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Thu, Feb. 20

Ask the Contractor: Tips for choosing right HVAC contractor

We need a new air conditioning unit and would like your advice on how to select a contractor.

— Ed and Susie, Cottonwood

Choosing the right HVAC contractor can be daunting. To assist you we have put together a list of helpful tips that are important when selecting an HVAC contractor.

CATEGORY 1: The Business

-- Is the company a licensed contractor? If yes, how long have they held their contractor’s license?

-- Are they an established business and have a professional office?

-- Do they drug test their employees? Do they run criminal background checks on their employees? Will their employees wear shoe covers and put down drop cloths to protect the work area?

-- Does the company provide training to their employees?

-- Will they give you names of other homeowners as referrals?

-- Do they pull the permits for the work they are proposing?

CATEGORY 2: Calculating the bid

-- When calculating the size system to install, did they measure the house including all the individual windows, note what direction the windows face, see what the insulation levels in the walls and attic are? If there is a crawlspace did they look down there?

-- Did they check the duct work?

-- Did they look at the circuit breaker panel?

-- Did they ask whether certain rooms were too hot in summer or too cold in winter?

-- Did they, if applicable, offer solutions for allergy sufferers in the home?

-- Did they ask you what you like about your current system?

-- Did they ask you what you do not like about your current system?

-- Did they offer to look at your utility bills and calculate a payback analysis for their equipment recommendation?

--Did they take time to speak to you about various options for your system, such as Wi-Fi thermostats, humidification, variable speed, two stage, etc.

-- Was the importance of performing annual maintenance after the system is installed discussed? Did they share how all warranties can be voided if maintenance is not performed?

-- Was financing offered or discussed?

CATEGORY 3: Guarantees, Warranties

NOTE: Warranties are offered by the manufacturer of the equipment and/or can be purchased from a third party. Typically, warranties cover such items as parts and sometimes labor. Guarantees, on the other hand are offered by the installing company and workmanship is governed by the Arizona ROC for 2 years.

-- Parts warranty, how many years and on what parts

-- Labor warranty, how many years

-- Is there a temperature guarantee?

-- Obtain proof of liability and workers comp insurance

-- Is there a satisfaction guarantee?

Another issue we see in replacing units is that bigger is not always better with air conditioning. AC experts tell us that for years we have “over-sized” houses in Arizona by installing air conditioners too large for the size of the house.

The cooling power of air conditioners is often described as “tons of refrigeration.” A ton of refrigeration is roughly equal to the cooling power of one ton (2,000 pounds) of ice melting in 24 hours. Residential central AC systems are usually sized from one to five tons in capacity. The industry used to recommend installing one ton of refrigeration for every 400 square feet of floor space in your home. But times have changed and energy efficiency has improved.

Be wary of contractors who recommend increasing tons because of warmer areas in your house. That cannot be solved by increasing the capacity of your air conditioner. An over-sized AC stops and starts more often. Over-sized air conditioners do not run long enough to dehumidify the air. A smaller unit will run longer and perform more efficiently.

Your contractor should perform a heat-load calculation before deciding what size air conditioner you need. That calculation should consider the size, shape and orientation of your house, insulation, window area, air infiltration, climate, number of residents in the house and their comfort preferences. This heat load calculation is called a Manual J calculation. Ask to see the results for your specific home prior to having a unit size determined.

You need to change your entire HVAC system including the furnace. If you replace just the outside HVAC unit with a condenser and compressor without replacing the furnace and air handler, you might not be happy with your comfort level or energy bills. Those separate units are designed to work together and need to match in capacity and efficiency. Otherwise, you might not get the benefits of the SEER rating promised by the equipment manufacturer

What does a SEER rating mean?

In shopping for a new HVAC system, be sure it has an Energy Star label. Energy Star products, certified by the Environmental Protection Agency, are at least 20 percent more efficient than air conditioners that meet minimum federal standards. An Energy Star HVAC will have a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and this number measures energy efficiency. The higher the SEER, the more efficient and the less costly it will be to operate.

If you have hot spots in your house, ask your HVAC contractor how to improve your duct work. Even the most energy-efficient unit will underperform when coupled with bad ducts. Many homes in Arizona actually lose much of their cooling and heating capacity due to leaky air ducts. According to an APS study, as much as 33 percent of the potential heating and cooling could be leaking out.

Whether you get three bids or more, price should not be your only criteria with an air conditioner

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday morning 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or 95.5 FM or the web Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry, meet your local community partners and so much more.

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