Eight Mistakes People Make When Selecting an HVAC Contractor—and How to Avoid Them
Mistake #1: Selecting an HVAC contractor based on lowest price only.
We know it’s tempting to choose a contractor based on price alone. We get it. When you’re staring at a quote that’s above what you were expecting, it’s hard to look beyond the number to the details behind it. But take a deep breath and a moment to get over the sticker shock, and let’s get into what it all means. Selecting an HVAC contractor needs to be based on overall value, and the initial price is just part of the overall picture. The most important thing to remember is that when you compare quotes make sure you’re comparing apples to apples-see what you’re getting for your dollar and ask questions if you don’t know. As you delve a little deeper, you’ll realize that some numbers are higher because of what’s included as part of the package. For example:
- Type of Equipment: The HVAC system is one of the most important elements of your home, and one of the best investments you can make when designed and installed properly. Doing research on the equipment the contractor will be installing will go a long way toward understanding the price. Ask: what is the unit’s failure rate percentage? 50% of the units made by some brands fail between 5-10 years, other brands have a lower failure rate percentage. Some units include more advanced technology to power more efficient operation. Ask the contractor why s/he chose that particular brand and model. Ask for the model #s and compare features and performance across brands. We install American Standard, someone else might install Goodman. There’s a difference.
- Quality of Workmanship: Same goes for the contractor. Do research, ask questions, observe. Does s/he do a proper load calculation? Does s/he use Manual J/D/S? Did s/he inspect the ductwork (this is huge!)? Did s/he ask you questions about your house and any comfort issues you’ve noticed? And most importantly, does s/he guarantee the work? If the answer isn’t yes, then you’re gambling with your money. There are several reasons an HVAC contractor might be called back to your home after your heating & cooling system is installed and a reputable company that guarantees their work will get back to you and won’t charge you extra for the follow up visit.
- Extra “hidden” charges: Read the proposal carefully. Check to make sure everything related to installing the system you want is included in the price. This includes things like materials, controls, proper connections, correct piping and/or refrigerant lines, discussed accessories, etc. It should be a red flag if these details are omitted. Also, ask how long the contractor estimated for completion and what happens if there are delays or unexpected problems. Get everything in writing.
Mistake #2: Thinking all HVAC contractors are the same.
New Jersey finally caught up to the times and recently implemented strident licensing requirements for HVAC contractors. Prior to last year, all that was required to install or repair HVAC equipment was a general home improvement license that did not require formal knowledge of heating & cooling systems so it’s not surprising that a lot of homes have systems that do not do what they are supposed to do. It’ll take some time, but the new licensing requirements, combined with the increasing complexity of today’s technologically packed units, will start to weed out contractors who don’t really know what they are doing. Until then, know that a well-designed and properly installed heating & air conditioning system is art, craftsmanship, and science combined and there are some questions you can ask to help you avoid picking a contractor who is not right for you:
- What certifications does the technician have? (NATE and/or BPI certified is a plus!)
- What kind of customer support does the company provide?
- Does the company guarantee their work?
- What is the company’s mission statement/Why are they in business?
Mistake #3: Always having three or more HVAC contractors competing for the lowest bid.
You may think this is a good way to do business, and it is, to some extent. However, here is why it usually isn’t a good way to deal with heating and cooling contractors. A good contractor has enough loyal customers that they don’t need to deal with price shoppers. Once you find a good contractor, make the decision to be loyal to them. If you flip-flop from contractor to contractor, a good one won’t be motivated to keep YOU as a customer.
Price is important. But price should not be more important than good quality and good service.
This is what people typically like to do. They try to get everyone fighting for the same piece of pie. This might be an appropriate short-term strategy, because you save a few bucks. However, when you need a favor, or require expedited service, not one of these companies will instantly bend over backward to help you. (And, if you have been a price shopper in the past, they will even charge you more!) Every good heating and air conditioning contractor expects to bend over backward for loyal customers now and again. He or she might have to work all night or on a weekend to do a rush job or pull off a miracle. Provided the customer is
loyal, the contractor will do all he can to help meet their needs.
