What to look/listen for?
Hi there! I'm a Houston homeowner who is trying to become educated about HVAC so I can make sensible, informed decisions about replacing our system.
I'm so glad I found this website! I've been spending a lot of time lurking and reading old posts, and some of them scare me. I've realized through my reading that one of the most important things (if not the most important) is the quality of the installation. As a matter of fact, most of the problems we have are more than likely the result of the terrible installation job we inherited when we bought our home. That's why this post by classical freaked me out:
They use subs for installs many times with untrained illegal helpers picked up on the street corner. One of the installers told her he would come back on his own time and replace all of her ductwork for less than the company would charge. We suspect he may have closed off several ducts in the attic to provide impetus for replacing the ductwork.
Here's my question...(I'll try to make it brief, but that's not what I'm known for!)
We have had a consultation with four companies so far.
Company A is a fairly big operation who does a lot of new construction installations in the Fort Bend area using Carrier equipment. They sent a salesperson out. He listened to our concerns and wrote a proposal on the spot. I wasn't home at the time, so my husband met with him. Hubby said he seemed fairly knowledgeable, but was definitely a salesperson.
Company B is in the Spring Branch/Memorial area, and they have been ruled out by us already just based on our experience during the consultation. The sales rep. walked in the front door, and miracle of miracles he knew what we needed without us saying a word! This company also was here for about 20 minutes, and we have a written "estimate," but I use the term loosely because it's written on the back of a piece of paper and just lists some Amana and Lennox equipment.
Companies C & D are a different breed. Both sent HVAC professionals to our house instead of salespeople. Both were here for over an hour, crawling around in the attic looking at ductwork, inspecting airflow, measuring things, etc. We don't have a written proposal from either company yet. Both are going to send us proposals with specific recommendations based on our house and needs. I thought it was interesting that both companies that sent HVAC folks out had very similar solutions to our concerns during our meetings.
Both are established Houston companies. Neither use subs, both are licensed and insured. Of course, without seeing the proposals I can't say which way I'm leaning, but Company D seems to have a better warranty on the equipment (10 years parts & labor through the manufacturer) and that would certainly factor into my decision.
So I'm finally getting to the point! Do these sound like I'm on the right track? We learned a LOT talking to these guys! I just want to make sure we don't end up with some scam company that's going to sell us any old equipment that doesn't suit our needs. FWIW, our home's A/C needs are quite different from a new build out in the suburbs...2,500 square foot 40 year old house, negligible wall insulation, trees, new double-paned, low-e, gas filled (is that the right technical term?) windows (Gulf Coast). What else should I look for? What questions do I need to ask?
Sounds like you got your mind already made up. Did I miss the question?
Wait for the proposals from C&D, and then see if you still have questions weather to use C or D.
What you see and here during the visit, and what they write, may be 2 different things.
Go with who you're comfortable with. It's a crapshoot. The problem with a forum like this is that you're going to hear a lot more about all the bad stuff that contractors do than the good stuff most of us do. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of bad contractors out there, but the good ones far outweigh the bad ones. My advice is to not pay them 100% until they are done with the system and you are satisfied with everything. Maybe hold back 10% or so for a few days to a week. That way, if something is screwed up, it gives them motivation to fix it as well as you have some money to pay somebody else to fix it.
AggieTexan, I know exactly how you feel. I have just signed on with a HVAC company in the Houston area. I talked and listened to 5 different companies. Two, I new immediately were not for me. They "might" be alright for a simple replacement/repair piece, but certainly not for a complete replacement of the entire system.
The third company, I really liked what they had to say. But they priced themselves out the job. (over $XX,XXX for their custom developed systems. WOW!)
I really wanted to go with the fourth. I liked what he said for his solution and how to handle the zoning. And I thought his quote was within reason. But after checking references, name not listed on NATE or ACCA website, even though his paperwork stated affiliation. Strikes at BBB. I just didn't feel comfortable with him, so I ruled him out.
So I decided to go with the fifth company, the first I talked to. By no means are they they cheapest. But they spent plenty of time listening to me. Understanding what I was interested in. Then came back with sound responses. They have a history and verified references in the area. The are listed by NATE, ACCA and BBB. They performed the heat load and explained the results. Recommended the equipment with a thorough explanation of why they chose them and how they were going to benefit me. All I can say is they were the most thorough of all the installers. And after using the worksheet from ACCA for choosing HVAC companies, they came in the lowest by 30%.
I know I made the right decision with the information I had. I just hope I feel the same after the the install. Install is scheduled to begin on the 11th.
Last edited by AndrewR69; 08-02-2008 at 05:51 PM.
Reason: Removed price.
First I will tell you that with Gulf Coast windows you spent way more than necessary.
When it comes to the choice of companies the installation practices are what make the job worth paying for. Detail is critical; if they don't have it written down they are not bound to perform the task.
Ask them what their procedures are, if they don't state they are going to flow N2 while brazing the copper look elsewhere, if they don't state they will pull down to at least 500 Microns preferably three hundred look elsewhere. It is attention to detail that will provide you with long term comfort and trouble free service.
