I recently had a first hand, local experience that reminded me that we cannot trust the integrity of many online recommendations or complaints for AC and heating. Especially if the comments are anonymous. The two primary reasons for this are straightforward:
1-Less than ethical A/C and heating service companies (or agencies working for them…) sometimes hire writers to write good stuff about themselves online and, even worse, fabricate rants and complaints about competing HVAC contractors.
Service companies do this for two main reasons: a– to make their website found more easily for searches related to their business. b– to influence potential customers who are doing online research. Of course, these two are connected.
2-Real customers are more inclined to rant when they are unhappy than they are to write a good online recommendation when the work goes well. This is only natural….since they are paying for the work, it is normal to expect that the repair or replacement of their system will go without many problems.
So, how do you know which local company to call when you need to repair or replace your air conditioner?
Here are a few tips that will help you make your own “composite profile” that is more reliable than online rants and raves.
- Don’t wait until your AC system quits to have it serviced. Research and interview several companies for a short list. Use the criteria below to choose one, and get on their scheduled maintenance plan for the spring and fall. In addition to helping prevent emergency AC or heating repairs and replacements, you will avoid the peak demand times and get preferential service.
- Ask your neighbors. If several of them recommend the same company, that’s a good sign
- Check Better Business Bureau Online
- Ask a few direct questions:
- Number of years in business under the same name and ownership.
- Who owns them: equipment manufacturer, franchise, service corporation, independent company, etc.
- Association memberships, such as ACCA
- Training and Certifications
- Do they perform background checks for the technicians who will come to your home or business?
Please write comments about your experiences, so others can learn from them.
Today, while reading in an interview in a HVACr trade journal, I read a quote that summed up an important point:
It’s not about the box, it IS about the whole house
In this case, the “box” is the new AC and heating equipment you are thinking about having installed. And the whole house (actually the part HVAC insiders call “the envelope”) interacts with the outside elements to determine how comfortable you are inside, how hard your AC and heating equipment has to work, and how much you pay (or save) each month in utility bills.
Here’s a real life example from a reader who sent an email to us recently.
This fellow lives in the northeast U.S., and was quite surprised when his local AC contractor discouraged him from buying the top of the line, most efficient system. Rather, the contractor advised him go for the 16 SEER A/C unit, and to take the extra $2,000 the most efficient AC was going to cost and use that to add insulation to his attic and seal up leaky walls and electrical outlets. Although the summer cooling needs of this northeastern state are lower than central Texas where we are, the same principle applies everywhere:
For each home or building and its climate, there is an optimum mix of heating or cooling efficiency attributes and energy efficiency improvements that could be done to the “envelope” that interacts with the outside air.
Since you only buy an new AC and heating system every decade or so, you don’t have to know everything about this topic. Your best bet is to be aware of the big picture and ask the right questions. This way you will find a local contractor who uses best practices (training, certifications, experience & business practices) and takes the “whole house” approach.
Let us hear from you if you have experiences to share along these lines
Listening to National Public Radio yesterday, I heard a report that discussed the use of tax dollars to renovate schools to make them more energy efficient. Of course, this sounds like a good idea. A follow up search on Google delivered the Schools for Energy Efficiency website. According to this source, one-third of the energy currently being consumed in schools is not used efficiently, and annual energy usage for heating and air conditioning costs up to $250 per student. This means that schools spend more on energy for heating and A-C than on books and supplies!
A similar situation exists with home air conditioning and heating. The condition of the envelope of the home (windows, doors, insulation, vents and the parts of the home that interface with the outside environment) has a lot to do with how well any heating or A-C equipment will heat or cool inside. The federal government still has programs in place to help homeowners make energy efficiency improvements, and a good place to start reading about them is on the Energy Star website. There, we found the following statement:
Tax credits for these residential products, which had expired at the end of 2007, will now be available for improvements made during 2009. However, improvements made during 2008 are not eligible for a tax credit.
To learn more about these programs you should ask your tax advisor and a local heating and A-C contractor. They should know which federal, state or local programs are available in your area to offset some of the costs of home improvements for energy efficiency.
If you know of a good case history or other example of home or building renovations to save energy in your area, please tell us about them in a comment or email them to us.