Tag Archives: hvac

Why Heating A/C and Plumbing Contractors Do Background Checks On Their Technicians

Recently, I had the chance to meet with a long-time veteran of the home heating, A/C and plumbing business in a large western U.S. city.  He said something I knew a little about, but had never heard stated so directly.  He said:

Heating, A/C and plumbing are some of the main vocational training programs that are taught in prisons. That’s one of the reasons our company does background checks and drug addiction screening on all our employees…”

After a prisoner has served his or her sentence, having a productive job can help keep them from returning to prison. This, of course, is a good thing for a civilized society.  At the same time, home or building owners need to know that a technician who will be working in or own their property is both competent in HVAC and trustworthy.

Screening and background checks on employees could prevent a person with violence, molestation, or similar baggage in their past or present (particulary offenses with a high rate of recidivism) from getting a job at your local heating and air conditioning company.

What you can do to find quality heating and A/C service companies

So, in addition to the quick tips you will see on the pages of our website, before you have a contractor repair or replace your heating and AC equipment, ask if and how they screen their employees for undesirable history.

Background checks, like other overhead costs of technical training and certification, bonding, and insurance, can translate into higher bids or costs than companies who do not cover these benefits or protection for their customers. Of course, cost can naturally be divided into initial cost and longer term or unforseen costs. Generally, service companies with good infrastructure have better procedures.  This usually means they are less likely to make mistakes. And if they do make an error or if a defect in equipment presents itself, they have the resources to make things right.

Is Defective Sheetrock Damaging Your A/C and Heating System?

We are following a developing story that could have a major impact on owners of homes or buildings and their HVAC systems.  We’ll post a summary of major points (as they could affect AC and heating equipment) from news sites we have read. We also included links for those who what to read more, and will post more info as new reports come in.  Based on the potential magnitude of this story, and the fact that it surfaced much earlier this year, we find it odd that there have not been more stories in the national media on it.

Essential Points From Complaints and Reports

  1. Some types of drywall (also called sheetrock, wall board, gypsum board, etc.) imported from China and used in the U.S. during the recent real estate building boom are reported to be emitting gas or vapors that corrode metals in air conditioning, wiring, plumbing and more.
  2. Some report that the corrosion is enough to cause the A coils and other indoor components of HVAC systems to stop working.
  3. In addition to corrosion of metals, there are rotten egg smells and health complaints or concerns being associated with gases emitted from the drywall.
  4. There seems to be a connection in humidity and the frequency of complaints. It looks like humid air or moisture increases the reports of corrosion, perhaps by allowing the vapors to collect as an acid.
  5. Reports of the years the drywall was imported and used the U.S. varies. The earliest year we’ve read is 2001, but most reports say the shortage of U.S.  drywall and imports were higher starting in 2006.
  6. Estimates of the extent in the number homes and costs potentially involved vary wildly, but even the lowest estimates we have read are huge.
  7. There is already litigation in progress, and a number of agencies are studying the topic to verify the reports and determine the extent.

Recent Links to Complaints on Defective Chinese Drywall

Manufacturing.Net Oct 15, 2009

National Public Radio  Oct 27, 2009

News Release on PR Web from Chinese Drywall Center Oct. 27, 2009

Wall Street Journal Blog Oct. 27, 2009

Tax Credit of $1,500 For New Heating and Air Conditioning Systems

As a provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, homeowners can now receive up to $1,500 in tax credits when they install qualifying high-efficiency heating and AC  equipment into an existing home.

Difference in a tax credit and tax deduction
Before going further, we will point out that this is a tax credit, not merely a deduction. Basically, a deduction reduces the amount your tax bill is calculated from. A tax credit offsets the amount of taxes you owe.  In all cases, talk to your tax advisor before taking action.

The act allows 30% of the amount invested for qualifying equipment and during specific dates in calendar 2009 and 2010, up to a maximum credit of $1,500.  This means that qualifying expenditures can be up to $5,000.  Although the focus in our blog is on HVAC equipment, the total credit also applies to certain types of energy efficient windows, doors, insulation, solar water heaters and other energy saving items.  At the risk of belaboring the point, one credit covers all these categories, not one credit per category.

