How to Choose the Right HVAC Contractor – 5 tips every homeowner should know
The time has come for the dreaded decision to replace your furnace or boiler this winter. Maybe you are being proactive, maybe you went to turn on your heat this fall and… nothing. No heat, not even any air blowing around to make you know something is wrong. Do you panic? Does the sudden increase in your heart rate warm you up enough to forget that your house is getting colder by the minute? Probably not. First thing here should be to calm down… Whoosh, all calm again you are back to realizing your house is only getting colder. Thoughts start going through your head; ‘there must be some guy I know that can put in a new furnace for me’, or ‘not something else, I just had to have my transmission fixed!’. But alas, we need heat because it’s could in New York in the winter, there just isn’t any getting around that. So doing a little research may be what the doctor ordered. It may mean the difference between being price gouged, or getting an unprofessional improperly installed system or getting a solid, guaranteed professional install for your new system. Think about it, are all mechanical contractors the same? If your first thought was yes lets move on to question 2; are all surgeons the same? Well mechanical contractors in particular have a particularly bad rap, and in our experience this is, unfortunately, a well deserved stigma. In Central New York in particular this bad reputation is for one simple reason… most of them aren’t actually contractors, but some handymen with a truck and a sticker with a van loaded up with tools that could probably do everything from refinishing your hardwood floors to slapping in a furnace (on a side not, if your ever have a contractor in your home that says they can ‘slap’ in anything… just my personal advice, but I would ask them to leave politely but promptly). But don’t let your head spin out of control just yet or make you not get that much needed furnace or boiler replacement I come bearing good news… not ALL mechanical contractors are bad. In fact, there are many of us good guys out there that will make sure an installation can be installed up to code, is sized properly, will be warranted for workmanship, and be done the right way. So, let’s take a look at how to choose an HVAC contractor. In this article, we will show you five tips to help you stay out of trouble, and ensure that your furnace or boiler keeps running efficiently for years to come.
5 Tips on How to Choose an HVAC Contractor
1. Got an estimate over the phone? Time to be cautious.
Just as your new car doesn’t ride the exact same way as your old car, no two furnaces or boilers are the same. Be wary of any HVAC contractor that tries to give you an estimate or a bid over the phone. Unless they have some super power (that I would really want), there are way too many factors to take into account that a consultant simply can’t see over the phone. Have they asked you about your ductwork? Do they know how many registers you have in each room? Or how about how well insulated your house is? Do they know if you just replaced all your windows? The variables are endless, and a well informed properly trained consultant will run a load calculation on your home and make sure you are getting the right equipment for the job. I’m sure you don’t want to roll the dice on your families comfort. But here is the bottom line; none of that can be done over the phone. So to recap, if someone gives you a bid over the phone, they are either inexperienced, trying to get your business without having to spend the time or gas money to get there and home, or figure they can throw a price at you and then charge you more during the install when something is uncovered they magically couldn’t see through the phone. When Mr.InAndOut contractor gets there also be concerned of anyone who gives you a bid after 2 minutes without properly surveying your home. A trained contractor will walk around your entire house, scope out your air sealing levels in your home, check your electrical to make sure you have space in your panel. If they don’t do this, they are saying they don’t care about your families comfort and happiness.
2. The contractor that replaces your new equipment with the same size as your old one.
Oh you have an 80,00btu furnace? That should be fine...
The average furnaces unit lasts 10-15 years. Is a 2001 Ford F150 the same as a 2015 Ford F150? It is the same with your furnace. A properly trained HVAC contractor will recommend several options to bring your home up to date, and increase the efficiency of your home. If a contractor tries to sell you and older model they are likely trying to unload some old inventory. That is why we keep a small inventory on hand to make sure we are customizing the system you need for your home. It is pretty rare to have the exact system you need for your home just lying around our warehouse as not all furnaces are the same. In fact, choosing the proper size is far more important than the make and model.
3. When it comes to how experienced your HVAC contractor is, take it with a grain of salt.
At TAG Mechanical Systems, we have over 25 years of HVAC experience, but we’d also be the first to warn you that experience isn’t everything! Ask questions when you have someone walk through your door telling you they’ve been doing it this way for 30 years. The HVAC industry, like all other technology is constantly changing. There are new and exciting technologies that decrease your utility costs and are more efficient at heating. Be sure your contractor is well versed in cutting edge technologies, including the most up-to-date HVAC control units – a computer that runs your home or business’s heating system for you, programmable with schedules and preferences. Experience is important, but it isn’t everything. In fact, some of our most talented technicians walk around with iPads and are in their twenties! (scares us too)
4. While getting multiple bids is great, don’t go for the lowest bidder… It will cost you more in the Long Run.
It’s heartbreaking to come across someone who just had a brand new furnace installed and we get the phone call because it just stopped working. Unfortunately, about 20-30% of our residential business in 2016 came from fixing botched installations from “bargain contractors.” We have to stress do not skimp on your HVAC system. It’s not sexy, you don’t ever really see it, but it is your constant invisible friend. I know that this sounds like self promotion, but think about it…it is literally the only mechanical system in your house. It isn’t a water pipe, or a coat of paint – it is a machine with moving parts that will (hopefully) be running for 10 or 15 years, and if it has a half way proper installation it will do one of two things; it won’t keep you evenly warm or cool, or it will just die all together. So how do these ‘chuck in a truck’ contractors afford to install a new unit for $3,000? It is becoming more and more prevalent in New York, unfortunately, and it’s simple… they are just some guys in a truck, who are unlicensed or using someone else’s license. They are using older model equipment, or skimping on vital health and safety steps to take to protect your family. They aren’t properly bonding gas line, performing proper start ups, checking the balancing on your system. If it’s too good to be true, it is, and no matter what anyone tells you, you can’t even buy proper equipment and materials for under $3,000, let alone pay for skilled technicians or liability insurance. So, be careful and pay attention.
What do you do? Get multiple bids, and go with your gut – ask, who is going to do the best job? Who do you trust? Believe me, it is always cheaper in the long run to go with the reputable contractor up front, even if they are a bit more expensive – and as someone who knows, the real HVAC contractors always are. You can’t use unskilled laborers to install an furnace or boiler. Otherwise, you’ll spend $2,000 – $3,000 for us to fix the problem, and since we are taking over the job and attaching our reputation to it, we will literally need to uninstall and reinstall everything to make sure that it is done properly…that’s assuming you don’t need new equipment. Moral of the story…if you forget everything else about this article, remember this: just do it right the first time.
5. Your HVAC contractor should give you a written bid or estimate.
Some people like to give you a bid via a “verbal contract.” Although this is accepted in New York as a legal, binding contract, try and prove it in court and you will see why some contractors do this. In the battle of he said, she said, the contractor that simply tells you the price is going to win. Be safe, get it in writing, and make sure you keep a copy for you records. Make sure they model and size of the equipment is listed in the contract. Make sure they are removing your old equipment from your home. Any modifications to your ductwork or accessories should also be listed along with your warranty information. In short, always get it in writing. Any reputable HVAC contractor will give you a written bid that they will adhere to. It should include a list of everything that will be done, as well as the price.