Choosing a Quality Contractor

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Choosing a good contractor to install a new furnace, air conditioner, windows, or insulation is more  important than the equipment or window you choose.  Proper diagnosis, recommendations, and installation is needed for the equipment or measures to operate safely, reliably, and at maximum efficiency.  A search of the web will lead you to a variety of recommendations, but I’ll offer some to consider that reflect those from consumer groups and government agencies.

  • Get a referral.  Use someone you’ve had good results with in the past or check with friends and relatives who might be able to give you a recommendation for someone reputable.
  • Look for a contractor who can get to the heart of what you want and what your home needs.  Whether you’re getting a new furnace, air conditioner, windows, or insulation, your contractor should look at your whole house to determine how the components will affect overall performance.  Ideally, you’ll want a BPI Accredited contractor, or one who is participating in a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program if one exists in your area.  Best is someone who encourages a comprehensive assessment before proceeding.
  • A quality contractor cannot give you an estimate over the phone.  It’s critical that the contractor look at your home and the job to be done first.  Ideally, they will use tools such as blower doors and infrared cameras to make the right recommendations for you.
  • A well-trained and qualified contractor will not try to discourage you from purchasing high-efficiency or ENERGY STAR heating and cooling equipment or efficient windows with the right “U-value” and “solar heat gain coefficient”  Less-qualified companies don’t stay current with improved technology and may not be familiar with more efficient, reliable, and safer choices.  [This is even more important now, with the 2009/2010 tax credits available.]
  • A good advisor should ask about any heating, cooling, comfort, and home peformance problems you have had, and help you with jargon-free explanations or solutions that you can understand.
  • Make sure any new equipment gets sized properly.  Many homes’ furnaces and air conditioners are not properly sized—in fact they are very often too big (bigger is NOT better) resulting in performance problems and unecessary expense to you.   This can be especially true when  energy efficiency improvements such as improvement insulation, air-sealing, duct-sealing, and windows have been or are being installed.  Good contractors won’t rely on the equipment that’s in you home now to figure out what you need now.
  • Using their modeling tools and calculations, good contractors should be able to estimate the annual utility costs and savings for the equipment and other improvements they are recommending for your home.  The best contractors will guarantee the results.  
  • Any proposal should describe the work to be done, and the total installed price, including labor costs.
  • Reputable groups such as the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy and ENERGY STAR recommend that you not let the lowest price be the main reason for selecting a contractor. Better contractors may charge more, but they probably offer greater value. Be skeptical of extremely low bids; those contractors may not be including all routine services and customary warranties, may not be around long enough to service warranties, or they may be trying to unload outdated or unreliable equipment.
  • Reliable contractors are professional. Their people are prompt and courteous. How a company treats you now reflects how they will treat you if there is a problem. They should have an office or shop facility, and they should not be ashamed to have you visit them. An office or shop is an indication that the company has been in business and intends to remain in business.
  • Professional contractors make sure you and your home are protected.  They carry full workers comp and liability insurance.   They conduct background and drug checks to ensure workers in your home are reliable.  And they take care to keep your home and your possessions clean and safe.
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4 Responses to “Choosing a Quality Contractor”

  1. greenhomesamerica Says:

    One other key point–your contractor should be very familiar with the current federal tax credits, and able to help you make qualifying selections and provide you with necessary documentation for your tax return.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  2. Bad use of foam–please do NOT do this! « GreenHomes America Says:

    [...] The important lesson:  when air-sealing or insulating, make sure it gets done right, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. [...]

  3. Spaghetti anyone? Caveat emptor! « GreenHomes America Says:

    [...] the energy-efficiency of your home look for quality.  At a minimum, follow these guidelines for choosing a contractor and look for certification and accreditation by the Building Performance Institute (BPI).  [...]

  4. It’s time to call a new HVAC contractor… « GreenHomes America Says:

    [...] If your system looks like this, get help!  And one lesson for today is make sure you choose a quality contractor. [...]

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