Tips For Dealing With HVAC Pros

By: Danny Lipford
HVAC technician performing regular service on furnace.

Carrier HVAC technician performing regular service on furnace.

Nothing in your house affects your comfort more than your heating and cooling systems. Yet unless the heater conks out during a blizzard or the air-conditioning goes on the fritz in the middle of a heat wave, most of us pretty much ignore our heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

When not kept in shape, even the best heating/cooling system can cost you by wasting energy. How much? Depending on how you heat and cool your home and the climate of the area you live in, clogged filters, dirty thermostats, sooty flues, leaky ductwork, and unlubricated fan motors can reduce heating and cooling efficiency by up to 25 percent!

Some of these maintenance tasks are simple, while others require a trained pro. You’ll also need an HVAC contractor if your system is at the end of its useful life. Here are some tips for dealing with your HVAC equipment and the pros that service it.

Air conditioner unit

Routine HVAC Maintenance

The good news is that most systems don’t require much attention.

Heat Pump

A heat pump only needs a yearly service call by a HVAC technician who will:

  • Check the belts, and replace them if needed.
  • Check and replace the filters.
  • Oil any moving parts.
  • Inspect the wiring.

Gas-Fired Furnace

A gas-fired, forced-air heating system has simple requirements, too. Furnace filter should be changed every month or two during heating season, and the circulating fan oiled once a year. Call in a pro every other year to check the:

  • Heat exchanger
  • Flue
  • Ducts
  • Adjust the burner

Oil-Fired Boiler

An oil-fired boiler requires annual maintenance by a HVAC pro to:

  • Clean the flue
  • Change the fuel filter
  • Clean and adjust the fuel jets

Air Conditioner

Air conditioning units are a little less maintenance intensive. At the beginning and end of each cooling season, you should:

  • Clean or replace the air filters
  • Vacuum out the unit
  • Lubricate the motor
  • If the unit isn’t cooling properly, have the refrigerant pressure checked.

Arrange for service calls before the start of heating or cooling season. You’ll get better attention and have more flexibility when scheduling the appointment.


What to Look for When Hiring a HVAC Company

When hunting for a company to maintain your system, look for one that designs, installs, and services the type of system you have. Full service companies also tend to be up to date on the latest advances in the field.

Besides checking that liability insurance and workers’ compensation policies are in force, ask for recommendations or check with neighbors, friends, and family who have used the company over several years. Find out:

  • How well did the system run under the company’s care?
  • Did the technicians leave the working area clean?
  • How quickly did the contractor respond to emergencies?
  • Were the service people punctual when you called with a problem?

A quality provider will have an emergency number that’s staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and enough technicians to respond when the weather is awful and the calls pile up.

HVAC pro inspecting AC unit

Buying a New HVAC System

Heating and cooling equipment is designed to last at least 15 to 20 years. If your system is older than this, you might want to have its condition assessed. Although replacing HVAC equipment is a major expense, modern systems operate much more efficiently than the older units they replace.

Most HVAC contractors specialize in designing and installing the systems of a few manufacturers, so no one shop is going to carry every major brand. But before you worry about the equipment, it makes sense to find contractors in your area that are knowledgeable and service-oriented.

HVAC unitStart your search by asking neighbors, friends and family what companies they hired to replace a furnace or air-conditioning system. If they were happy with the installation, ask their contractor to come over and talk to you about heating or cooling your house.

You should meet with at least two contractors, and hire someone who installs products from at least two manufacturers. Don’t forget to consider your service company, if you have one. You’re under no obligation to hire the firm for the new system, but its technicians do have a good understanding of the conditions in your home.

When picking a contractor, remember that sizing an HVAC unit by matching it to the home and existing ducting requires skill and experience. A poor design typically results in a system that doesn’t deliver a consistent temperature from room to room and costs more to operate.

But it can be even more serious than that. In very tight houses served by ductwork, poor design can lead to backdrafting, a dangerous situation where flue gases are sucked back into the house.

Most HVAC shops are small, so the owner should be involved with the system design and either participate actively in the installation or inspect it when it’s done. You don’t want your system designed by a salesman with no field experience.

Any contractor you’re considering also should offer these products and services:

Heat-Loss Calculation

This process estimates the BTU capacity needed to heat or cool your home. The calculation should include:

  • The amount and type of insulation in the walls, attic and floors.
  • The type, number, and location of windows and doors.

This data is combined with your regional climatic conditions to determine the size unit you need. Software has made these calculations relatively easy. HVAC technicians who don’t perform them often specify oversize equipment to be safe. That’s dollars out of your pocket now and each time you get an utility bill.

