Mike Cappuccio, founder of N.E.T.R., Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts, discusses how to choose an HVAC contractor.
John Maher: Hey, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Mike Cappuccio, owner of N.E.T.R., Inc., a heating and cooling company in Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about how to choose an HVAC contractor. Welcome, Mike.
Mike Cappuccio: Good morning, John. How are you?
What Should You Look For in an HVAC Contractor?
John: Good, thanks. Mike, we want to talk today about, if you’re a homeowner and you’re hiring an HVAC contractor to come in, maybe to install an air conditioning system in my home, what are the things that I should be looking for at the beginning while I’m interviewing maybe multiple different companies, and things that I might expect to see happening during the installation and even after the installation happens at the end. To start kind of at the beginning, what are a few of the basic things that I should be looking for in a contractor when I’m just interviewing and maybe getting a few quotes.
Mike: Okay. Well, John, it’s all great information that you’re looking for. When we go out to homes, we really try to hone in with the homeowner to say to them, when they say, “I’m interviewing three or four contractors to do this.” Well, what are you really looking for in that interview? What are you trying to find out?
I mean, one of the things you definitely want to, first right out of the gate, is that if you’re interviewing the contractor, the first thing you want to make sure is that they’re not pushy and they’re demanding you to sign on the dotted line today. I mean that raises a huge red flag right at the beginning.
The second one that you probably want to definitely keep an eye out for is, do they only accept cash and then do they want all the money up front when they’re just in basically at the beginning stages of this job. They haven’t done anything and they want all your money up front. I mean that’s a big red flag you want to make sure you stay away from.
And then you want to be looking at, does the contractor have references. No matter what, they have to have references and you want to talk to some people. Because as you’re interviewing the contractor, you want to interview the people that they’ve done work for too in the past in.
The other thing you’ve got to really keep an eye on too is, are they suggesting a lender to you, and is it someone that you don’t recognize or is it not a bank or is it not a finance company? Is it just someone’s name or something like that? You want to be cautious of that.
And then probably the biggest thing is the contractor listening to you? Is he listening to you as you’re asking him the questions about that. There’s a lot of signs that you can look for right in the beginning as to what’s happening there.
And then you’re going to get into the part of, okay, what is it that I should be looking for in these three different quotes that I’m getting from the contractors? The first thing I always say to people is, we have a bid comparison checklist and we’d like to share that with the homeowner to say, “Hey, what are the things you’re looking for?” I mean, probably one of the things is that, do they run a Manual J load calculation on your home to size the equipment properly? If you see contractors coming into your home and they’re measuring things and then they’re going to do a load calculation, that’s usually a good sign that, “Hey, this company knows they’re sizing the system properly. They’re asking me the right questions.”
In order to do a Manual J load calculation, the contractor should have some sort of am in-home checklist that they’re going to go through. And they’re going to ask you a lot of questions about your home, “Have you done any insulation upgrades? Have you done any window upgrades? Do you plan on doing any of that?” Because if you are planning on doing any of that, that can definitely increase or decrease the sizing of your heating and air conditioning system that you’d be installing in your house.
John: If they’re not asking you those questions, if they’re not asking you, “Well, what kind of insulation do you have in your walls? Are you planning on upgrading those in the next six months or year? Have you replaced the windows or when was the last time you replaced the windows?” If they’re not asking those types of questions, they can’t be doing a really full analysis of your house.
Mike: No, no. They’re definitely not at that point. We have a home comfort survey that we go through when we come into your house. We’re going to ask you a lot of questions. Just, “How do you live in your house? Where do you live in your house? Are there any hotspots in your house? Are there any cold spots in your house? Have you done any electrical upgrades in your house?” Things like that.
And then the other thing is that you really want to make sure that they’re installing in an Energy Star equipment into your home. And then what we like to also let people know is, if you’re working with an Energy Star contractor a Mass Save contractor at that point, “Are they going to handle my rebates for me? Are they going to do my paperwork for me? Are they going to mail it in for me? Are they going to be an advocate for me with the rebate companies?”