Quality HVAC contractors will be loyal to you if YOU are loyal to them. Keep loyalty in mind when you select a company.
Mistake #4: Thinking that having the right equipment is all an HVAC contractor needs to do your job.
Many HVAC contractors own great equipment, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use it. You can have the “latest, greatest technological wonder gizmo,” but if you don’t know how to use it properly, you are better off not even picking the darn thing up.
Compare this to using all of the complicated controls on your DVD player. Studies show that half the people who own a DVD player don’t even know how to set the clock, let alone use its advanced features. The same thing happens in the contracting industry.
Many heating and air conditioning contractors have tools with a lot of bells and whistles, but if they don’t know how to use the new features, you might as well go to a company that has old equipment.
Make sure the technician is trained by the factory or by another competent company. This ensures your work will get done right the first time, on time!
Mistake #5: Not giving your HVAC contractor enough time to complete the job properly.
Mistakes happen when you rush! When you’re in a hurry, you may forget to tell a contractor certain instructions, or you might make an error in judgment or a poor purchasing decision because you were focused on getting it done fast—instead of getting it done right.
Schedule. Schedule. Schedule.
Before you start on your contracting project, talk with your HVAC contractor. Get them involved from the beginning; you can save time, money, and headaches from the beginning by communicating with your contractor.
Think of your contractor as your “project partner.” Consult with your heating and air conditioning contractor. Let them know in advance what you want installed or repaired. A good HVAC contractor will do their best to keep you in the loop and up to date on how the project is progressing.
Mistake #6: Selecting HVAC contractors who don’t guarantee their work.
All reputable contractors automatically guarantee their work. This means that if they make a mistake on your job, they will redo or fix it at NO CHARGE. Unfortunately, there are HVAC contractors who don’t do this: don’t fix their mistakes and don’t make good on their work.
The best thing you can do is choose a heating and cooling contractor who unconditionally guarantees their work. If it’s not done right and it’s their mistake, they will do it again or fix it.
Mistake #7: Not asking for references.
This is probably the easiest way you can avoid any problems with an HVAC contractor. ALL good, reputable contractors will eagerly give you references. Ask your contractor to give you at least three names of people they have done business with. And, ask them how long they have worked with these customers.
Inquire about what type of job they did for those references. Try to get the names of customers who had similar projects to yours. This is the easiest way to select the right contractor for YOU.
Mistake #8: Not Understanding the “lingo.”
All right, this wasn’t one of the original “seven mistakes” for this guidance, but it IS important. It is so important, in fact, that we’ve decided to define the most common heating and air conditioning terms so you understand what contractors are saying!
BTU (British Thermal Unit): The amount of energy that’s needed to change the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. This is how you measure heat removed from your home.
COIL: Looks like a radiator on a car, and usually installed inside the box on top of your furnace. It takes the heat and moisture out of the air as the refrigerant (what you might know as “Freon”) evaporates.
CONDENSER: This is the unit outside the home that’s usually making all the noise (at least in the older models). The condenser holds the compressor, which is the heart of your system. In addition, it transforms your refrigerant (Freon) from a gas to a liquid. Finally, there’s a fan discharging heat to the outdoors.
REFRIGERANT: This is the real name for what many people call “Freon.” It’s the fluid that evaporates at low temperatures and pulls heat and humidity out of the air.
SEER & AFUE: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating and Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. Higher SEER-rated equipment uses electricity more efficiently. Air conditioners and coils are rated by SEER. Furnaces are rated by AFUE.
SPLIT SYSTEM: The most common system in the country. Some components are inside the home, and others are outside. The inside is the furnace and evaporator coil. Outside is the condensing unit.
TON: The unit used to measure the capacity of an air conditioning system. One ton of air conditioning removes 12,000 BTUs of heat energy per hour from your home.