Is your HVAC system ten years old or more? That means you may be looking at replacing it in the next number of years. Meanwhile,if your HVAC system is newer,you wish to ensure that it keeps running right by scheduling at least annual maintenance. In any case,sooner or later you will need to hire an HVAC consultant. Here are five areas to consider during your search.

1. Licensing and Experience

Your HVAC system is probably one of the most expensive equipment in your home,and you want assurance that whoever works on it has appropriate training.

for instance Ohio requires proper licensing for contractors in the HVAC industry; to obtain a license,a contractor must have five years of experience in the field before the date the application for the license is filed. Along with the Ohio license,a company should be able to hold a minimal level of bonding and insurance. Insurance is to protect homeowners in case of injury or accidental damage.

You should also inquire about a prospective contractor’s experience. While longevity alone won’t guarantee that a contractor will do a good job,stability in the business indicates a contractor is doing something right. What’s more,you can inquire about the certifications the contractors and technicians have: certification through such organizations as North American Technician Excellence (NATE) helps to guarantee a technician’s education and experience are up to date.

Technician training may encompass many facets of the industry,but among one of the most important are the handling of refrigerant and air balancing. Are the company’s technicians certified to handle refrigerant? Under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act,individuals not properly certified should not be handling refrigerant. This is of particular importance as the switch from Freon (R-22 refrigerant) to R-410A progresses. Today’s technicians should also be trained to test and balance installations for maximum efficiency and comfort; the National Comfort Institute’s certification in air balancing provides a standard for training that the homeowner should be aware of.

Further,ask if the contractor carries top brands,and about technicians’ training with these brands: each system/manufacturer is unique,and a quality consultant will ensure that technicians have had the right training to optimize installations.

2. Home Evaluation

If you’re aiming to have a system installed,potential HVAC contractors should offer a thorough home evaluation to determine the very best heating and cooling solution. Factors to become taken into account are square footage of the home,R-value of insulation,how many windows there are and which way they face. Contractors should inspect the duct system for leaks,loose segments and insulation. The Sizing of a new system should not be done based on square footage alone,but rather on calculations determined by data fed into industry software known as Manuals J (for cooling and heating loads),S (to determine size of equipment) and D (for ductwork).

Once you have an evaluation,the prospective contractor should give you a written,itemized estimate so you can compare costs,warranties and energy efficiency among the proposals. Do not go by low price alone. In our climate,for example,a better quality,more efficient furnace may offset a bigger price tag by using less fuel with time.

3. References and Referrals

Ask for references and referrals and call them up. Ask if jobs were completed promptly and within the budget. Ask if the company performed clean installations and respected the homeowner’s property. Did the company test the system after it was installed to ensure maximum efficiency? Run potential contractors past the Better Business Bureau to see what sort of complaints are registered. You can also go on the internet to check complaints or ratings,but keep in mind that many online reviews are fake. Glowing reviews without details and bitter diatribes without specifics are suspect.

When you’re seeking referrals,ask your friends,neighbors or co-workers. Ask local trade organizations for names of their members in your area,or consult online services such as Angie’s List or the Air Conditioning Contractors of America.

A good HVAC consultant will also show pride in his or her company: trucks should remain in good repair and the company name emblazoned on vehicles.

4. Rebates and Special Offers

An HVAC system is a major expense,so search for rebates on energy-efficient equipment,or ask your dealer about specials. Ohio utility companies offer some rebates for installing efficient equipment.

5. Efficiency

Efficiency is important. When searching for an upgrade,you want one of the most efficient equipment you can afford. Ask the contractor about Energy Star-rated models. Energy Star is the government’s program for rigorously testing HVAC equipment for efficiency.