Educational Consumer Tips

AIR CONDITIONING & HEATING - SELECTING A COMPANY

Author: Better Business Bureau
Published:
Category: Service

When getting your HVAC system serviced, it’s extremely important to choose a qualified and trustworthy contractor. While most contractors are reputable, competent and fair; some have been known to dupe unsuspecting homeowners into buying equipment or authorizing services they didn’t need. 

At the BBB of Greater Houston and South Texas, we’ve seen cases where unscrupulous contractors tried to frighten homeowners with warnings that heating systems were leaking dangerous gas or posed some sort of other hazard. 

In our experience, when consumers incur problems it’s often because they fail to thoroughly research a company and /or fail to get estimates from several companies. Too often we receive complaints from consumers who never took the time to check out a company’s record beforehand.  BBB offers these tips to help you choose a trustworthy professional:

See if you are already covered by an existing warranty. Be sure to check the warranty on your system to see whether any repairs or replacements are covered. Remember, many heating systems come with long-term coverage. 

Research referrals. While friends, neighbors and colleagues are a great source for referrals, make sure you also review a prospective company’s BBB Business Report at www.bbbhouston.org. It is imperative for you to know if a company has a pattern of consumer complaints or has a poor record of addressing them.

Hire only a licensed contractor. Consumers can check the status of a license at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s (TDLR) website at www.license.state.tx.us or through TDLR’s customer service lines at 1-800-803-9202 or 1-512-436-6599.  In addition, state-issued license numbers, which begin with TACL, must be on all print advertisements, company vehicles, business cards, work proposals, and invoices. If no license number is evident, the contractor is most likely not licensed to work in the state. 
Verify insurance coverage. While licensed contractors are also required to carry insurance, it’s a good idea to verify a contractor has liability and workman’s compensation insurance.  
Get several estimates. All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided and the materials to be used. Compare more than just cost. Check the size and rated efficiency of the equipment each contractor recommends. Ask each contractor how they arrived at recommending a particular sized system. Check the warranty offered and make certain you understand it. 

Additionally, here is a list of points to consider when talking to a contractor about performing work on your heating and cooling system:
1. Do the contractors you are considering have a business address and telephone number? Check to see if the company is listed in current telephone directories. This will give you some indications of how long the companies have been in business.
2. If you get several different bids, make sure that they are based on the same specifications. The more precise the specifications, the more accurate the bids will be.
3. Is the company licensed by the city and/or state? Does the company display the license on its advertising and on its vehicles?
4. Is the guarantee or warranty disclosed? Is the entire job under warranty or only certain materials? Is labor included in the guarantee? Who will make good on the guarantee - the dealer or the manufacturer? Of course, remember the guarantee is only as good as the firm that offers it.
5. Does the company provide good liability and worker's compensation insurance to protect you in the event of an accident on the job? Insist on a statement of coverage from the contractor's insurance agent. If subcontractors are used, do they have liability and worker's compensation as well?
6. Before authorizing the job, check references. Be sure you call the BBB for a report. If the installation involves financing, be aware that a lien may be placed on your home.
7. Remember to get copies of everything that you sign, including the contract and/or completion certificate.
8. Always get receipts for any money paid. If full payment is made in cash, be sure to obtain written verification of payment from the contractor with a list of the labor and material charges covered by the payment.
9. How does the company compensate its service technicians - hourly, salary, or commission?

Tips on Check-ups:

Cooling System Checkups:
If you are concerned that an air conditioning service company may advertise an unbelievably low price for a cooling system checkup as a way to sell expensive, unneeded repairs, then you should take extra care when selecting a company. Do business with a company that has a good reputation, and if the service technician claims that you need major repairs, get a second opinion. It is also helpful if you know what you should get when you pay for a cooling system checkup. During a typical checkup, the technician should:
* Inspect and/or clean condenser and evaporator coils.
* Check voltage and amperage on motors.
* Check pressures for proper refrigerant charge.
* Inspect and adjust blower components.
* Inspect condensate drain, clean if necessary.
* Inspect air filters.
* Check thermostat calibration.
* Lubricate moving parts where necessary.
* Inspect safety controls where applicable.
* Check airflow.
* Inspect appropriate electrical connections.
* Start and operate the unit.

Heating System Checkups:
Did you know that the furnace is the most used appliance in the home? This is because it furnishes air for both the heating and cooling. A complete heating system checkup will help keep your furnace running efficiently and safely throughout the year.
A heating system checkup should take about one hour. Although the costs may vary, a technician should:
* Inspect thermostat.
*Check filters.
* Check furnace for cracked heat exchanger.
* Inspect burners and heat for rust.
* Check for gas leaks at furnace.
* Check vent pipe and draft diverter.
* Check vent clearance.
* Inspect for obstructions and proper clearance at roof jack.
* Clean and adjust pilot assembly.
* Check and clean blower, if required.
* Check belt and adjust tension.
* Lubricate bearings.
* Check flame rollout.
* Check manifold pressure when necessary and adjust.
* Check burner for efficiency and adjust when necessary
* Clean and adjust all safety cut-offs.
* Check high temperature safety cut-off.
* Check fan control for proper setting.
* Check complete furnace cycle.
If you are making major changes to your heating system, there are three instances in which a permit from the City is required:
1. When replacing the heating system.
2. When modifying the ductwork.
3. When increasing the tonnage of the system.
An inspection of this work is mandatory, and the City will perform this inspection upon request by your contractor.
* Inspect and/or clean condenser and evaporator coils.