How to Identify a Competent HVAC Contractor?

It’s cold, and your heating system needs repair. How do you find a contractor you can trust? Why not ask your neighbor, a friend, or the Better Business Bureau? That’s what most folks do.

The advantage to hiring professional HVAC contractors based on referrals is a level of trust. It brings a level of confidence that the business is reliable, and you probably won’t get ripped off. That’s a very low bar for contractor performance, and it really doesn’t protect you from poor contractor performance.

Here’s the problem with hiring heating, air conditioning (HVAC) contractors based on personal referrals. Most people can’t tell if they received what they paid for because it’s a technical job, and work quality is difficult to evaluate without technical training.

As a result, customer satisfaction with heating contractors (and their referral to you) is typically based on two performance factors:

  1. Did they fix the problem I called about?
  2. Am I satisfied with the experience?

If the contractor is responding to an emergency call, customers feel completely vulnerable, so expectations of contractor performance are set even lower, based on the worst-case scenario of: “I hope this doesn’t cost me thousands of dollars” and “I need the problem fixed”.

Therefore, the customer will be completely delighted if:

  • The contractor is prompt and courteous.
  • The contractor appears knowledgeable and fixes the problem at hand.
  • The contractor charges less than the worst-case scenario.

Unfortunately, the example above is a typical heating and cooling business transaction because of the following realities:

Deferred Preventive Maintenance

Most homeowners don’t have preventive maintenance performed on home heating and cooling systems. Your system will last longer and cost less to operate if you have seasonal maintenance twice a year. HVAC manufacturers sometimes need proof of annual maintenance to keep your air conditioner warranty stay covered.

Fear of Contractors

Most homeowners don’t know what preventive maintenance should be performed, leading to fear of being ripped off or sold a bill of goods by contractors, which perpetuates the problem above.

The cure for deferred preventive maintenance and fear of contractors is knowledge. The problem is it takes another heating or cooling expert to evaluate how effectively the contractor performed technically.

Many contractors tout years of experience, but that doesn’t guarantee quality work. In fact, the contracting trades are generally resistant to change and slow to adopt new technology. Why? Change involves risk, and why would a successful contractor risk changing a successful business formula? That’s the paradox of new technology and why we exist to help transform the market for energy-related home improvements.

The key to hiring a quality contractor today is competence in the latest heating and cooling systems and service procedures. You can identify competency best by looking at the contractor’s certifications, not years of experience. They should possess current training and certification in the latest heating and cooling systems technology and procedures. Look for NATE, ACCA and BPI certifications in addition to state licenses.

A contractor with certified competencies will follow a process like this:

  • They follow a prescribed diagnostic procedure.
  • Health and safety tests are performed.
  • The customer is given a full report of system performance.
  • The contractor explains options and alternative solutions.
  • The scope of work is based on the diagnostic tests.
  • The contractor has a quality assurance system.
  • There is a 1 year guarantee on materials and workmanship.

This checklist works for seasonal HVAC maintenance, repairs, and system replacements. Homeowners confident working with contractors can ensure they receive this level of quality by verifying the service technicians have NATE and BPI certifications and specifying the ACCA 4 standard for HVAC maintenance service.

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