Secret Strategies For Hiring a Trustworthy HVAC Contractor For Your Chicago Area Home
Not sure how to go about hiring an HVAC contractor for your equipment installation, repair or maintenance? Whatever you need, make sure you hire a contractor you can trust your Chicago area home with to avoid additional expenses resulting from faulty installation or service. Here are the top secret strategies for doing so:
Follow Proven Tips
No matter what reason you’re hiring an HVAC contractor for, follow these tips to help you settle on a qualified company.
- Do your research: You only want to work with an HVAC contractor who is licensed, bonded and insured. Licensing proves the contractor is competent and up-to-date with the latest industry advancements. Bonding protects you if the contractor doesn’t meet his financial obligations, such as failure to pay technicians. Insurance removes your liability if any damage occurs to your property or if a technician is injured on the job. Ask for a license number and proof of bonding and insurance before doing business with an HVAC contractor.
- Ask for referrals: Past customers’ experiences can help you get a feel for the contractor. Before hiring an HVAC contractor, ask your friends, neighbors and coworkers if there is someone they would recommend.
- Call references: The HVAC contractor should be willing to share references with you. Call them up and ask specific questions about the contractor, such as their service performance, work quality, and ability to stay on budget.
- Seek the Energy Star: If you’re in the market for new equipment installation, make sure you choose a contractor that offers Energy Star-certified replacements. The HVAC equipment you choose determines how much you’ll pay to heat and cool your home for the next decade or more. That’s why it’s wise to invest in Energy Star-qualified equipment. To earn the Energy Star label, HVAC equipment must perform more efficiently than baseline models.
- Get estimates in writing: Bid comparison is an important part of hiring an HVAC contractor you can trust your home with. Of course, price isn’t everything. If one contractor offers a low-ball price that sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. Pick a competitively priced contractor, but get the estimate in writing so you can hold them to it.
- Sign a contract: If you’re hiring an HVAC contractor to perform an installation, don’t let work commence until both parties have signed on the dotted line. The contract tells you important things, such as project costs, equipment model numbers, work schedule and warranty information. A contract also protects you if the contractor fails to live up to an agreement.
Look for NATE Certification
NATE, or North American Technician Excellence, is the leading non-profit organization for testing and certifying HVAC contractors. It’s the only certification of its kind recognized across the entire industry. When you hire a NATE-certified technician, you can expect the following benefits:
- Lower utility bills: Proper installation and maintenance is the key to keeping your equipment in top working condition. The knowledge of a NATE-certified technician allows you to get more from your HVAC equipment with no extra effort on your part.
- Excellent equipment performance: Customers are far more likely to be extremely satisfied with their HVAC system after having it installed or serviced by a NATE-certified technician. The satisfaction comes from quiet operation, efficient performance and ideal comfort in every room.
- Fewer callbacks: Thanks to demanding examinations and required ongoing education, NATE-certified technicians are more likely than non-certified techs to get the installation or repair done perfectly the first time.
- Fast, efficient service: Contractors who hire NATE-certified technicians are more likely to provide fully equipped vans. This enables fast service with no trips back and forth to get missing tools or parts.
- Greater peace of mind: The NATE certification program is rigorous and requires technicians to study and practice if they hope to become certified. You can rest assured that NATE-certified techs don’t speculate; they have the knowledge and experience to get the job done to your satisfaction the first time around.
Insist on an Energy Star Quality Installation
Choosing Energy Star-certified equipment is a great first step. However, nearly 50 percent of HVAC equipment never reaches its advertised potential because of poor installation. This results in higher operational costs despite the extra investment in more efficient equipment.
Certain best practices help ensure your equipment is installed properly. These are called Energy Star Quality Installation (QI) guidelines. Become familiar with them so you can insist your contractor follows the guidelines.
- Size the equipment correctly: In the past, it was common practice to purposely oversize equipment so it was guaranteed to keep up on the hottest summer afternoons or harshest winter nights. However, oversized equipment costs more to operate, creates humidity problems, and increases system wear and tear. On the other hand, undersized equipment falls behind when demand increases. The solution is to properly size equipment using formal load calculations. When hiring an HVAC contractor, make sure the company you choose knows about load calculations.
- Seal the ductwork: Leaky ducts can diminish HVAC efficiency profoundly. Part of the QI process should include inspecting the ducts for leaks and sealing them with approved materials, such as duct mastic. Duct tape is not an appropriate sealant, despite its misleading name.
- Optimize airflow: If airflow is too high or too low, heating and cooling system performance drops. The result is a less comfortable home and higher utility bills. Experienced technicians measure airflow and make adjustments during the QI process to ensure optimal airflow.
- Charge the refrigerant correctly: Air conditioners and heat pumps work thanks to refrigerant flowing through them. If the refrigerant charge is incorrect, the system could consume more energy than necessary and have problems dehumidifying the space. Contractors familiar with QI guidelines test the charge after installation and make adjustments if necessary to promote ideal performance.
Understand What Thorough Maintenance Entails
To keep your investment in top working order for years to come, plan to schedule preventative maintenance every spring for cooling equipment and in the fall for heating systems. Make hiring an HVAC contractor who performs thorough maintenance a top priority.
- Change the air filter: A clean filter promotes proper airflow, cleaner indoor air, lower utility bills and longer equipment life. While a technician changes the filter as part of annual preventative maintenance, you should also inspect the filter monthly between formal inspections, changing it when necessary.
- Check the thermostat: This is the brain of your HVAC system. It controls how comfortable you feel when you’re at home and how much you save while you’re away. If you don’t already have a programmable thermostat, the contractor may explain the benefits and install one on the spot if you’re interested in saving energy without sacrificing comfort.
- Tighten electrical connections: Faulty connections can cause dangerous operation and reduce major components’ life spans. In addition to making sure all electrical connections are tight, a technician should also measure voltage and current on motors.
- Lubricate moving parts: This reduces friction in the system, which helps components last longer and reduces electricity consumption.
- Check the condensate drain: Air conditioners and heat pumps in cooling mode, along with condensing furnaces, have a drain to collect condensate formed during operation. Under normal conditions, the liquid drains away to the outside. However, if debris or algae is clogging the drain, it could overflow and cause water damage to your home or HVAC equipment. Technicians can clear blocked drains to prevent this.
- Inspect system controls: The starting, operation and shut-off cycles should occur properly for safe operation. A technician should check that everything is performing correctly.
- Clean the blower: A clean blower allows proper airflow and a comfortable interior. The technician may also need to balance the blower for greater efficiency.
- Check the refrigerant charge (air conditioner and heat pump only): Even if the equipment was charged correctly at installation, a leak may have developed, causing the system to become undercharged. The technician can fix the leak and recharge the system.
- Clean the coils (air conditioner and heat pump only): Dirty coils reduce efficiency, cause the system to run longer and reduce equipment life. That’s why cleaning the coils is an important part of preventative maintenance.
- Check burner combustion and the heat exchanger (heating only): A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger decreases efficiency and could cause safety issues. In fact, a cracked heat exchanger may require an entire furnace replacement.
- Inspect fuel connections and gas pressure (heating only): Problems in these areas could contribute to health problems for you and your family. When a contractor includes an inspection of these components with other preventative maintenance measures, you enjoy peace of mind that your family is safe.
Clearly, hiring an HVAC contractor with the proper qualifications is important for safety, affordability, and system longevity. To work with an experienced contractor in Chicago and the surrounding area, contact Comfort24-7.com.
Written by Randy Gailit