If your furnace has just died in sub-zero temperatures or your air conditioner has gone kaput on a sweltering day, you'll probably be glad to hire the first repairman who comes to your house that day. But, if you're planning a major or costly upgrade to your home's heating, air conditioning or air ducts, it's worth the time to research and interview several companies before hiring one.
When interviewing candidates, don't forget to ask about:
Licensed, bonded and insured: Many states and municipalities mandate that heating and cooling contractors meet minimum education and on-the-job experience requirements, as well as 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.
References: A professional heating and air conditioning company should have a list of recent customers that you can refer to in order 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.
Estimates: Due to the high cost of repairing, replacing or installing new HVAC equipment, it's essential to get at least three written estimates from three different companies.
The project's cost is likely 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.
Brands carried: When seeking estimates for new or replacement heating or cooling equipment be sure to ask prospective companies what specific manufacturers or equipment brands they carry. Unlike other home improvement contractors, HVAC companies often only carry a small selection of brands. If you're doing your own price comparison research on new equipment, you may need to limit your hiring choices to companies that specialize in your equipment brand of choice.
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 relevant experience with your particular system.
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 about what incentives are available for your project and make sure the project is properly documented to meet federal, state or local incentive requirements.
Payment schedule: On a big job, especially when installing new equipment, you may need to make a deposit and make progress payments or planned payments to satisfy the bill. If you use a payment plan or apply for financing through the HVAC company's line of credit, make sure you read all the fine print and know what you'll be financially responsible for.
Service contracts: If you're hiring a company for maintenance or having new equipment installed, enrolling in a service company's service contract program may give you added peace of mind. Service contracts are just that, a contract that ensures your HVAC system is serviced regularly by the company.
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.