If your furnace has just died in sub-zero temperatures or your air conditioner has gone kaput on a sweltering day, you'll probably be glad to hire the first repairman who can come to your house.
But, due to the high cost of repairing, replacing or installing new HVAC equipment, it important to take the time to research HVAC companies before hiring so you don’t fall victim to a scam.
Angie’s List tips: Beware of common contractor scams
- A contractor asks for a large amount of money upfront: It’s not uncommon for contractors to ask for down payments, which is OK, but paying too much early in the process puts you at risk. Generally, you shouldn’t pre-pay more than one-third of the job’s total cost.
- Bait and switch: Protect yourself by having a contract and read all the details before you sign anything. A contract should include start and completion dates; payment penalties for missed completion dates; and an itemized list of materials and warranty information.
- Unlicensed contractors: Some contractors slip under the radar and practice without the proper credentials. Don't hesitate to call your state's licensure board to verify that a license is valid. Ask for proof of licensure and insurance before hiring. Ensuring a contractor is licensed can be tasking to a homeowner, especially one who is trying to save money by cutting corners, but not doing so can cost a homeowner so much more.
- Ask for old parts: Some contractors may charge you for parts that they never actually replaced. To avoid this, request that the contractor hand you the old parts once the replacement process is complete.
Angie’s List tips: 8 ways to avoid a scam when hiring an HVAC contractor
- Get multiple estimates in writing: If a HVAC contractor recommends a new furnace, water heater or air conditioning system, it’s a good idea to get confirmation from at least two other contractors that the equipment does in fact need to be replaced. A common complaint we hear from members is being encouraged to replace equipment that doesn’t need to be replaced.
- Check for licensure and insurance: The educational and licensure requirements for professionals are dependent on your state's laws. But some contractors slip under the radar and practice without the proper credentials. Don't hesitate to call your state's licensure board to verify that a license is valid. You should also ask to see proof of insurance.
- Installing an entirely new system: If you're installing a brand new system, take note of the contractor's questions and calculations. For instance, the contractor should determine the size of the unit based on the number of windows in your home and the number of people residing there. Additionally, he should factor in the type of insulation you have and the direction your home faces.
- Experience with your system: If your heating or cooling system features cutting-edge energy-efficient design, such as a geothermal system, or relies on an old-school operating system, such as steam-driven radiators, be sure the company your choose has relevant experience with your particular system and/or make/model.
- Check out the vehicle: Although some legitimate HVAC contractors drive plain vehicles, one that has the company's logo and contact information shows that the company is established.
- Contractor listings: Don’t just grab a name from an ad, or the phone book or hire on price alone. Do your research on Angie’s List and other sites, talk to friends and family to find a local contractor.
- Physical address: You should inquire into the contractor's physical address. If the company doesn't have one, it could mean it isn't an established, local company. There's also no way to track down the company should something go wrong.
- Get to know your owner’s manual: Help protect yourself by becoming familiar with your system’s manual. It contains a list of service requirements. If you don’t have your manual, most manufacturers make them available online.