supply you with references, and of course if you have friends, family members or neighbors who’ve used a particular contractor, that can be an excellent source of information as well. Online reviews are not hard to find (Google can lead you to them) and you can check with the Better Business Bureau website to see if any complaints have been filed against your prospective HVAC contractor.
#2 Experience and knowledge
Before hiring them, you should find out how long an HVAC contractor has been in business and how many years of experience their technicians have. Also, if you ask them questions about the services they offer and about HVAC systems they should be able to answer immediately, providing information you can verify as accurate.
#3 Offers in-home evaluations
A contractor or technician must inspect your home in person before they can make an accurate evaluation of your needs. Heating and cooling systems must be properly sized if they are to perform efficiently and economically.
#4 Provides written, itemized estimates
One of the oldest tricks in the books among fraudsters is to be as vague and non-specific as possible in their promises and claims. That way, they can keep piling on the expenses once the project actually begins. Reputable contractors, on the other hand, are always willing to provide you with detailed estimates that cover everything they will use or do, or might have to do should complications arise.
#5 The HVAC contractor is licensed, insured and bonded
A reputable contractor should be able to show you paperwork proving they are licensed to do business in your state, and to carry out the duties your job demands. They should be able to show you proof of insurance and bonding as well.
#6 Technicians are NATE certified
The most qualified technicians usually carry North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification, along with local and state certifications that testify to their training and abilities. An increasing number of professionals in the field also have training and certification from the National Comfort Institute (NCI), which is a sure sign of professional expertise. If an HVAC contractor claims their technicians are certified but that the documentation has been mysteriously misplaced, run the other way and don’t look back.
#7 Fair pricing
Shifty contractors might give you estimates that are too high or too low, depending on the type of scams they like to pull. The only way you can tell for sure if pricing is fair is to get at least three or four estimates from different contractors, all as detailed and comprehensive as possible.
#8 Belongs to professional associations, such as the ACCA
ACCA stands for Air Conditioning Contractors of America, and most reputable HVAC contractors belong to the ACCA. They will likely belong to other professional associations as well, and if they aren’t it probably means they aren’t really very professional—or trustworthy.
#9 Sells quality brands and products
There are some iconic names in the HVAC industry, including Rheem, Lennox, Amana, Trane, and so on, and the best contractors generally represent at least one of these industry-leading companies. The top HVAC contractors also sell furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, water heaters, dehumidifiers and humidifiers that carry the Energy Star label, which certifies energy-efficiency and excellence in performance.
#10 Provides guarantees in writing
These guarantees are like legal contracts, and they give you the assurances you need to protect you against unauthorized work or charges. If a company refuses to give you written guarantees, that is the surest sign imaginable that they are not on the up-and-up.