Being NATE certified is nice but really means very little if the contractor doesn't practice due diligence. I am NATE but I know some very good techs that are not, I know several very poor quality techs that are NATE certified.
As far as being affiliated with ACCA or the BBB means absolutely nothing at least in Houston. A very large company here in Houston has win the BBB award for excellence for a multitude of years and if you let them work on your system you deserve what you get and it will not be quality.
Classical, I agree completely with your comments about certifications. What you learn in a book or pass on a test, has very little to do with how it is applied on the job.
But my point was, if you list yourself to have certain certifications, you better have them. This is one, of only a few ways, an average potential customer has to verify your expertise. So they may follow up on them. When they see you do not have the certification you said you did, it raises doubt about the job you will perform in the end.
Each contractor has to list themselves on the NATE site,as NATE relates to the individual techs cert.,many fail to do so.
Originally Posted by AndrewR69
With ACCA,each member must go on the site and list the types of work they do,if they don't and you choose a type of work,they don't come up in the search.
Not your fault,but maybe the didn't misrepresent themselves,be nice if you let them know,for their sake.
Thanks all! I really appreciate the tips. We have not decided on a contractor yet, and depending on what we hear from the two we liked (C&D) we may be making some more phone calls.
21degrees -- My question was what do I need to ask/listen for/beware of? As I said above, we haven't made a decision at all and may even talk to a couple more people. For those of us not in the business, there is an incredible amount of information to process. It helps to be pointed in the right direction by professionals who know what they're talking about.
classical -- I know we overpaid for the windows, but we sure like them! I knew about Gulf Coast because I'm a girl who listens to a LOT of sports radio, so we went with them. That won't be the case with the air conditioning system...too much expertise required and too many things can go wrong. Besides, I hate being hot, so I'd really like to get this done right.
AndrewR69 -- I'll be interested to hear how your project goes! What area of town are you in? If you wouldn't mind sharing who you talked to and who you chose, my e-mail address is in my profile.
Luckily I have the luxury of time since I have AC, I just don't like it. The guy who flipped our house had heaven only knows who come in and piece things together. The system components don't really fit together, if that makes any sense. The evaporator coils aren't level, and we have some drain line issues that have resulted in water from the attic on several occasions. We knew about the problem from the mechanical inspection before we closed, so it's not a surprise that we need to replace the system.
I guess seeing the mess in my attic is what really got me determined to have properly installed equipment that works properly. In this town AC is just too important to be dealing with problems all the time. In addition I want whoever installs our system to become our service company so I'm not always resorting to picking up the phone book for maintenance or repairs. More often than not I end up calling ARS and I really don't like them or any Service Master company for that matter.
Keep the suggestions coming! I'm trying to become an educated customer!
AggieTexan "GIG EM"" my daughter was class of 2004, I attended both A&M and the dreaded TU; see I am reformed.
Why in the world would you call that initials company? Have you called any of the companies that are represented on this site that are from Houston? There are a number of us here. MrBill, The Dangling Wrangler, Jason is in Pearland, Slice is in Magnolia. I think you said you were in Ft. Bend I assume you are in Sugar Land or Missouri City.
Oh and since you listen to sports talk I hope you don't listen or pay attention to that electric provider hawker that talks about home improvements; he only touts what he is paid for not necessarily what is best for your home.
I would advise you that since your in the Houston area and there's a host of guys on this fourm from your area it would be wise for you to call a few of them. By having one of the guys from here do your install you would be almost certain to have a load calc done on your home so the equipment that is installed will be the proper size for your home Look up or just ask for a few of them to contact you via e-mail and that should end your search.
Howdy, classical. I'm glad you're reformed!
Originally Posted by classical
We're actually in Houston, not Fort Bend. We were out in the master-planned 'burbs for almost 10 years until traffic became unbearable, and we saw the light and moved back to Houston. We're just inside the toll road between Briar Forest and Memorial (Briargrove Park).
I would NEVER EVER consider letting the initials (a.k.a. American Rip-Off Services) install a new system. They've only been out because we had a home warranty (another NEVER EVER) that we got when we purchased our 40 year old house. The initials repair company was one of the service providers the initials home warranty company (a.k.a. American Home Scam) sent out, so when we had a problem and needed immediate service we called them.
I only discovered this website a couple days ago, and have actually already contacted one person to inquire about their company. I'm still trying to decipher who is reasonably local and who isn't, and how to contact them. I not only want a good installation, but I'm looking for a company that can provide good service and maintenance, and I would think that would be someone fairly close...say within 20 miles or so. Do y'all agree? Since we're just starting the process and we have the luxury of time, I may get some more proposals before we move forward.
In the meantime, this website is just a wealth of information! It's almost more than a non-techie girl's brain can comprehend, but that's what you guys are here for, right?
The 20 mile proximity to your home and their office my not be relevant since they may have techs that are near your neighborhood and/or already work in the area. A lot of companies dispatch the techs right from their homes without them coming to the office everyday.