How to Choose a HVAC Contractor

How to Choose a HVAC Contractor

So, you've decided to purchase a new furnace? People do this every season and for many different reasons. 

  • They may be building a new house
  • They may be selling their existing house, and the buyer may have asked that they upgrade the furnace as a condition of the sale
  • Their existing furnace may be broken or unreasonably expensive to repair for the age
  • They may be upgrading their furnace as an investment to reduce utility bills

No matter what the reason, choosing a new furnace can be an intimidating process. There are nearly 100 different brands, and thousands of different models on the market. There are budget models, mid range models and high efficiency models. There are upflow, downflow and cross-flow models. How can you make an informed decision without going back to school and getting a PhD in furnaces? To make matters worse, a furnace is a big ticket item! You can expect to spend anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 or more by the time your new furnace is installed and working. Also, you can expect to enjoy (or resent) your furnace for the next 15-18 years or more!

Many people deal with this decision by simply placing all of the choices in someone else's hands- they open the yellow pages, or go to Google and call the first Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) contractor that they find and ask them to replace their furnace. Provided you find a reputable HVAC contractor on your first call, this can greatly simplify the process. I'm going to give you an overview on how the HVAC market works, and how to identify reputable HVAC contractors.

THE HVAC MARKET

Upgrading or installing a new furnace is not a do-it-yourself project. You will need the help of a qualified and licensed HVAC contractor. A typical job will go something like this:

You identify and contact several HVAC contractors
You set up appointments with each of them to visit your home. You should not be charged for this initial appointment. At the appointment they will inspect your existing furnace, and collect a wide range of information about your home. How many windows it has, Which direction it faces, How well is your home insulated, How many supply vents are in each room, etc. The contractor uses all of this information to calculate the load (heat gain vs loss) and the correct size and capacity of furnace they would need to install.
You should receive a written estimate from each contractor. Make sure the estimate breaks out the different charges that the contractor expects to encounter - i.e. how much will the furnace it self cost? Permits? Do they recommend work on the homes ductwork?
A permit is required by law in every city and county in the state of Washington. If the contractor is not pulling one that sends a red flag as to what else are they cutting corners on? Permits are for the homeowners safety. Once the installation is complete an inspection is scheduled and a building inspector will make sure everything was properly installed and up to current building codes.

If one of the contractors submits a bid that is dramatically different from the other bids, don't be shy to ask the contractor to explain the difference. They may have noticed something that the other contractors had missed.
Some HVAC contractors and companies represent a single brand or furnace manufacturer. Hiring one of these contractors has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, the contractor has probably gone through specialized training offered by the manufacturer. Should the job end badly, you may have leverage since you may be able to approach the manufacturer with complaints. On the other hand, this contractor will only offer furnaces from this one manufacturer. If you get estimates from contractors that represent a single brand, make sure to get estimates from several contractors, but make sure they are recommending something equivalent in quality.

I hope this helps explain the industry and process a little!

Until next time - Stay warm and safe!