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Is your HVAC technician a home comfort stud or dud?

You may have noticed that we’re a bit obsessed with regular maintenance and service around here and there’s a good reason for that. We hope that you’ll avoid issues that could potentially cost you money or worse, cause you to be uncomfortable. We can’t stand the thought of anyone sitting in a hot house, marinating in a puddle of sweat. Gross, right?

The simple fact is that things do go wrong and when they do you want them repaired as quickly, efficiently, and professionally as possible. But you also want it done right and by the right person. Finding that person is the key to cool, clean comfort. It’s the difference between getting your car repaired by a trained mechanic or handing over the keys to your neighbors 15-year-old who changed the breaks on his bike once.

"I can fix your central air conditioner. I gots me some duct tape."

It can be difficult to know what to look for when you’re shopping around for someone you can trust with your heating and air conditioning and that’s why we’ve put together a list of questions you can ask to figure it out. Some of the questions you can and should ask the contractor directly and others you can find out with a little bit of research.

How long has the contractor been in business?

Make sure that any contractor you do business with has a proven track record, and will be there if you need them in the future. Don’t just ask the contractor if they are stable, look for proof of longevity and financial stability by asking for the items we will discuss in this article.

Ask for references.

Professional heating and air conditioning contractors should be able and willing to provide you with a list of recent customers that you can contact to verify that the company in question performed the work in a timely manner and to the customer's satisfaction. It's important to actually call those references to get relevant details about how their projects fared. Ask the previous customers questions such as:

  • How well did the system run under the company’s care?

  • Did the technicians leave the working area clean?

  • How quickly did the contractor respond to emergencies?

  • Were the service people punctual when you called with a problem?

Are they licensed, bonded and insured?

Many states and municipalities mandate that heating and cooling contractors meet minimum education and on-the-job experience requirements. In many cases they need to pass written exams in order to be licensed to work in the heating and cooling industry.

In order to qualify for and continue to hold that license, HVAC companies frequently need to hold a minimum level of insurance and bonding. Any professional that works in your home should carry liability insurance to protect the homeowner in the case of accidental damage or injury.

Get estimates.

Repairing, replacing or installing new HVAC equipment can get expensive. It's important to get at least three written estimates from three different companies.

The cost of the project is probably your most important consideration – and costs may vary widely from one company to the next - but it's also very important to ensure that the project's overall scope, details and completion dates are thoroughly documented. Also, make sure you are aware of the hourly rate, should the project take longer than expected or documented.

Does the contractor have experience with your system?

If your heating or cooling systems features cutting-edge energy-efficiency design, such as a geothermal system, or relies on an old-school operating system, such as steam-driven radiators, make sure the company you choose has the appropriate experience with your particular system.

Ask about tax credits or rebates.

Depending on the type of home heating or cooling equipment you're installing or upgrading, your project may qualify for federal or state tax credits or rebates. Be sure to ask the contractor about any incentives that are available for your project and make sure the project is properly documented to meet federal, state or local incentive requirements.

What about service contracts?

If you're hiring a company for maintenance or having new equipment installed, be sure to ask them about service contracts. Signing up for a service contract could give you some added peace of mind. Service contracts ensure your HVAC system is serviced regularly by a professional at a reasonable cost.

While having your equipment professionally maintained on a regular basis may extend the useful lifespan and improve its efficiency, as with any contract, make sure you know what you're paying for.

Are they certified?

There are a few certifications available for HVAC contractors. Not all of them are required, but contractors who are and go the extra mile, have a special place in my trophy case.

The North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification is a nationally recognized and respected certification for HVAC and refrigeration technicians. The HVAC certification is not legally required to become a technician, but it is widely recognized in the field and validates a technician's knowledge.

The HVAC Excellence certification is another prominent HVAC industry certification. HVAC technician certifications include the “Professional” level and the “Master Specialist” level. To earn the Professional-level credential, a contractor must first have two years of field experience and pass a comprehensive exam in specialty areas, such as residential air conditioning and heat pump service.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now requires all people with access to a system or container that stores refrigerant, including A/C coolant such as R-22 or R-410A, to have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 608 certification. HVAC technicians cannot legally buy refrigerants without this credential. There are three types of certification available, and contractors must pass a written examination to gain this credential.


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