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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring HVAC Contractors

When issues arise with your air conditioner, several questions pop into your head. Is it broken beyond repair, or does it just need a little patchwork? Will your AC last the summer, or will you be footing the bill for a new HVAC system in your immediate future? To answer these questions, you need the help of an AC pro. How can you find a good HVAC contractor? What are some common AC problems and their associated costs? Here are some tips for finding a pro who will help you keep your cool.

How to Find a Good AC Contractor

When your AC is in trouble, you need to work with a company that specializes in HVAC services. While a general handyman is useful for many home projects, AC repairs need the expertise of a technician certified for the job.

Never assume that all contractors are basically the same or that a contractor is good because he/she works on a specific brand of HVAC system. Your goal is to find a contractor who will ask questions about your unit, perform diagnostic tests, explain all your options thoroughly, and work with you to find the right solution for your home and budget.

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Questions to Ask Your AC Contractor

Before committing to hire a particular professional, it is wise to ask potential contractors the following questions:

  1. Are you licensed, bonded, and insured for general liability as well as workers’ comp?
  2. Can you provide references from customers you have worked for in the last three months? Have reviews been posted to your website? (It’s also a good idea to check the Web for outside reviews of your contractor.)
  3. Can you provide a free written estimate outlining all the terms and conditions of what we discuss?
  4. If a new system has to be installed, are there any rebates or tax credits available for installation?
  5. What are the payment terms? Do you offer financing?
  6. What kind of warranty or guarantee exists for the unit? Does your company guarantee your work?
  7. Is a service contract included or available? Will your company service the unit after installation?
  8. Are your technicians certified to handle refrigerant gas?
  9. Do you offer 24-hour emergency service in case of AC issues?
  10. What is your refund policy if a customer is not satisfied with your service?
  11. Will you handle all necessary permits and municipal requirements for the job?
  12. What brands of AC units do you carry? How are your brands rated for energy efficiency?
  13. Can my existing ductwork be used, or will it have to be replaced?
  14. How long will the job take? Will you clean up after the job is completed?
  15. How will a new system affect my utility bills?

This may seem like a long list of questions. However, because your HVAC system is an essential part of your home and represents a significant investment, it is wise to be informed and satisfied that you have chosen the right AC pro for your needs.

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Common Air Conditioner Problems and Repairs

  • Not running at all. Before calling a pro for this problem, there are a few things you can check. First, confirm that the thermostat is set to “Cool” and the temperature is set correctly. Then, locate your main fuse panel, and determine if the fuse or circuit breaker has been blown or tripped. For a blown fuse, simply replace it and see if your AC turns on. For a circuit breaker, simply reset it and check the AC again. If none of this works, then you may need the help of a trained technician.
  • There is warm air or no air coming from the vents. This could be caused by several different things. Before you call a pro, do this: Look at the outside unit and clear any leaves or debris that may be obstructing airflow to your AC. Check ductwork to ensure it is still attached to your vent system. If these things check out, then the problem might be insufficient refrigerant in your AC. If this is the issue, you must call an HVAC technician certified to handle refrigerant gas. Your AC pro will also check your system more thoroughly to see if there are other issues causing the problem.
  • Runs constantly or turns on and off frequently. This might indicate a sizing issue with your AC. If the unit is too large for your home, it will cycle on and off too often. If it is too small, your unit will run constantly to keep your home at the appropriate temperature. Other things that cause improper cycling may be low refrigerant, faulty thermostats, and faulty relay switches. All of these things require an HVAC technician.
  • Has drainage issues. If there is water leaking in and around your unit, your AC’s condensation line may be clogged. If water is visible in the drip pan, you can try to unclog the line yourself by blowing compressed air inside the pipe to remove any obstruction. If that doesn’t work, you may need to call an AC pro to unclog the line. Likely, your contractor will also clean the line to eliminate any mold and mildew as well.
  • The unit is frozen. Blocked or restricted airflow can prevent your AC from working properly. You can check and clean your air filters to help alleviate this issue. The coils should also be free of dirt and debris. Other potential causes of this problem are a malfunctioning blower fan or a faulty control relay. Your best bet in this circumstance is to call your HVAC pro.

Do You Need to Repair or Replace Your Current AC System?

If the AC is relatively new and can be fixed easily with a simple repair, you’ll likely choose the repair option. However, some HVAC experts say that if your unit is more than eight years old, you may want to replace it anyway. The reason is, HVAC systems have come a long way in terms of energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. Your AC pro can run some numbers for you and help you decide whether the reduction in your monthly utility costs would offset the expense of installing a new unit within a reasonable amount of time.

