Consumer Tips for Choosing a
Heating and Cooling Contractor
Since savings, satisfaction, and home comfort are greatly influenced by the service and advice of your contractor, following the tips listed here may help you make an educated decision.
1.Be sure your contractor is licensed (if required), well trained and experienced to provide quality installations. Don’t be afraid to ask your contractor about his or her
training, experience, and memberships in contractor organizations and associations
2.Demand proof that your contractor is certified to handle refrigerant in cooling systems. Ask to see a copy of their certificate.
3.Ask your contractor to show proof of liability insurance and workers compensation insurance.
4.Ask your contractor to calculate utility bill savings and total lifetime costs for Energy Star qualifying systems. Heating and cooling equipment comes with two price tags; the cost to buy the equipment and the cost to run it. Although Energy Star heating and cooling equipment often cost more to buy, they can cost significantly less to run because they use less energy. In fact, over the product lifetime, the purchase price is minimal when compared to the total operating costs.
5.Ask your contractor to calculate equipment size using computer software such as ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America) “Manual J.” Don’t use a contractor who wants to size your unit solely on the square footage of your home or the size of your current equipment. To gather the necessary information, the contractor should spend at least a half an hour poking around your home, taking measurements, and asking questions. He or she needs to measure, ceiling height, floors, wall, windows, and check insulation throughout the home. Systems that have been properly sized to fit your home provide better humidity control, cycle on and off less frequently, and cost less than oversized systems. Insist on getting a copy of the load calculations or computer printout.
6.Ask your contractor to inspect your ducts for leaks, incomplete connections, and compatibility with the rest of your system. Ideally, your contractor should use diagnostic equipment (there is usually an additional cost involved for the testing) and fix leaks using a quality sealant (duct tape is not sufficient). He or she also may recommend changes to your duct system. Since as much as 30 percent of the efficiency of your system is a result of duct work, overlooking duct improvements may compromise comfort and cost you money.
7.If your house or water heater uses combustion appliances (it burns something like natural or Lp gas or fuel oil) you should have a house pressurization test performed to make certain there is no danger of “backdrafting.” Backdrafting occurs when the fumes from the combustion process are pulled back into the home, threatening the health and safety of the occupants.
8.If you are replacing an air conditioner or heat pump be sure your contractor replaces both the indoor and outdoor coils for maximum efficiency.
9.Have your contractor install your system for ease of maintenance. Make sure the inside coil can be reached for cleaning. The air filter also should be easy to remove and should be cleaned or changed whenever it is dirty. Standard filters should be changed every month.
10.If possible have the contractor place the outside unit on the north or east side of your home, out of direct sunlight. Leave plenty of room for free airflow on all sides and at least four feet at the top. Keep the area free of debris and shrubbery.
11.Always obtain a written contract or proposal before allowing your contractor to install a new system. Also, be sure to ask about written warranties.
12.Carefully evaluate a contractor’s proposal to ensure you get the equipment and service that best meets your needs. Remember, the contractor who gives you the lowest bid may not be a good choice for you. Paying more may get you better equipment, service, comfort and better warranties along with lower operating costs..
13.Look for the Energy Star logo for greater efficiencies and lower utility costs
Heating and cooling equipment last typically 12 to 20 years, so the choice you make about your heating and cooling system today will affect your utility bills, home comfort, indoor air quality, and the environment for years to come.
But, the equipment you choose is just one part of the equation. Savings and satisfaction will depend on whether the contractor you choose correctly sizes and install the equipment and ensures that is working as part of an integrated heatingand cooling system.