12 Things to Look For, Before Calling
With just a little observation, you can determine much about a company. You can find the following by direct observation, talking with friends and neighbors, and a quick review of the company’s website or advertising. If you do not know an answer, ask when you call.
1. Is the contractor referred by a friend or neighbor?
The best source of information about the quality of work, friendliness, and customer service is the experiences of friends or neighbors.
2. Does the company fleet reassure you?
Contractors driving unmarked, beat up, dirty vehicles and likely to treat your home similarly. In addition, these contractors may be skating on the edge of bankruptcy and unwilling or unable to fulfill their warranty requirements.
3. Does the company have a physical address?
While many contractors may operate out of a home office when starting, they do have a physical address. Fly-by-nights and moonlighters, who will not remain around to stand behind their work, do not. They operate companies from cell phones.
4. Are company employees neat, clean, and professional?
Companies that provide employees with uniforms and insist on moderate levels of grooming tend to take a more professional approach across the board. Fly-by-nights are more likely to wear dirty jeans and tee shirts.
5. Does the company employ NATE certified technicians?
Similar to the ASE program for the automotive industry, NATE is the heating and air conditioning industry’s technician certification program.
6. What equipment brands are carried?
Manufacturers of the better know equipment brands are selective about the contractors they allow to sell and install their equipment.
7. Will the company guarantee a price before work begins?
Most contractors utilize a national flat rate pricing service today. The service uses national standard times for repairs, allowing the contractor to offer a fixed price quote before work begins, rather than an open-ended parts and labor estimate.
8. What warranties are offered?
Better contractors, who are more confident in their work, offer better warranties.
9. Is the contractor licensed?
Licensing is a minimum requirement. Under no circumstances should you allow an unlicensed contractor to work on your equipment.
10. Is the contractor fully insured?
If an employee of an uninsured contractor is hurt on your property, you can be held liable for medical expenses. Reputable contractors will provide copies of their general liability and workers compensation insurance. If the contractor uses subcontractors (e.g., an electrician or an insulation company), ask for copies of their insurance.
11. Is the company part of your community?
A company that’s involved in your community has a greater stake in their local reputation than one not involved. Problems will arise from time to time and companies with a stake in the community tend to put forth an extra effort to resolve problems.
12. Is the company part of a professional community?
Companies that belong to a trade association or business alliance are companies committed to their craft. They care more. Quality is better. The level of professionalism is higher.
4 Additional Considerations When Replacing Equipment
Because of the investment, replacing a heating and air conditioning system necessitates more due diligence. The best company to select for a replacement is a contractor who has performed satisfactorily for you in the past. An established, successful relationship is always the best gauge of what you can expect in the future. Relationship or not, the following are four items you should insist upon.
1. Will the company offer an ARI Certified combination?
The Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Institute certifies product efficiency. If you are replacing your air conditioner or heat pump, a reputable contractor will present you with a certification of performance from ARI. Without replacing the condensing unit (outdoor unit) and the evaporator (air handler or indoor unit), a contractor cannot promise you will receive the efficiency you pay for, or even that the system will operate correctly over time.
2. Will the contractor permit equipment replacements?
If you replace your heating or cooling system, you should insist that the job is permitted. When jobs are permitted, a municipal inspector will review the installation to ensure the job can at least meet current building codes. Like licensing, building codes are the minimum standard.
3. Is the company willing to provide references?
If you do not know anyone who has done work for a company, ask for references. The contractor should be willing to provide you with three to five recent customers you can call.
4. Will the company provide you with a copy of a “load calculation?”
A load calculation is a method of sizing equipment. It’s often called a “Manual J®” for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s Manual J®, the standard for sizing residential equipment. Once measurements are taken, load calculations can be conducted quickly using computers. Contractors should be able to show and review the load calculations and provide you with a copy if you authorize the company to proceed with the replacement.
4 Things of Which to Beware
Be especially careful about the following four pitfalls.
1. Beware the lowest price
You want to spend the least amount possible, which often eliminates the lowest price. Cheap contractors typically cut corners, which costs more in the long run. Cheap contractors cannot afford to fix mistakes, resulting in the need to pay twice. Often the lowest price is not the lowest at all.
2. Beware the yellow pages
Selecting a contractor from the yellow pages is tantamount to throwing a dart. Maybe you will get lucky. Maybe not. The yellow pages should be used as tool of last resort.
3. Beware companies without a track record
Every company has to start sometime. Yet, heating and air conditioning companies tend to fail frequently. In fact, one company in five closes annually. The best indicator that a company will survive long enough to honor its warranty obligations is that it has survived in the past.
4. Beware anything that sounds too good to be true
Usually, something too good to be true really is too good to be true.