Angie's List | HVAC Contractor Scams

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.

Your heating and cooling system is one of the most complicated mechanicals in your house and it accounts for more than half of your energy costs. Being sure that you hire right and get system checked regularly is going to be important. Your best defense to make sure you are not being taken advantage of is to read the owner's manual.

HVAC Contractor Roy Rogers Feltner offers this advice, "An inspection is really important to keeping your system operating and not falling into a trip when it breaks down you're weighing your options trying to figure out what to do. My best advice is to get that furnace checked while its running and not when it's broke down. When it breaks down and you call a guy, you're at his mercy."

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.

When hiring someone to work on your furnace or cooling system you want to be sure you find the most experienced provider so it's worth checking to see if they are trained in the type of manufactured product you have. For example, if you have a Trane or a Bryant system, find someone who is trained with that specific manufacturer.

Angie Hicks says, "A common complaint we hear about HVAC companies is when it's recommended that the consumer replace their system when a simple repair may do the trick. Keep in mind these systems can last up to 20 years and cost a good deal of money to replace so if someone recommends a replacement, get a second opinion."

Homeowner Richard Cowey took that advice when lightning struck his air conditioner unit. Richard says, "I had several companies come out and give me an offer. We had to negotiate to get it down to where I had to spend money on my insurance company, we had a certain amount of money to spend. We finally negotiated a price. We weren't looking for the cheapest we could get, we wanted a good unit."

Angie's List tips: 8 ways to avoid a scam when hiring an HVAC contractor

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Experience with your system: If your heating or cooling system features cutting-edge energy-efficient design, such as a geothermal system, or relies
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.

    Roy Rogers Feltner, a HVAC Contractor says, ""In today's world, we have lots of people that are preying on the unsuspecting. When a company comes out to service your unit, you should have already investigated that company at some point, either it be through social media or word-of-mouth."

    "Yes, scams happen, unfortunately in our society. We have to be aware of that. And sometimes in our society we're not able to distinguish that. Talk to your family. Talk to your friends. Get a second, third opinion – it doesn't hurt," Roy advised.

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