How to Choose the Right Contractor - Service Mark Solutions

How to Choose the Right Contractor

For most homeowners, the hardest part of any home HVAC project isn’t the work itself, it’s finding a competent and reliable Heating Cooling & Plumbing contractor to do the job.

Installing new replacement heating and cooling, or even new plumbing fixtures, is simple compared with the struggle of hiring a quality contractor who will perform at a high level from start to finish.

Everyone has heard stories about terrible contractors who were never on time, perhaps impolite and condescending to the homeowner, or damaged property and belongings, or projects that ended up costing much more than quoted!

Frustrated man pulling his hair

“Those are the nightmare kind of stories I hear all the time,” says Angie Hicks, who started the company in 1995 that would become Angie’s List, which provides reviews of contractors and other service providers.

Even with a good HVAC company, a project can be stressful, expensive and involve unpleasant surprises, such as poor ducting found in exposed areas or maybe mold problems in and around the work area.

Perhaps bad or old electrical wiring was discovered during the job. All these types of new problems must be properly and thoroughly addressed between the contractor and the homeowner.

Choosing the right company can make the difference between a successful home project and a disaster. But even for experienced home owner, finding the right contractor can be a challenge.

“It can be difficult to hire contractors and know what you’re getting,” Hicks says. “You’re spending a lot of money, and you’re dealing with your home. If they do it wrong, there can be a whole lot of heartache.”

If you’re doing a big project, you’ll need a general contractor, who may hire subcontractors for specialty work such as plumbing, HVAC and electrical. Homeowners with renovation experience sometimes work as their own general contractors, hiring specific tradespeople for each job. While this may save you money, it can be time-consuming and will mean multiple contractor searches instead of just one, since you’ll have to find a specialist for each smaller job.

Whichever way you go, there are steps you can take to find the right contractor while still keeping your budget – and your sanity – under control.

Yellow ball with smiley face

Here are 14 important tips to help you find a contractor who will get the job done right.

Know what you want before you get estimates. “Start with a plan and some ideas,” Hicks says. “Don’t start by talking to contractors before a general idea of need is established.”

 Ask friends, relatives and co-workers for references. People in your neighborhood who have done similar heating and / or cooling replacements and upgrades projects are your best sources.

 Interview at least three contractors. Ask a lot of questions and get a written bid from each one. When you compare bids, make sure each one includes the same materials and the same tasks, so you’re comparing apples and apples. Get three bids even if you have a contractor you like because you’ll learn something from each interview. “Don’t be afraid to negotiate,” Hicks says.

 Expect a contractor to be too busy to start right away. “The best folks are the busy ones,” says Cannon Christian, president of Renovation Realty in San Diego, which remodels homes before they’re sold. However, they should also be in the position to alter schedules in case of an emergency need!

 Ask what work will be done by the contractor’s employees and what work will be done by subcontractors. 

 Check licenses, complaints and litigation history. The Better Business Bureau is an excellent reference source to check on past problems. The rating will say it all.

 Check references. Talk to a few supplied references and neighbors or co-workers who actually used the company you are considering.

 Read Online Reviews but don’t consider that enough information. Angie’s List does not allow anonymous reviews, and the site checks to see whether reviewers actually used the contractor. Yelp and Google also have some reviews. You want to read the reviews carefully to make sure the contractor is the right person for your job and will work well with you. Keep in mind that reading reviews is not a substitute for checking references.

Sign a detailed contract. Make sure your contract spells out exactly what will be done, including the exact materials that will be used down to the model number and explains the warranties that will be in place.

Get the proper permits. Nearly all home HVAC replacement installations require permits. Many fly-by-night companies, as well as some licensed contractors, will suggest the job be done without permits to save money. Not only does that violate local ordinances and subject you to fines if you’re caught, it means the work will not be inspected by the city or county to make sure it’s up to code. Be wary of contractors who ask you to get the permits – that’s the contractor’s job. Unpermitted work can also cause problems when it’s time to sell.

Negotiate ground rules. Discuss what hours the contractor will work at your home, what kind of notice you’ll get, what bathroom the workers will use and what will be cleaned up at the end of the workday. 

Talk to the contractor frequently. For a big job, you may need to talk every day. If you see a potential issue, speak up immediately. Something that is done that doesn’t suit you or confuses you will be harder to fix later after your contractor has finished.

Verify insurance coverage. Know what is covered by your homeowner’s insurance and what is covered by your contractor’s business insurance. Get a copy of the company’s insurance policy if you think it’s necessary.

 Don’t make the final payment until the job is 100 percent complete. A good reputable HVAC contractor will take the time, at the end of an installation, to show you both how the system(s) operate and how to do day-to-day standard maintenance. The company representative will also review the warranties involved and suggest a maintenance program going forward.

ServiceMark Heating Cooling & Plumbing was established in 1951 and serves the families of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Northern Delaware and parts of Eastern Maryland with the best expert service available in the industry today. All our TECHNICIANS ARE NATE CERTIFIED (North America Technician Excellence), which simply means they must take rigorous training and pass difficult testing and demonstrate superior knowledge in their trade for your protection.

We take great pride in providing scheduled maintenance, emergency service and high efficiency HVAC equipment replacement installations to our customers with our knowledgeable, polite, clean, drug tested and background checked employees that know that your complete satisfaction is their reward!

ServiceMark thanks the editors of US News and This Old House for ideas leading to the suggestions put forth in this article. If you require assistance or have a question please feel free to send them to ServiceMarkInfo@ServiceMarkSolutions.com