Energy Advice

When sizing an HVAC unit, a good contractor will advise you of energy upgrades, such as adding another layer of insulation to the attic. These may allow you to buy a smaller HVAC unit. Although it may not be cost effective to buy the most energy efficient unit on the market, there are minimums you should shoot for. Here’s what a contractor should offer:

  • An AC unit (if below five tons) with a 14 SEER or higher.
  • A high-efficiency, natural gas heater with an AFUE of around 90 percent.
  • A fuel-oil burner with an AFUE of around 85 percent.
  • A heat pump with an 14 SEER and 8.2 HSPF.

Programmable thermostat

Automatic Controls

A programmable or setback thermostat (around $40), which contains a timer, should be used regulate all HVAC systems.

Payback Calculations

A quality HVAC contractor will show you payback calculations for the various units he offers, and those calculations should give you estimates of seasonal operating costs.

Variables the contractor will use in his calculations should include:

  • Your regional heating or cooling load.
  • The heating or cooling capacity of the units you are considering.
  • The cost of various types of energy to allow you to compare the costs of electric, gas, and oil.

Once you receive itemized estimates, compare the costs, and do some research on equipment. Start by visiting U.S. Dept. of Energy and Consumer Reports websites, or contact your utility company for comparative lists.

Look at operating efficiency and costs as well as consumer-rated reliability. Then compare your knowledge of the contractors involved and make your decision.
Changing a filter on a HVAC system

Hot & Cold Tech Speak

Confused by HVAC lingo? Believe it or not, it’s meant to make understanding and buying the equipment easier. These terms allows you to compare apples to apples among units in the same fuel category. Knowing what the terms listed here mean will come in handy:

Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER)

The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rates how many BTUs an air conditioning unit will remove for each watt of electricity consumed. The higher the SEER, the less you spend on operating costs. Federal law mandates a minimum SEER of 13 for all new air conditioning units.


An air conditioning ton equals 12,000 BTUs per hour. That means a three-ton air conditioner can remove about 36,000 BTUs of heat per hour from your home.

Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE)

The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency estimates how much heat a unit delivers for every dollar spent on fuel. The higher the AFUE, the lower your heating bills.

Further Information



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26 Comments on “Tips For Dealing With HVAC Pros”

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  • David E Says:
    July 22nd, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Although a system will run and a lot of times run just fine’ I would recommend a matched system for several reasons. If you mismatch the furnace with the condensing unit and evap coil then you may not get the efficiency the condensor is rated for. Another issue is that a properly matched system will move the correct amount of air and give you the best comfort for your home. Remember comfort is far more than just temperature.

    In a nutshell no it is not required to have a matched system. However by law the contractor must ensure that minimum efficiency standards are met and with a mismatched system that takes some extra work.

  • Lillian Moore Says:
    May 26th, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    I would love to be able to see the payback calculations for various units. Seeing the benefits and negatives for each machine would help me so much in picking the system that would profit my family the most. Having the ability to really double check between the two systems would really benefit me in my buying choices.

  • Bob Lowe Says:
    April 12th, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks for the post. I have MS and the heat makes me feel like garbage. For me it is important that I have my heater and AC unit working properly. I really appreciate you posting about the maintenance schedule. This will be really helpful. I didn’t even know what a heat pump was, and i don’t even know the last time I had it serviced. I’ll have to schedule an appointment.

  • david clark Says:
    March 13th, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Unfortunately there are a lot of techs that are unqualified out there doing hvac work. I’ve been in this industry for 23 years. And you do not have to have all components be the same brand for a hvac system to work .actually probably over 50% of the systems are mismatched brands running homes in America.

  • Hazel Adams Says:
    February 26th, 2016 at 9:18 am

    I think that it is important to learn terms that help you describe issues with the contractor better. If you know your hvac system well. it is easier to get the problems diagnosed. I really think that it is important to be able to describe what is going on with your hvac system to the contractor.

  • McCall Hazelton Says:
    January 22nd, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    My husband and I have been having some problems with our unit lately and don’t quite know what to do. He likes to try and fix everything himself, but to be honest, it never really works out. I think calling in the professionals is the best option for making sure that everything is running properly.

  • Gail Ford Says:
    November 20th, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    I just purchased a 2 1/2 ton, 14 SEER Train heat pump. The day after installation, the thermostat was flashing w/a “service” notice. I had to leave a message with installer. Left another message the next day, but did not get a call back until Monday saying they could not be out until Thursday. In the meantime, the circuit breaker threw two times. They replaced the thermostat but the new one had the same message. They said it is because my circuit breaker is only 40 amps and should be 50 amps because there are two heat strips on the unit and they pull around 44-45 amps causing the breaker to throw. They disconnected one of the tapes. The service msg was still on.They came back this week to install a different thremostat. When they did, they said they found a loose wire, and when they fixed it the service went away. If the unit was designed for 2 heat strips will it not create a problem for the unit or affect it’s efficiency with one disconnected? I also read on the internet a thrown circuit itself can damage a unit. I just spend over $4300.00 and want to make sure I’m getting a unit that is operating as it was designed. It sounds like I’m getting the run around. I’m a 69 year old lady who just wants to get what she pays for. My last Train was 17 years old and would have only needed a $700 repair on the heater with the same electric panel. Oh, I asked if I should have a 50amp breaker installed and they said no need to.