A lot of contractors don’t do rebate paperwork. They just get the job done, they hand it off to the consumer and say, “Here you go. Here’s a form, fill it out.” And as you know, we’ve all been online trying to fill out these rebate forms or different things and they can be a very daunting task at times to do so. You want to make sure that the contractor is going to help you with all of that. That’s more of something that happens at the end of the job, but I would want to know that upfront. Are they going to do my rebate paperwork for me?
Mike: Some of the other things you want to make sure of too is that as they’re going through your home, what are the signs? What are they looking for? Just, how are they treating my home? I would like to know what’s going to happen during the installation. What goes on during the installation? Do they have an installation process and do they have training for their process that they train their people on to do this? Or is it just a fly by night company that comes in and does things? How are they going to protect my home? I would want to know that. I mean, how are they going to protect my floors? How do they work in a home? Do they have any illustrations of this? Is there a formal training guide that they use to train their people to do this?
John: Right. To make sure that all of the installers in their company are all doing things the same way. Or is it just, one guy does it one way and another guy does it his way, and they don’t have anything in common with each other.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, any air conditioning installation or heating installation requires training, and how do they train their people? How do they train their people and what should I expect when you come into my home to do this installation the day of the installation?
John: And those are things that we should be asking the contractor right at the beginning, the first time that I meet them and they come into my house.
Mike: Absolutely. Absolutely. And they should be able to show you that either via video or pictures or possibly a reference. Do they have references like we were talking about? Can I call other people and see what they’ve done in other people’s homes and speak to them? I’m interviewing the contractor, but I’d like to interview someone that they’ve actually done work for too.
Calling for HVAC Contractor References
John: Now a lot of people might have a hard time with that. You don’t want to call up a stranger and talk to them and say, “Hey, I’m going to be working with this company maybe, and can you tell me a little bit about how they worked in your house?” It feels awkward to people.
Mike: Yeah, sometimes.
John: What do you recommend? How do you think that people should approach that?
Mike: I would absolutely go on, and you can either call… Most of these people that we would give you a phone number and a name to call, John, these are people that we have done work in their homes and after the job, we have a customer quality audit that they actually check off a box and say, “Yes, you can have somebody call me.” There shouldn’t be as much of a discomfort when somebody does call them at that point.
But I would also highly, highly recommend go on and look at the reviews of the company. Now look, every company can have multiple five-star reviews. Sometimes it’s very easy to do. You can have people do reviews for you online that you know. But I highly recommend, Yelp is a good one. Yelp, it’s a very neutral site. What do their Yelp reviews look like?
Even the Better Business Bureau seems to be the most credible. Are they a member of the better business Bureau? Are they an accredited company? A good accredited company has multiple reviews on their website, and the Better Business Bureau acts as a liaison between the contractor and the homeowner. So Better Business Bureau reviews, Google reviews, things like that, social media reviews. But go on and look at the reviews of the company. Look at what people are saying about them.
Not every company can be totally perfect. But look at how if something wasn’t good on an installation or job, look at how the company responded to them in that negative review. How was the response? Was there a response? That would be a big red flag to me if there’s no response from the company on a negative review because you want to know, what actually went on in there? Not everybody can be perfect. You can get some ones, you can get some twos, but is 95% of it positive? If 50% of it is only positive, I would be very, very cautious of that contractor.
Mike: Extremely cautious.
John: Yeah. It’s kind of like when you’re looking at all the reviews on like an Amazon product that you’re buying or something like that. Where if you can see that all of the one-star reviews are all talking about this one, same thing that’s wrong every single time and it’s consistent, it kind of puts up a little bit of a red flag.
Mike: Yeah. I remember a situation like that, that I was involved in with the TV and I had bought it online. And you kind of looked at it and you saw everyone said this one resistor always burned up. It happened all the time.
