The State of California is trying to get unlicensed contractors off the streets or maybe the big box store's parking lots. These unlicensed contractors are being arrested because they are unsafe. These contractors work without permits or rules really. Some of these contrators are laid off employees that are used to a senior technician or owner reviewing their work. In heating and air conditioning there are a lot of dangerous issues that they can encounter or the home owner later can find out about. These include electrical (shock, electricution to the contractor or owner), refrigerant (causes burns and the air coinditioning equipment is prone to leaks if not handled correctly, very expensive leaks), there is combustion functionality in a furnace (this can cause fires and can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning leading to death or sickness). Any injuries that a contractor sustains while working on your property you can be liable for if they do not carry worker's compensation insurance.
The inexperienced, uninsured contractors are also a threat. This is especially true when it comes to heating and air conditioning, the result of picking the wrong or cheap contractor can be a threat to your home or your health and safety. The pictures in this post are actual customers asking for our assistance.
So how do you spot these inexperienced contractors?
Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it takes a little investigating. Installers driving unmarked cars are unusual, sales people may drive unmarked vehicles but, installers and service technicians' vehicles need to display signage on their vehicles is a warning sign.
You should wonder why are these vehicles unmarked? There are a variety of answers perhaps the contractor is a jack of all trades but master of none, or they don't have the money for detailing (makes you wonder how long they will be in business to honor that warranty). Heating and ventilation is not the area where you want people cutting their teeth by working in your home. These employees typically do not have a uniform or identification either.
To start with you should definitely be suspicious of any bid that is considerably below all the others. Ask the contractor how long it will take to complete the installation or project. If you get conflicting costs and time lines it is time to find out why. Some contractors will ask for a sizable downpayment when they are really only allowed to ask for $1,000 or 10% for residential installations. When the contractor asks for more than that what guarantee do you have that he will even come back?
The smaller quote could also mean that the quote was incomplete. Perhaps the cheaper bid was jus to replace a piece of equipment when the higher bid completed a thorough inspection and found that your ductwork has rodents living in it and it needs to be replaced. Removing and replacing ductwork is hard work (and it is less desirable when rodents are involved. The ductwork change out costs more and takes more time. Take a look at the damaged ductwork below that needs replacement.
A written warranty is important. The work should be covered for a specific period of time, however I say this with a caveat - we are receiving calls from other contractor's customers where the custoner purchased because of the warranty but the contractor went out of business (these are 10 year warranties). Often times the longer warranty period is a warning sign of despiration to get the sale in order to save their business.
It isn’t easy to find a good contractor. Referrals from friends and neighbors are good, but a referral from a person in another trade is probably better. If you can try to see pictures of the work they completed or see it in person.
Contractor photos however, sometimes don’t give an accurate representation of the contractor. Check out the contractor thoroughly. Get quotes from about 3 contractors, it has been our experience that more than 3 is too confusing - it is almost like smelling perfume, after all they all seem to smell the same and you can't decide which one stinks. Narrow your search to three before scheduling the appointments.
A good contractor may take a small deposit for the work before the start, but paying all of the money up front takes all of your power away. Don't trust any contractor that demands or even suggests this.
Prices can vary a lot from one contractor to another sometimes for a reason. Also, it is important that the contractor has:
- Contractor’s license (this allows protection to the consumer)
- Insured for Workers Compensation (protect yourself if someone gets hurt while at your home)
- Insured by Liability Insurance (protects you from damage to your home)
- Vehicle Insurance (in the event a vehicle related issue occurs)
- Certified by a Third Party organization
- NATE Certification (assures an educated workforce)
- Diamond Certified (track record of customer satisfaction and an escalation process)
There is no reason to pick someone blindly or someone without experience. There are ways of reducing the chances of a problem by checking out the contractor before you hire them. There is one more piece of advice. Sometimes the cost is higher than another contractor because they are more experienced or they have more education programs for their employees. This can equate to less visits out to your home or a higher level of technical excellence which can mean a safer installation.