The heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in your home is one of the most important features of a comfortable home. A new one is expensive, so keeping it in good operating condition should be your priority. Nothing is worse than having your heat or air conditioning break down at the height of the season when you need it most.
Routine maintenance can be relatively easy and inexpensive, with the help of an experienced and trustworthy HVAC contractor. Finding such a contractor is about as important as the HVAC service the contractor will provide. Before hiring anyone, make sure the contractor is reputable, is licensed and insured, can provide good references, and will warranty the work.
Once you are confident you have found a reliable, quality contractor, arrange to have a representative inspect your system (preferably before you experience problems with it). Here are five questions you should ask them:
1. Do you require a maintenance plan for routine service?
Most HVAC contractors require an annual service agreement as a condition to providing services. The terms of these agreements vary somewhat, but most will cover routine inspections and maintenance on your entire system for a set payment. The contractor will visit your home at least once in the spring for maintenance on your air conditioning, and at least once in the fall to make sure your heating system is in good working order for the winter. The HVAC contractor will flag any significant problems and discuss recommended repairs with you.
If you need repair service that goes beyond that of being routine, having a service agreement will give you a lower rate than you would have without the service agreement. These plans are a cost-effective way to keep up with the maintenance of your system with little effort on your part.
If you do not already have a maintenance plan in place, you should get one soon. Without it, you will be the lowest priority for any quality HVAC contractor. If your system goes out completely, you could have to wait until the contractor has serviced other customers covered by a plan. Moreover, you will pay more for the contractor’s service.
2. Can my system be repaired, and if so, is it worth the cost?
If your HVAC system is old and not functioning properly, you may be facing a difficult decision of whether to repair it or invest in a new one. A reputable HVAC contractor will be straight with you. If they can repair it and get it back to good working order, they will. Keep in mind that the HVAC contractor cannot guarantee that a repair will last for a certain length of time or that a new part will outlast its warranty. If the cost is the same or nearly the same as a new system in the long run, you may as well replace it. If you do decide to invest in a new system, ask if any part of your old one can be saved. For example, you may not need to replace the ductwork along with the mechanical part of the system.
3. Is there any new technology in a residential HVAC system the contractor recommends?
When considering a new system, you will likely be surprised at the new technology available that has improved HVAC system efficiency considerable over your old one. The new systems are not only more efficient; they are less expensive to operate and may make your home more comfortable. Perhaps an upgraded system will save you money in utility bills over a few years’ time. Find out what might be available that makes suits your budget.
4. What are the HVAC contractor’s payment terms?
If you believe you need a new HVAC system, you would be wise to arrange for financing before it becomes an emergency. Usually, the contractor will expect you to pay a portion of the cost up front or at the time you schedule the work, and pay the balance in increments as the contractor completes specific stages of the installation. Some contractors expect payment of half of the estimated amount when the work begins and the balance paid when completed.
5. What is the expected life of the new system, and does it come with any warranties or rebates?
Make sure you get the most out of your money. If you can buy a system that is covered by a warranty or offers rebates, maybe that is a better deal for you even if the cost up front is a little higher than other options. Know how long the system usually lasts, and consider the expected life of the new system and its cost against the amount of time you expect to be in the home.