Installing new air conditioning equipment is one of the biggest investments homeowners make. It’s not as much as buying the home, but it’s significantly more than purchasing a refrigerator or stove.
Sure, you can spend more on renovations or installing a killer media room or outdoor kitchen, but those are elective decisions.
More than any other home expense, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) impacts your family’s comfort every minute of every day throughout the year and your wallet every month.
Because HVAC equipment is such a costly investment, quality installation and support is more important in the long run than the actual product.
Think about it: When you buy a TV, you may “size it” for viewing in a specific room or to fit it to an existing entertainment system or home network.
When you buy an air conditioner and furnace, these must be properly “sized” for the home. The equipment isn’t plug-n-play like a TV because it interacts with the environment — the existing insulation, windows, doors, air leaks. There is heat loss, loads to consider, and payback calculations to be made.
Who does all this?
Or the Arlington air conditioning contractor you hire?
Meet the Contractor
In this post, we meet HVAC contractors, schedule in-home assessments, and learn how to interact with these highly-trained service professionals.
The Arlington air conditioning contractor you choose to do business with will impact your home for years to come, even though you may only see the service and repair techs once or twice a year for routine checkups.
The analysis performed by the contractor’s technicians will impact the home (and your budget) beyond the installation date. If his calculations are poor, his recommended equipment will be off, his overall “comfort design” for the home will be inefficient, and you will pay for it in poor system performance or higher monthly energy bills.
This post is not meant to be an exhaustive look at everything air conditioning contractors do. The services they offer, their approach to doing business, the people they hire — all of this varies according to the contractor. But, in general, a contractor’s work falls into three categories:
- service, repair, maintenance
- installation of new equipment
- HVAC advisor (for new equipment, comfort design, and on products like humidifiers, filtration systems, energy technology, and efficiency, to name a few)
A previous post covered how to find contractors. We’ll assume you’ve talked to your neighbors, have done your internet research, and have a three to five companies in mind in Arlington or the surrounding area you want to do business with.
Schedule an Assessment
You NEVER want to get an estimate (even a “ballpark” one) by providing details of your home and needs over the phone, but surprisingly it happens. Companies charm homeowners by saying they’ve installed lots of systems in homes just like theirs or they’ve worked for years installing air conditioners “in your area.”
Don’t do it.
You can, however, ask questions of the company owner, lead salesman, or head service, repair, or installation technician over the phone to get started. You definitely want to follow-up the conversation with an in-home visit to get a better sense of the company people you’ll be dealing with.
Questions can include:
- How long has the company been in business in Arlington or the surrounding area? Is the company easy to reach by telephone? Does it offer 24 hour emergency service?
- Can it provide customer references?Call a couple of references: Did the contractor finish as planned? Did his guys leave the space clean after they finished? How did they handle unexpected issues? Were you happy with their work done, the crew itself and the company?
- Are the contractor’s installers NATE certified? NATE is an industry standard for technician excellence. Other certifications include: HVAC Excellence, ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America), ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers), among others.
- What type of training do the service and repair technicians get? Technology is rapidly changing every industry. Does the company provide continuing education (on energy technology, for example) to its service, repair, and installation technicians? This is important as they can better answer your questions and offer a wider range of solutions, including energy efficiency.
- Is the company properly licensed? Just saying so on a website isn’t enough. Ask for proof.
- Is the company insured?Protect your home from damage that may occur during installation. A recent example: A contractor in the Metroplex installed two units outside a home and two furnaces in the attic. Afterward the homeowner noticed water leaking onto the kitchen ceiling and called the contractor, who immediately sent service technicians back to the home to find and fix the problem — a drain line had been re-routed and was leaking condensation. The company paid to have the ceiling drywall properly repaired and painted.
- Does the company follow industry standards like Manual J and Quality Installation?
A thorough in-home assessment should take an hour or two to complete but to a homeowner it seems much quicker when unfamiliar terms are mentioned like SEER, tonnage, insulation ratings, air leaks, filtration, ductworks, heat exchangers, and so on.
We recommend you . . .
Listen to the Arlington air conditioner contractor’s representatives, who may be the owner or a salesman accompanied by a service or installation technicians. Are they talking rapid-fire using unfamiliar HVAC jargon — SEER ratings (12 or 15?), size and capacity (2 tons or 2.5?), and so on? Truly professional contractors care about the home’s environment (they want your repeat business and recommendation) and should ask detailed questions about occupants, activities in the home, lifestyles, heating and cooling goals, existing issues, and budget. If not, you probably don’t want to use that company.
If everything is going too quickly ask questions to slow things down. Ideally, after having done your homework to find an Arlington air conditioning contractor, you have familiarized yourself enough with AC and heating terms that you may even have a list of questions of your own.
Ask those questions. Have a conversation. Let the installer explain (to your satisfaction) what he’s doing and why it’s important. You want to know your home from an energy and performance standpoint.
Sizing and Calculations
Because this is the critical component of an in-home inspection and assessment, we’ve made this the next post. Surprisingly, properly “sizing” a home for HVAC equipment isn’t always done well and the homeowners end up paying for it without knowing the contractor failed them.
Finishing Up: Get Everything In Writing
The service technician or installation specialist probably will complete “sizing” calculations on site and report his findings and recommendations. Insist you not only want the calculations but a report on your home’s HVAC status, which will be helpful when considering future upgrades, repairs, and maintenance. The report may take a day or two to compile.
The contractor should provide good-better-and-best options, or scenarios, based on his calculations and the overall assessment of the home’s energy status and needs. For example, maybe improving the insulation in the attic and “tightening” the home’s “envelope” will allow you to install a smaller system. Or, based on special needs, new equipment is recommended with a filtration system or humidifier. It’s not always this brand or that model that’s most important. And make sure you understand the advantages and disadvantages of each scenario.
Options will, of course, include detailed cost estimates for all equipment and scenarios, the installation, supplies, installation labor, and variables. What is the company’s change-order policy in case something unexpected comes up like having to modify ducts? When is the final payment due? (Avoid paying up-front.) Make sure start and end dates for the installation are included and the maximum number of days you are without heating or cooling.
Does the contractor provide free follow-up inspections to make sure everything is performing as expected? Does the company provide a year’s-worth of free service for semi-annual check-ups? Do they offer an annual service-contract discount if you purchase everything through them?
What do HVAC contractors do to “size” a home? And why is it so critical?