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  • Heating and Air Conditioning Selection Guide

    Selecting and Replacing Heating and Cooling Systems
    When replacing an existing heating and cooling system, it's important to first consider the limitations imposed by your current system. Of course, it is possible to install virtually any heating and cooling system in any house, but the cost and aesthetic impacts may be unacceptable for you. When selecting a heating and cooling system for a new house, your options are generally much wider, although your builder or developer may place limitations on your choices.

    For both new and existing homes, it's important to first maximize the energy efficiency of your home. This is the most cost-effective means of keeping your home comfortable, no matter what climate you live in. After doing so, be sure to do what you can to make use of passive solar heating in your home and consider whether ventilation can keep your house cool on warm days, or if you really need artificial cooling. Only after exploring these topics should you decide on the type of system you want and work with a contractor to figure out the optimum size for it.

    Even the most energy-efficient heating and cooling system will fail to save you money if it is installed incorrectly or improperly adjusted. To verify the qualifications of your heating and cooling contractor, ask if they have been certified by North American Technician Excellence, Inc. (NATE).

    Here are some further tips on choosing contractors:

    • Ask neighbors and friends if they have worked with a contractor they would recommend
    • Focus on local companies
    • Check online for reviews from sources like Google, Angies List, or Review Buzz
    • Look for licensed, insured contractors
    • Ask about previous experience
    • Check references
    • Inquire with the Better Business Bureau

    Use these methods to select several contractors, then get at least three detailed, written bids. Each bid should include an agreement to provide written calculations (listing the procedures and standards that will be followed), equipment and installation warranties, a payment schedule, and a firm completion date. Avoid making your decision solely on the basis of price. The quality of the installation should be your highest priority, because quality will determine energy cost, comfort, and durability.

    Just like cars and other home appliances, home comfort systems must be replaced periodically. While it’s an expense, replacing an older unit with a newer, more energy efficient one can save money – but not the 50% - or even 25% - savings some companies advertise.

    While new systems are more energy efficient, few perform at their peak efficiency due to:

    • Systems improperly sized for the house
    • Improper installation
    • Leaking existing air duct system
    • A lack of insulation in the house

    A quality contractor will check out all of these before making a recommendation for replacement equipment.

    Choosing a Quality Contractor
    Making an informed decision starts with choosing the right contractor.

    • Check out the contractor’s history with the Better Business Bureau in your city. Ask for a list of Certifications by national or local industry associations for the company and technicians.
    • Ask you friends and coworkers about their experiences.
    • Understand that heating and cooling equipment is only one part of the overall system. Certified contractors will evaluate the whole system – ductwork, registers, grilles, dampers, thermostat and accessories – before making their recommendations. After installation, they will test, adjust, measure and balance the system.
    • Check online for reviews from other customers