But those are definitely some of the things you should be doing. You should be verifying that before you bring any of them into the home.
Some of the things that you want to make sure of after the installation, what happens after the installation is completed? What do you do? Some of the things you should be looking for, examples, what does your closeout packet look like? How do you qualify the system to know that it’s been installed properly? Do you do a third-party verification?
We use the MS Check system through Mass Save, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America has an Energy Star program that we go through and then Mass Save has a qualified check too that we go through. We do quality checks on our mini splits and our duct systems as well; and they have to qualify the system and say, “Yes, now you can get your rebate.” Because they’ve put it into our system and qualified the charge, they’ve qualified the checkout, along with our checkout sheets as well, so that that needs to get done.
And then is the contractor going to register all my warranties? What does the closeout packet look like? Are they going to register everything and make sure that I get my 12-year warranties and my 10-year warranties, et cetera? Things like that, that you should be making sure that are going to get done at the end of the job.
What To Do If You Aren’t Pleased With an HVAC Contractor’s Work
John: You’ve given us some good ideas of things that we should expect during the installation and after the installation happens, and that’s really great advice. What do I do in the middle of a project or they’ve come into my house and they’re starting to do the work and I’m not seeing some of these things happen that I was expecting? What recourse do I have? Can I just tell them, “Hey, stop doing what you’re doing. We need to talk.” What do you recommend?
Mike: Well, that’s the importance of, first off, John, does the company have a training process and do they have training manuals? And was I shown this in the beginning of how an installation was going to get done? If you’ve seen this somewhere, and you visually have seen this and that’s what your expectation is, I mean that’s what should be getting done.
Another thing you should be looking for too is, what does the management structure in this company look like? Is there an installation manager I can call or is this just the foreman on the job that I’m now dealing with and I don’t have a head person to call or an owner to call or something to say, “Hey, this is not what I was shown in the sales process when the comfort consultant came out to my home. I’m seeing things now that look a little bit different than what you guys showed me.”
There’s no gray area at that point because this is what they’ve been trained on to do and they should be doing. It just makes it a lot cleaner. You’ve set the expectation of what should be done for the homeowner and your people as well. Yeah, you absolutely have the right to stop the process at that point and say, “Hey, what’s going on here.”
John: But that’s why it’s so important to have those conversations first, when you’re first interviewing the company, so that they’re really showing you exactly what the process is supposed to be. So that you know when the installation is happening and those things are not happening, you can say, “Hey, stop, this is not what I was shown.” If you didn’t do your due diligence when you were interviewing the company, the contractor right from the beginning, it’s a little bit hard for you to come back then and say, “Hey, this isn’t happening the way that you told me that it was going to happen.”
Mike: Yeah. I mean, and then you might not even know how it should be happening, John, to be honest with you.
Mike: And then you just see something that, “Geez, this just doesn’t look right.” I highly, highly recommend, again, one of the biggest things is, how do you do your installation? How is it that you’re going to do things when you make holes in my house and how are you going to secure things?
One of the big things that comes up a lot of the time is that we put units in an attic with drain systems and water. How do you protect my home from no water leaking from the attic into my home and destroying my ceiling? What are the safety precautions you take that you install on your systems. On our ductless systems, what precautions do you take so water isn’t a problem? Because that’s one of the things that’ll damage your home later on. And yeah, these things do cost a little extra money to install, but there are a lot of ways to cut corners in heating and air conditioning installation. I’ve seen them all.
John: Right. Any final thoughts on how to choose an HVAC contractor?
Mike: No. It’s really just, like I said, to look at your process before the sale. How did my interview go with the contractor before the sale? What should I expect during the installation and what should I expect after the installation? I think if you break it down into those three pieces when you’re interviewing contractors, I mean, and really seeing what these contractors can provide for you, not just the cheapest price, because usually the cheapest price doesn’t come with all of the other things.
John: All right. That’s great advice, Mike. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Mike: All right, John. Great. Have a good day. Thank you.