Additionally, an HVAC specialist can inspect your current ductwork. Sometimes, leaking or damaged ductwork is the major culprit when it comes to cooling issues. Your AC contractor can often repair ductwork and help you reap the most benefit from your existing HVAC system.

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Questions to Ask When Installing a New Air Conditioner

How Much Should A New AC System Cost?

The average national cost to install central air conditioning is $5,206, with most homeowners spending between $3,679 and $7,165. Of course, this cost depends on the size of your home, the brand of AC unit you choose, the BTUs of your AC, the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) ratings, and the ductwork needed for the job.

Choosing an AC System

When choosing an AC system, there are several things to consider.

  • Size matters. In the world of HVAC systems, bigger is not always better. Bigger units cost more to operate and may not adequately cool your home. A unit improperly sized in proportion to your home may cycle improperly, causing wear and tear to system parts and shortening the lifespan of your unit. It also cools your home unevenly, creating hot and cool spots in random rooms. Your AC pro can perform a sizing calculation to ensure you get the proper size unit for your needs.
  • Choose quality over affordability. While cost will be a factor in your decision, choosing an AC solely on its initial cost is unwise. Because an HVAC system is a significant investment, it is best to choose a well-rated, reputable brand rather than take the risk of purchasing a lower-quality unit. Research various popular brands and their consumer satisfaction ratings to help you decide.
  • Buy locally, if possible. Choosing a local company for your HVAC needs is usually better than venturing too far from your area. You want the best deal possible, and a local company is likely to be able to provide that, as there will be no expensive shipping charges. Additionally, a local company will likely offer a service contract or maintenance agreement. If such a contract is offered, take advantage of it. Regular maintenance extends the life of your HVAC system and protects your investment over the long term.

Environmental and Energy Efficiency Considerations

Look for a high-efficiency model. Central air conditioners are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). SEER indicates the relative amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output. While many older systems have SEER ratings of 6 or less, the minimum SEER rating allowed today is 13. Look for the ENERGY STAR® label for central air conditioners with SEER ratings of 13 or greater. Remember that AC units with higher SEER ratings generally lead to lower utility bills.

Today’s high-efficiency air conditioners use a refrigerant that is considered more eco-friendly than its predecessors. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandate has prohibited the manufacture of HVAC systems using the environmentally harmful refrigerant R-22 since 2010. So, new HVAC systems generally use the refrigerant R-410A. Because R-410A contains no chlorine, it is considered ozone-friendly. When talking with your AC pro, be sure to confirm that your new AC is energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Should I Replace My Indoor and Outdoor HVAC Units at the Same Time?

Generally speaking, yes. Your outdoor AC condenser unit is designed to work best with a matched indoor unit. If the two units are not matched, the efficiency of your entire system is compromised. The efficiency rating provided by the manufacturer of your unit is based on matched system performance.

Your HVAC professional can provide you with an AHRI Certificate of Certified Product Performance, which verifies that the outdoor unit and the indoor unit have been certified as a matched system by the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). This certificate provides you with peace of mind, knowing that your entire system is optimized to perform at its best. It also may help you obtain a rebate from your utility company or municipality for using an energy-efficient system.

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How Much Should an Air Conditioner Repair Cost?

The average cost of an air conditioner repair is $612, with simple repairs costing as little as $140 and major repairs costing $1200 or more. These costs vary greatly depending on the type of repair needed.

Here are some common types of air conditioner problems and their average associated costs:

These costs vary widely depending on how long it takes your technician to find the leaks.

  • Refrigerant leak detection and repair: $225-$1600
  • Refrigerant recharge: $160-$400
  • Circuit board replacement: $120-$600
  • Replace fuses, circuit breakers, or relays: $15-$300
  • Thermostat replacement: $60-$250
  • Compressor hard start kit: $100-$250
  • Capacitor or contactor replacement: $90-$400
  • Compressor replacement: $1350-$1800
  • Evaporator coil replacement: $650-$1200
  • Condensing unit fan motor replacement: $100-$300
  • Condensate pump replacement: $90-$250
  • Troubleshooting service call: $75-$180

The Bottom Line

With a little research, you can find an AC pro to help you make the right decisions about your air conditioning needs. While some cases call for simple repair work, in many cases it may be more cost effective in the long run to replace your AC unit, especially if it’s an older model. When searching for a new HVAC system, consider energy-efficient and eco-friendly units for best results. Professional installation and regular maintenance are essential to the health of your HVAC system. Keeping all these things in mind will help you stay cool and comfortable during even the hottest summer.

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