Special provisions for geothermal heat pumps
If you are considering a geothermal heat pump (or solar water heater) we are hearing that there are some extra stimulus incentives, including higher allowances and more years to qualify.  Ask your tax adviser and contractor for the details.

Get the details in writing
In reading air conditioning and heating industry news and blogs, there is some confusion over which replacement equipment qualifies (or which efficiency standard to rely upon) for the efficiency standards of the act.  This is not unusual for the early stages of a new tax credit and the complexities of the U.S. tax code.  Because of this, we advise you to get the details in writing from your contractor or tax advisor as to whether (or not) any purchase you are considering qualifies for the tax credit.

Our wish is that you enjoy more comfort, lower energy usage, and lower monthly bills.

Buyer’s Guide To Heating and Air Conditioning Says “HVAC Equipment Brands Are Less Important Than Quality of Installation”

We frequently get asked this question:

“Why would a buyer’s guide not list equipment by brands, models and features so we can compare them?”

A blog is a great forum in which to explain this. For easier reading and response, we will answer in a top 5 list:

1. The brand that is on the new equipment matters much less than correct installation.  It is often stated among insiders that a good HVAC technician can make lousy equipment heat or cool OK, while a poorly trained or inexperienced technician might not make the best equipment in the world heat or cool reliably or efficiently.  We’re not saying cut corners on the equipment¬—we are saying focus first on the training and experience of the company and employees who will install your equipment. Then let them explain which types of equipment you should consider. Remember, these are also the folks who will provide maintenance or warranty work on your system.

2. Heating and A/C systems are made up of components that can be mixed and matched, yet contain some common elements, such as air handlers. Rating new equipment either by brand or piece by piece like TV sets is not very useful. Just because two pieces of equipment will physically fit or function together does not make doing so a good idea for optimum results, however.  It is true that a manufacturer’s suggestion of equipment models to be matched is preferred over a “field match”. 

3. Some of the mixing and matching of components can involve existing equipment, such as your ductwork. Unless there is new construction or a total system replacement involved, some existing equipment may be used. Here we get back to quality of installation and the integrity of the installer. If your existing ductwork is used and it has an interior problem (such as mold or contamination) or unsealed leaks, then comparisons of equipment features such as efficiency are much less relevant.  Look out for low bids that cut corners on ductwork, old inadequate wiring or other use of existing equipment.

4. Once must consider features and specifications listed by manufacturers or even independent testing organizations, as they relate to conditions and the envelope of the structure where it will be installed. 

5. There are more brands of equipment than manufacturers of components.  Therefore, some brands share common internal parts.  As an example, look at the common ownership among the brands listed on the lower part of this page . Out of ten major brands, depending on how they are counted, there are about six companies who control them.

As a quick recap, points 2,3, and 4 above reinforce point #1: the integrity of the installation will affect your overall satisfaction and comfort more than the brand of equipment.  A quality HVAC service company will guide you on your equipment options and then install them correctly.  However you go about making your comparisons, start with the quality of the installer first. Then compare features and benefits of the equipment.  You can use our free comparison grid to help.

How To Finance A New Heating and Air Conditioning System

With utility costs going up every month and credit getting harder to find, we want to offer suggestions on how to finance a new heating and A/C system for your home or small commercial building. Making a smart decision to replace your broken or inefficient HVAC system can deliver more comfort and lower your heating and cooling bills every month. Using a cost savings estimator tool (all of which must make some assumptions to cover unknowns), you can easily figure out the payback period for the new equipment. (We wrote about those in our blog two months, in August). Since a heating and AC new system should last much longer than the payback or break-even period, you can get a return of your investment and on your investment.