  • Dianne Loftus Says:
    November 14th, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Is it true that a heat pump and furnace MUST be the same brand? Had a Bryant furnace installed in January; have
    American Standard heat pump (still under manufacturer’s warranty since it’s only four years). Heat pump electric panel was “fried” and the furnace contractor said it must be completely replaced, not repaired. Had a second contractor come out and was told they could repair it for around $1,500, and that warranty would cover SOME of the work. Then three days later, the service manager said that although I’ve made a down payment for repair, that the unit MUST be an American Standard or it will not work. Am I getting ripped off, or should I seek a third opinion? I need to know because there’s a difference in $6,500 for a new heat pump when the original quote was only $1,575 to repair. Please let me know your opinion, before winter comes. Thanks!

  • AirMaster Heating and Air Says:
    July 8th, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I am sorry to hear about the poor experiences here. An HVAC contractor should be honest about the repairs needed as well as the cost of repairs, no matter the outcome. It is always good to look at a company’s reviews and do a cost comparison when it comes to resources needs to perform the job. This is a really good article and I enjoyed reading it.

  • Mary Says:
    June 11th, 2015 at 11:55 am

    I hired a company to repair a Trane. They said it was he compressor and gave a quote for $1500 installed it and it quit working within three days. He wants to charge an additional $700 to do something else I just got his invoice. Do I have to pay for the whole failed job or is there arbitration?

  • Rick Says:
    May 29th, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Man all I get is a different story from every contractor that comes out. My 4 ton Rheem 13 seer heat pump failed (10 yrs. old). This is a split system, dual fuel. So one guy says “yeah these things are only good for ten to eleven years. I replaced the compressor last year for $2,000. Now there is a leak in one of the capillary tubes. Repair of that tube failed after 2 weeks. Most of the techs are saying “they typically do not repair the capillary tubes”. They are all willing to give me a quote though. Ranging from $9,000.00 down to $1,200.00 for a used unit. I can’t get a straight answer from anyone. I ask about what exactly needs to be replaced and everyone has a different answer. I feel like i just walked on to a used car lot in Vegas. Is there no way to get a straight answer? I took a look on line and I can buy a complete system, including 2 stage 4 ton 16 seer heat pump, coil and variable speed fan for less than $4,000.00 but know one wants to install it. Is there no integrity or honesty left? There is a difference between earning an honest wage and flat out ripping your customers off. I have had five HVAC company’s out and not one of them gave me a straight answer!

  • ALABAMA Says:
    March 5th, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    I live in a 1000 /1100 sq ft house in Muscle Shoals, AL. Almost a year ago lighting struck my old unit. I can’t tell u the Name of it it was so old it was a good one, wish I had it back, light bill stayed with in reason. But now I’m living a night mare. Ever since my bill went up I am either freezing or hot as crazy and to find out he put in a heat pump. I wanted just a reguler straight unit split, any thing but not a heat pump, and it’s already quit working it got patched til the part could be changed out never done it’s still broke if I could get a new unit. So if anybody can or will help me I would be grateful I only live on 740.00 – Disibilty a month . Thanks

  • Carol Repola Says:
    January 12th, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Converting from evaporative cooler to “refrigerated” air and understand I’ll need to buy a new furnace to be compatible with the AC unit. Home is 1500 sq ft. 13 windows, patio door, front door, 10 vents — wondering if there is a good time of year to do this installation. Haven’t started calling HVAC pros — scared of the pricing. I live in Albuquerque, NM.

    December 14th, 2014 at 10:19 am


  • lucy rualt Says:
    November 27th, 2014 at 2:44 am

    My Cozy gas ceiling vented heater was manufactured in 2002 and was leaking dangerous (4.) amounts of carbon monoxide. I had a carbon monoxide alarm which did not go off. The tenants complained about something…I think it was the smell. A plumber measured the outflow of carbon monoxide and turned off the heater. He said it was the fault of the heating unit. This is too dangerous. What do you recommend? Does Cozy have a responsibility? And how can I safeguard against this in the future? My HVAC man had examined the unit one month earlier before he turned on the heating unit for the fall season.

    Thank you.

