How to Pick an HVAC Contractor’s Brain

Dealing with an HVAC contractor can be a stressful experience, especially with the complexity of a home’s HVAC equipment. You not only need to judge the level of expertise of the contractor, but you might be wary of paying too much for the job or getting ripped off in some other way. You can tone down the stress by drawing up a list of questions before speaking with the contractor.

HVAC Contractor

Questions for All Contractors

Here are some questions to ask any contractor you are considering hiring, not just HVAC contractors. Their answers to these questions can help you narrow the field down.

Are you licensed?

Depending on where you live, not every type of contractor needs a license. HVAC contractors working in the Denver metro area are required to be licensed.

Do you have insurance?

Ask to see the certificate of insurance.

How long have you been in business?

An established company has ties to the community and satisfied customers.

Can you provide references from previous customers?

Always ask for references and then follow up before making a decision.

Will you provide a written estimate for the job?

A reputable company will always give an estimate.

Questions When Buying New HVAC Equipment

Ask these questions when you are having new HVAC equipment installed.

Are you going to perform a whole-house energy analysis before sizing the system?

Many people are tempted to replace an old HVAC system, or part of a system like an air-conditioner or furnace, with a new one of the same size. That may be what you end up with, but it’s best to arrive at that decision after the contractor has performed an energy analysis. He or she will consider the size of the home, insulation levels and geographic locations, among other elements. A system that is not sized correctly will end up wasting money and energy. The analysis will also help identify energy weak spots. For example, you may find out that you need more attic insulation in order for your HVAC system to work most efficiently.

What are my options when it comes to energy-efficient systems?

If energy efficiency is a priority to you, tell your contractor that you want an Energy Star product. Energy Star is a voluntary program that rates household items, including HVAC equipment. These products exceed minimum energy efficiency standards. Visit energystar.gov to learn more and see currently rated products.

Do I need a single-zone or multi-zone system?

In a single-zone system, one thermostat controls the entire house. In a multi-zone system, the house is divided up into sections, each with its own thermostat. That means you can heat or cool specific areas when they need it.

How will the system affect the humidity and the indoor air quality in general?

There are products and techniques that can solve indoor air quality problems.

Will the system include a programmable thermostat?

These products let you provide heating and cooling when it is needed, rather than keeping the thermostat at one temperature all of the time, even when no one is home. They are an easy way to cut energy bills. Some newer models are Wi-Fi enabled, so you can control the system from a smartphone or tablet.

What certifications do you have?

The best HVAC system in the world is useless if it is not installed properly. In addition to having a license, there are a number of certifications that demonstrate the contractor’s expertise. They include the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification. It is not mandatory to have this certification, but having it demonstrates a high level of knowledge. There is also the Excellence Certification, which is a step up and shows knowledge as well as experience. Finally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that all contractors who handle equipment that contains refrigerants, which includes air-conditioners and heat pumps, must have the EPA 608 Certification.

Questions for the Contractor Servicing Your Equipment

Here are some questions for the contractor who is repairing your system for some reason or who is performing routine maintenance. Both heating and cooling units should receive annual maintenance.

What is the proper way to install heating and cooling unit filters?

Even if you already know how to do this, it doesn’t hurt to get verification from a pro.

What is the best filter to use?

There are a number of different types of filters on the market. Basic filters are designed to keep dust and large particles out of the machinery, while more advanced filters remove more pollutants, including viruses and odors. Filters range from flat standard filters to products with deep pleats and more surface area to those that provide an electrical charge to trap particles.

How energy efficient is my system?

Contractors can perform tests that tell you how efficient your system is at converting whatever fuel you use into heating or cooling energy. He or she can also tell you how your rating stacks up against other units.

What can I do to keep the system running smoothly?

There are simple tasks you can perform to keep your HVAC system humming along, such as changing air handling filters, keeping furniture from blocking heating and cooling registers, and keeping outdoor components free of debris.

What’s that funny smell?

Don’t forget to raise any concerns you might have, such as a weird noise or funny smell, or rooms that are either too hot or too cold when the unit is operating.

There are two benefits to having these questions on hand: You won’t forget anything you should go over with the contractor, and you can use the questions to obtain information that will help you get the most from your HVAC system.

Fran Donegan is a writer on homeowner repair projects and is the author of the book Paint Your Home. Fran writes on his expertise for The Home Depot. For additional information on HVAC services for the home, you can visit Home Depot’s website.

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