Replacing or Up-grading your Home Heating System?
Heating Contractor Basics
It is easy to overlook, but the heating and cooling systems in your home are important to your family’s comfort, safety and health. When you choose a contractor, hire a qualified, full-time professional and not a handyman who does this type of work on the side. Even a small job can escalate into a major one if not handled properly.
A heating system installed according to the different codes in force and well maintained by a qualified contractor is your best guarantee of comfort, savings and, above all, safety.
No matter what heating system you use, natural gas, propane, oil, or electric let a specialized HVAC (Heat, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) contractor, holding the appropriate license (check provincial/state authorities), see to the installation and maintenance of your heating system. You should also know that an electrician must see to the electrical connection of heating units.
Where to Start
Hire a licensed contractor and ask to see the license. They should be experienced, and well trained to provide quality installation. Don’t be afraid to ask you contractor about his or her training, experience, and membership in associations.
Check the contractor’s record and their performance. Get a list of past projects and take a look at their work. Call the Better Business Bureau to find out if there have been any complaints against them. Get a list of references from the contractor.
Call the references to see how well the contractor performed. Ask specific questions: What work did they do? Did they start the project and finish the project when promised? Did they arrive on time every day? Did they clean up the job site? Did they work continuously until the project was completed or did they work in spurts?
Remember that you are responsible for all workers on your property, so be sure the contractor is insured. Ask to see a valid Certificate of Insurance.
Call the insurance company to be sure that the certificate is valid.
Always obtain a written contract or proposal before allowing your contractor to install a new system (or indeed to perform any service), and be sure to ask about warranties and financing.
Remember, the contractor who gives you the lowest bid may not be the best choice for you. Paying slightly more may get you better equipment and better service. Carefully evaluate a contractor’s proposal to ensure you get the equipment and service that best meets your needs. Know exactly how much the service will cost upfront. Get it in writing.
Note About Appearances: This may seem trivial but it definitely is not. This person is coming into your home. Presumably you won’t be hanging around looking over his/her shoulder for the duration of the service, so be cautious of contractors who don’t look you in the eye, fail to introduce themselves, are scruffy and have dirty, unidentifiable trucks. What kind of care will be taken with your house with an attitude like that?
Get a Contract
If the contractor is to do a substantial amount of work, such as installing central air and heat into an older home, or completely replacing a current system, you will want to have a contract. Even if you are only having minor repairs or adjustments done, get the work and cost in writing. You may want to consult your own attorney to look at a the contract for a large project, but here are a few pointers:
- Be certain the contract specifies everything that you and the contractor have agreed to: work to be done, time of completion, materials to be used, etc. A contract specifying everything will protect you legally and help you to avoid any misunderstanding with your contractor.
- Do not sign a time and materials only contract. There is no incentive to get the job done quickly. Also, get a contractor with a flat rate pricing system.
- Make sure you get any changes to the contract in writing.
- Be certain that the price specified in the contract is the same price as specified on the bid. Be sure you know how much money is due, when the money is due, and the amount of any deposit required, almost all contractors require a deposit, and many contractors will have a schedule of payments to be made as work is completed. Be sure you never agree to make the final payment until after all of the work has been completed and approved, not only by you, but also by the proper local permitting agencies.
Things To Talk To Your Contractor About
Use of Well-Known, Approved Products
Make sure that your HVAC contractor uses well-known name brand furnaces and heat pumps, preferably with seals of approval. Ask about the warranties.
Despite beliefs to the contrary, all heating systems — including those using natural gas and propane — require regular maintenance. If not, beware of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is an odorless gas that can be fatal.
For your safety and that of your family, have your heating system inspected by a qualified contractor. It should be inspected every year, preferably before the heating season starts.
In order for your heating system to function perfectly, a good fresh air intake and a complete evacuation of combustion gases are necessary. The contractor must ensure that there is an adequate intake of air through the permanent openings and that these openings are the size required by your installation. The combustion will thus be complete which will also reduce deposits on the main elements of your heating unit.
Caution when renovating:
Certain interior renovations to your home, like finishing the basement, replacing windows and better insulating your house, may change the intake of fresh air and prevent complete combustion. This can pose a danger to you and increase your heating costs. Talk this over with your contractor.
Homes have mechanical ventilation systems installed mainly in the bathroom (fan) and kitchen (hood).
Recent building standards require better sealing of the home’s envelope. Ask your contractor to see that the mechanical ventilation system does not impair the proper operation of your heating unit or the evacuation of combustion gases.
Evacuation of combustion products
Nothing in the heat exchanger of your heating unit, the smoke flue or the chimney should prevent the complete evacuation of combustion products. These components should be inspected and cleaned when needed, depending on the type of fuel used. In addition, since some units fitted with a fin tube exchanger are more sensitive to clogging, it is important to have them cleaned regularly. Note as well that chimney sweeping is crucial for solid fuels, and that care must be taken when cleaning the liner of a smoke flue so as not to damage it.
Carbon monoxide (CO) detector
It is recommended that at least one carbon monoxide (CO) detector be installed in the home so that the occupants are warned of the presence of this toxic gas, which can come from, among other things, the heating system, the fireplace, the workshop or even the garage. However, this additional safety precaution must in no case replace the annual inspection of your heating units by a qualified contractor.
If the CO detector goes off repeatedly, do not unplug it. Call upon a specialized contractor to find out the cause of the problem and solve it.
This paper is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained herein constitutes legal, financial or other professional advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, any relationship of any kind between the provider and the recipient. Some of these points may not apply in your area. Different term and conditions may vary from state to state and province to province. All articles, text and photographic material presented here is for the use and pleasure of the recipient only. Download PDF