So you’ve decided to replace at least part of your HVAC system, like a furnace or air conditioner. Or perhaps you want to add a new component like a humidifier or air purifier. Whether you need a small job done or a full system installation, you want, first and foremost, someone that you can trust.
Someone who you know will do the job right – the first time! Someone who won’t hose you on costs and fees, someone who stands by their work. Someone who will tell you what you need to know so that there are no unwelcome surprises later. Who is honest AND good at their job.
But unless your cousin or favorite neighbor is an HVAC contractor, how do you find that person?
There are a couple of things you can look for to help you determine the integrity and reliability of a contractor – and a few things you might be tempted to rely on that aren’t all that reliable. Here’s a quick rundown of check marks you can give to the contractors you’re vetting so you’ll feel more confident in your choice.
Each state, and sometimes even each local municipality, has its own requirements for whether a contractor needs to be licensed and how. In New Jersey, an HVAC contractor is required to be licensed by the state, and that includes completing the requisite education and passing a licensing exam.
While a license doesn’t guarantee that you’ve found a reliable contractor, it does mean that he meets the minimum requirements enforced by the state where he is practicing. If you’re going to start somewhere, start by ensuring that you contractor has done at least that much!
Keep in mind that you may see that a contractor is “licensed and registered.” Registration may also be required for your contractor to be able to work in that state, and if it is, your contractor should be registered. But it doesn’t have any bearing on experience or competency.
Licensed contractors carry insurance, which means you’re protected in the event of property damage. They’re also bonded, which means that if a contractor can’t complete the job or things take a hard left turn, you’ll be financially compensated to cover the loss.
But simply “knowing” that doesn’t have to be sufficient. Don’t be afraid to ask for proof of insurance. It should include both liability, to protect your property, and worker’s compensation, which covers the technicians in the event that they’re injured on the job.
Long gone are the days of doing business with a handshake and a smile. These days, any legitimate business person will put your estimate in writing. And when you get the estimate, make sure you understand it. Costs should be itemized as appropriate, and clearly annotated.
If there are any caveats, be aware. Does your estimate expire in 24 hours? Are you sure you’re getting the component, and even the brand, that you want?
Don’t settle for quick phone estimates, either. It may be tempting – after all, you’re busy, the contractor is busy, you need a new air conditioner, so you call and throw out a few details and get a “rough number.”
That may be ok if you’re just kicking the tires but if you really want a true estimate, you need to have the contractor visit your home and inspect your setup. It’s the only way he’ll really know what he’s working with and what your needs are.
Yes, contractors are busy. Someone’s furnace is always conking out on a 12 degree day, and someone else’s air conditioner is always on the fritz during the worst heat wave of the decade.
But that should never get in the way of a contractor taking time to listen to what you need, talk through your options, your budget concerns, your financing options, your potential rebates.
A contractor should take time to educate you, especially since you’re probably making a pretty substantial investment in your home and comfort. You should know the pros and cons of your choices and be well-advised of everything from what type of maintenance is involved, to how long your system should be expected to last, and what your payment options are.
If you invite a contractor into your home for an estimate and he hands you a slip of paper and walks out ten minutes later, that could be a big red flag. Unless you already know exactly what you need and what’s involved, take time to ask questions. And pay attention to how your contractor answers. Is he knowledgeable? Thorough? Patient and interested in your needs? Those are all good signs.
One of the best ways to find a reliable HVAC contractor is to get a recommendation from a trusted friend or family member who has used that contractor before. This one is a no-brainer, but here’s a bit of advice: let your contractor know that they were referred and who did the referring.
Sometimes, your contractor may have a referral reward program and that would be a good way to thank the person who sent him to you. But more importantly, it puts a bit of positive pressure on the contractor – especially if the person who referred him is a good customer!
Word of mouth is one of the most important avenues of business for many types of contractors, not just HVAC. You can bet that contractor isn’t going to want to blow any goodwill on lax behavior!
A good reputation often comes with good online reviews – but not always. This is one of those tips that is a double-edged sword. There are plenty of fake 5-star reviews for subpar contractors. And plenty of perfectly competent contractors don’t have many reviews at all – except for that one terrible review from that one person who had a really bad day and went right online to complain about it.
So take reviews with a grain of salt. If you are looking at reviews, try these tips: look for written reviews rather than just “star” reviews. Anyone can click a star button. But it takes someone time to write a review that they care about.
Check to see if the reviews are written by people with legitimate-sounding names – not just “anonymous.”
And look for specifics. People who say that they had “the best” or even “the worst” experience with no supporting evidence are not helpful, and may not be legitimate. Pay attention to reviews that talk about a specific experience, why they liked or didn’t like a contractor’s service, what they felt went right, or wrong. See if the contractor responded, especially if something went wrong.
These are a bit like the cousin of reviews, only they all skew positive. We doubt you’ll ever visit a contractor’s website and read testimonials about how awful the service was! But it’s unlikely that a contractor would have raving testimonials if *someone* wasn’t happy.
Read through the testimonials to get a feel for what people specifically liked about your contractor. See if anything resonates with you. Is the contractor always on time? Very neat about his work? These can be good signs.
Better than simply reading them, ask for referrals to those people or to other customers who can give you insight into what it’s like to work with the contractor. Skip the contractor’s mom, and talk to a few random people if you can. Ask them what went right, and even what went wrong. People usually want to be helpful so they’ll probably spill all the bans – and you can see how your contractor handles the good and the bad.
While there’s no foolproof way to guarantee that you’ll have a great experience – all signs may point to the perfect contractor but he may just have an off-day when visiting you – these tips can certainly point you in the right direction.
If you’re looking for a reliable HVAC contractor that you can trust to do the job right, honestly, and with integrity, put us to the test. We’ve been serving residential and commercial customers throughout New Jersey since 1998 and we’re here to guide, educate and serve you. Contact us for a free in-home consultation and estimate. We care about your comfort.