Heating and AC System Financing Through Your Installer
The first place to look for financing is through the company that installs your furnace and A/C system. For many reasons, you must pick this company very carefully. It is by far the most important decision you will make towards your comfort, costs, and overall satisfaction with a new HVAC system. The local company that installs your system will usually have financing programs from the equipment manufacturer. They might also have arranged third party financing through a local or national lender. Examples of programs from a manufacturer would 12 months same as cash. As in all financial and contractual matters, be sure to read the fine print, front and back, of all documents. Also, pay special attention to the requirements for paying on time and penalties if you were to be late with payments.

Check Out Your Local Credit Union for HVAC financing also
Another, often overlooked, source of financing is through a local credit union. Credit unions have a long history of lending locally. They typically have lower fees and are usually more customer oriented than commercial banks. For a long time, most credit unions were only available through employers. However, in recent years, there are credit unions that are generally available to anyone in the community. This category is called community chartered credit unions. To find one in your area, use a search engine and enter a credit union and your city or a community chartered credit union or visit the NCUA website.

If there is not a community chartered credit union in your area, you might be able to get access to one by joining a organization. As an example, in our hometown of Austin, there is a really good credit union for the University of Texas. Originally opened for faculty and staff, now anyone in the community can be a member by joining the nearby food coop.

Utility Company or Other HVAC Rebate Programs
Regardless of where you finally get financing, remember to ask about rebate programs. These are often from your utility providers, but can also be local, state, or federal programs targeting your area. You might start there first and see if they list lenders who are approved to apply the rebate program.

We look forward to reading your ideas and experiences on this topic.

Flat Rate Pricing in Home A/C and Heating Repair

We frequently get questions from homeowners about repair costs for their central heating and AC equipment. In this post, we will give some basic definitions so you can understand cost related terms when you hear them. Basically, there are two pricing models, flat rate pricing or labor (time) and materials. First we will outline some features that all HVAC repair work has in common.

Trip and Diagnostic Fees
Known in the industry as “T & D” fees, among other names, this is the cost for the phone representative or dispatcher to make your appointment and get the repairman and truck to your house or building and diagnose the problem. No matter which pricing model covers the repair work, you are unlikely to get around the T&D fee. With gas at around $4 a gallon, the trip portion of this cost is mostly going up. Depending on the time of year and part of the country you are in, this cost ranges from about $50 up to $100 or more. When you call in to schedule the work, this is the number you will usually be quoted. The second part of the work, once the problem has been diagnosed, usually follows one of two pricing methods:

Labor (time) and Materials
This type of pricing, also known as “parts and labor”, has become less common. With this pricing structure, you “get the news” of the actual cost you will pay upon completion of the work. Under this model, you would be quoted the hourly rate of the repairman or repair crew plus the cost of the parts, refrigerants, and supplies. The most common concern about this model is that it focuses a lot of energy (not always positive energy, either) on how long the repair takes, especially if the repair truck has to go for parts, etc. In theory, the homeowner bears more of the risk or receives the benefit of lower labor cost, depending on whether the repair drags on for hours or goes really quickly. This is a good model to use if you know for sure that the repairman is technically competent, fast, focused, and honest.

Flat Rate Pricing
In the flat rate pricing model, the repairman has a manual that tells them how long it should take to fix the problem that has been diagnosed, usually to a fraction of an hour. He or she takes this standard number in dollars, adds the price of the parts and tax (if applicable for your area), and the total is the flat rate price you get quoted for the whole repair. Whether the repair actually takes less time or more time than the repairman’s book listed, your total cost was known and agreed to ahead of time. This method rewards fast workers and tends to reduce squabbles with customers over repair time. The main challenge: some companies provide pay incentives for volume and speed. These incentives can distract workers from being as thorough as they might be in the labor and materials model. Not finding all the problems leads to what are know in the HVAC industry as callbacks, which are unfortunate for the homeowner and repairman.

Having said all that, the flat rate model tends to be used more often now. You may not have the option for the labor and materials anyway. Under all scenarios, you should now be able to understand price quotes better and ask the repairman if he/she checked the whole system for problems or assumed that the problem they found first is the only one present.