  • Dave Tester Says:
    November 19th, 2014 at 8:01 am

    I have a 1700 sq ft ranch home on a crawl in mid Ky. My HVAC unit is a Lennox heat pump. The outdoor unit is directly under the master bedroom window. I have trouble sleeping anyway but each cycle wakes me up.More so when its cold outside. The unit is 8 years old.I have had to have service 2 times in the past year. 1 Blower motor 2 a TXV valve…Transfer valve. I would like to move the unit from under my window in the rear of the house to the side up near the front on the side of the garage. Is a replacement the way to go or paying to move the unit as it sits? This unit seems to be very loud. Looking for a good nights sleep. Trying to compare the cost of moving this unit to replacing to a new one in a different location?

  • carol golden Says:
    October 4th, 2014 at 10:32 am

    What good quality 2 1/2 ton central air and heating unit do you recommend. I live on the water in a condo. Thank you!

  • Debbie Smith Says:
    September 16th, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    1) What is your opinion on installing outside Amana brand APH13M R-410A refrigerant in a residential system?
    2) How did you determine the average life of an HVAC could be 15 yrs to 20 yrs? I was told the unit I am looking at is around a 10 yr warranty.
    3) My house is 1200 sq ft. now but, I am thinking a 2 1/2 ton or 3 ton unit for us, due to an addition of new room in 2 years total home will be 2000 sq ft total then. I would only need duct work added to the new part but they would fix it to make it easily added on then.

  • Andy Cross Says:
    June 1st, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    1)What is your opinion on installing outside air in a residential system?
    2)How did you come up with the average life of an HVAC being 15yrs to 20yrs?
    3)My house is 2100sqft. Are you saying I need a 5 ton plus unit?

    Thanks, Andy

  • stephanie Says:
    June 8th, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I need a new air conditioner/heat pump system 2 1/2 ton. My square footage on the house is 1340 square foot. Which brand is better to buy for energy savings and quality including other brands that were not offered to me. A technician wanted to put in a Carrier for $4,700. Another technician gave a quote of $3,850 for a Lennox heat pump system 13 seer with R410-0 or a Goodman 2 1/2 ton 13 seer heat pump system R410-0 for $4,125. My neighbor has a Rudd(Rheem). Are their other brands besides these that would be best for me. I Live in Theodore, al.

  • Linda Rolen Says:
    February 17th, 2013 at 5:26 am

    I need a new heating unit but can’t decide what brand to get. They are to many bad reviews an all units. so how do you know what brand to buy?

  • Florence Says:
    July 20th, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    I am replacing my AC,about 11 yrs old builder quality, so is my furnace. I have an estimate for installing a Duel System in combo with my old furnace. I am hesitant to do this it is a Trane estimate Hybird System; Trane XR13…if I put in a new furnace they will install XR80.

    I am not sure I will have efficeny in my heating bills with this furnace..even though he tells me it will be better than the old furnace. I am not sure about this duel system as far as freezing temps, if it will defrost outside properly and another concern is will I get sufficent heat tempertures with that mid-range unit. The Dealer says it is a mid-range? Any feedback will be appreciated.
    Thank you,

  • Art Ignotus Says:
    November 6th, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    In your DVD about HVAC you said that you would compare various brands of furnaces on your website. I can’t find
    this comparison.

  • Jay Lillge Says:
    October 13th, 2008 at 11:05 am

    I am looking for a source to speak to HVAC preparations for winter for our Risk Reporter for Camps and Conference Centers publication. It goes out to about 2,000 camps across the nation. I thought Danny would be an excellent source if he’s available either by phone or if I could e-mail him my questions.

    February 28th, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    i have a 1993 trane XL80 PROPANE SPLITUNIT
    NORTH CAROLINA PROPANE IS $165 have gas stove
    hot water heater gas dryer gas bill about $325
    winter months light bill be $148 monthly that
    a bill about $475 a month in the winter

  • John Cannamela Says:
    October 25th, 2007 at 6:21 am

    Some important lingo in HVAC you need to know is COMMISION.
    Ask if the service tech is getting commision on the parts you are buying and if the price can be reduced. Not all companies do it but ask when you call.

    Another rule of thumb to estimate tonnage needed is 1 cfm
    (cubic feet per min) of air per square foot and 400 cfm per ton of AC -so 1200 sq ft house needs about 3 tons of air.
    Of course the tighter and more insulated the house the lower the tonnage.
    Over sizeing the unit can be worse than too small.
    If the unit short cycles because its too large then the humidity is not removed and the house would be cool but clammy.

    Hi SEER rated units are only as good as the house they are installed in.
    You can put chrome rims on a Pinto but its still and old rusted car.

    Pay the extra money on insulation if your budget is tight-the unit will pay back sooner.

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