Air Conditioning Contractors - Get Local, Quality Contractors
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Not every contractor is a good contractor. The kid down the street who you pay five dollars to mow your lawn, or the guy on the side the road who washes windshields at stoplights is as much as contractor as anyone else. A contractor, simply put, is someone who does a service in return for money.
Would you put your air conditioning in the hands of little Johnny down the street? Of course not. But he may be just as qualified as some so-called contractors. Savvy homeowners do their research before hiring air conditioning contractors to ensure their story is one of success and not another drop in the sea of horror stories.
Researching air conditioning contractors isn’t challenging--if a contractor is resistant to reveal his background, be wary. It shouldn’t take long to find out whether you’re hiring a quality installer or a guy no more protected and skilled than little Johnny.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE HIRING AIR CONDITIONING CONTRACTORS
Here are a few things to check before you sign the dotted line.
Permits and Licensing: Before you hire a contractor, you may want to investigate your area’s permit and licensing requirements. Call the city and ask what the requirements are for your installation, including permits. If a contractor tells you it doesn’t matter, cut ties immediately. Work performed without permits could land a hefty fine in your lap, or additional costs for disposal of old materials.
Note: QualitySmith verifies that all contractors within its network have current permits as licensing as required by law.
Insurance: Don’t skip this one: Never hire an uninsured air conditioning contractors, no matter how low the estimate. This is a recipe for disaster that includes blowing up your bank account should anything ever go wrong with the installation. Ask for hard copies of current general liability and worker’s compensation insurance. If something goes wrong, including injuries, the responsibility can fall on the homeowner if the person they hire is uninsured.
Note: QualitySmith verifies that all contractors within its network have current insurance as required by law.
References: Most air conditioning contractors keep record of clients and, as a marketing strategy, ask whether future customers may contact them for references. Ask them for contact information of at least ten former clients. Calling all ten is excessive, but having at least ten contacts who can speak on the contractor’s behalf shows a large pool of happy customers. Randomly pick a few to call.
You may also consider checking for complaints filed against the contractor with the Better Business Bureau. Even great ones get complaints from time to time, but most attempt to resolve the issue immediately. You can check on-line or by calling the Better Business Bureau.
Contract: You’ve done your homework and found a contractor who seems like a good fit. Make sure their plan for your home is outlined with everything specifically outlined and priced in the proposal. This should include disposal and permit costs, as well as estimated dates for starting and finishing the project. You don’t want to be hit with hidden costs.
Payment: Most air conditioning contractors expect a deposit before starting work. Generally, you should avoid installers who want everything paid up front. This deposit should be included, and noted as paid, on a pricing schedule that’s easy to understand.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD AIR CONDITIONER INSTALLATION?
Quality air conditioning contractors will properly survey your home before, during, and after the installation. This involves numerous considerations, most of which average homeowners are unfamiliar.
The Air Conditioning Contractors of America, a nonprofit organization, offers a checklist that homeowners can use to compare contractors. By assigning points to specific tasks a contractor does (or promises to do), a homeowner can objectively assess quality. Divide these points by the air conditioning contractor’s total estimate to find the best value for the money.
Some key tasks carry more weight than others in the checklist. Consumer watchdog groups largely agree that the two following tasks take precedence over others when assessing a contractors’ work. These may not be included in the initial estimate, but should be promised before you commit to the installation.
KEY PRE-INSTALLATION TASKS
Load calculation is in industry term that, in its most basic definition, means properly sizing an air conditioning unit. Proper load calculation takes into account a vast number of factors, including square footage, building materials, windows, insulation quality, shading from outdoor trees, a home’s orientation, climate, and more.
Any air conditioning contractor you hire should perform load calculation, referencing an industry standard guide, to ensure a proper fit. Even if you’re replacing an old unit, a contractor should still perform these calculations. The old air conditioning may have been the wrong size.
Load calculation must match the air conditioner’s performance specifications to ensure a proper fit. Consumer agencies recommend that you only hire air conditioning contractors who can give an in-depth explanation of why a particular unit is the right fit for your home.
Sizing is key, because an undersized unit won’t cool your home properly and an oversized unit will use excess energy while not effectively reducing humidity.
OTHER PRE-INSTALLATION TASKS
Here are some other pre-installation concerns, which carry far less weight than load calculation and equipment selection.
Matching and certification: Air conditioning contractors should show how the air conditioner works together with your existing equipment, according to certification requirements set by the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute.
Ducts: The installer should show you the state of your ducts (if any exist). Overly small ducts waste energy and can damage equipment, meaning they should be replaced. Likewise, ducts in poor condition, such as leaks, waste energy and can release toxins that cause illness.
DURING INSTALLATION TASKS
The following is a rundown of tasks an installer should perform during installation, which carry less weight than load calculation and equipment selection:
- Measure overall airflow
- Measure airflow into individual rooms
- Measure charge of refrigerant
- Ensure compatible electrical work and fuses
- Calibrate thermostat
The following is a rundown of tasks an installer should perform after installation, most of which includes giving the homeowner key documents and carry less weight than load calculation and equipment selection:
- Supply written checklists with all measurements performed during the install
- Supply written warranty information, including the air conditioning contractors’ service warranty and manufacturer’s warranty
- Supply written explanation of recommended routine maintenance, as well as owner’s manuals.