How to Choose a Good AC Contractor

In order to work as an HVAC technician, a person must graduate with an associate degree in the field or enter into an apprenticeship program.

Some contractors may also learn their craft while on the job. After they receive their education, whether it's through a school or training, the graduates must then complete an exam to receive a certification if they intend to work with refrigerators or air conditioners.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires this certification since appliances that use refrigerants can harm the ecosystem if they're not properly installed or maintained. While the EPA mandates this area of HVAC work, requiring a technician to get a license is up to the state to decide. With that said, not all states demand contractors to obtain one.

Your heating and air units are some of the most complex systems in your property, so complete your research before selecting a professional to do the work. Here's a checklist of questions to ask yourself and things to consider when making your choice:

What Kind of Work is Needed? Do you need someone to install a completely new HVAC unit? Does your current system need repairs? Do you only require routine maintenance? Once you make a list of the necessary work, you can shop around to collect bids from heating and air companies in your community.

Can Your Family or Friends Recommend a Service? Your loved ones will most likely give you the best advice regarding technicians that worked for them and which ones to avoid. Ask around when beginning your search. Friends and family could lead you to a reputable contractor. Even if you don't need HVAC help at the moment, you can save the recommended company's contact information for when you do.

Is the HVAC Contractor Licensed in Your State? Considering the work that may need to be done on your unit, it's best to look for a licensed professional. Do a search or contact your state's heating, air conditioning and refrigeration contractors board to ensure a technician is licensed.

Also, make sure the contractor is registered with your state or city to do the kind or work you require.

Is the Company Insured? You want the professional you hire to carry insurance. If they don't, you run the risk of paying out of pocket for any damage they might do to your home or commercial building. An HVAC technician not only needs liability coverage for work-related damage, but also coverage to handle any bodily injuries they sustain on the job.

Is the Technician Bonded? Not all service providers may be bonded, but finding one that is can be crucial for property owners. Ensure the bond is large enough to cover any costs if the technician doesn't complete the project or walks off the job. You don't want to be left with a bill and unfinished work.

One service an HVAC contractor can provide is a diagnostic test of your heating and central air unit. A reputable technician will examine your unit and ask you questions about various aspects of the system. He or she will check your furnace as well as ductwork and discuss options with you. Beware of a contractor that takes a quick look through your home or place of business and immediately tells you replacing your HVAC system is necessary.

Expect the average air conditioning unit to last between eight and 12 years. If it's more than 12 years old, it could be expensive to repair if the system breaks down often. Also, parts for older air conditioners are harder to find since some manufacturers discontinue them.

Restoring or replacing an aging unit can get expensive. It could be time to invest in a new model if your utility bills are rising and you notice uneven air flow and temperatures throughout your property. If one room is cooler than another, consider a total replacement.

If your system makes a lot of noise when it powers on or if it turns off suddenly, it's time to replace it with a new, more energy-efficient model.

On the other hand, if the air conditioner is relatively new and still within its age range, it's more cost-effective to get a contractor to repair it.

The time it takes to install an AC unit and the associated cost depends on the square footage of your home. Many homeowners spend between $3,677 to $7,151 for a contractor to put in a new central air system.

A family with a 2,000-square-foot house that already has a forced-air heating unit can expect to pay $3,500 to $4,000 for a cooling system. If technicians don't need to make any changes to the ductwork, then the project should take them an average of two to three days.

If you're having trouble with your air conditioning, there are some problems you can address yourself. However, you should leave the big issues to a professional. Let's take a look at some common dilemmas and what you should do if they arise.

The Air Conditioner Won't Turn On If your unit isn't turning on, check on it outside to make sure the condenser is still running. Ensure it's fully plugged in and that your thermostat is set. Lower the thermostat by a few more degrees than your typical setting. You should hear it power on after doing so. If that doesn't take care of the problem, check your fuse box. You could have a blown fuse or a tripped circuit that's causing the air conditioner to not turn on.

The System isn't Cooling the Air Is the air conditioner on your thermostat set low, but you aren't feeling cool air? It could be that debris is blocking the condenser. Check on your system outside and remove any tree branches or leaves from around it. Debris can easily obstruct air flow, so make sure the area around your air conditioning unit is clean and trimmed back. Additionally, make sure your filter is clean. A buildup of dirt and dust can cause poor air circulation.

Refrigerant is Leaking A refrigerant leak not only keeps your air conditioner from running efficiently, it's also harmful to the environment. There are many things that can cause your air conditioner to leak coolant, but the usual culprit is a problem with the evaporator coil or outdoor condenser coil. If you discover any freon coming out of your unit, contact a professional. It could be that you need to obtain a patch or a whole new part to resolve the problem.

The Air Conditioner is Making Noises Is your unit running loud or making odd noises? To properly diagnose the problem, find out where the noises are coming from. A banging or clanking sound could be due to a loose part. If you hear a hissing sound, it's most likely because of a refrigerant leak and you should contact an HVAC technician as soon as possible.

There are Sensor or Drainage Issues It's important to keep your air conditioning unit level, because if it's not, you could be faced with a host of problems. If you notice your system is acting inconsistently, the sensor is most likely out of place. Turn off the unit and reach behind its control panel while carefully bending the sensor back into place near the evaporative coil.

If you happen to live in a hot and humid area of the country, you're also bound to face drainage problems with your unit since moisture can trap itself inside the system. Routine maintenance can cut down on drainage issues by cleaning out any mold or algae from blocking the drain. If you notice moldy smells whenever you turn the thermostat down, it's best to check on your system.

To clean your air conditioner drain, first shut off the power to your unit at both the thermostat and the breaker. Then remove the drain pan. If the pan is full of water, soak up the liquid with a few towels or rags or use a wet vacuum. You can use a solution of water and distilled vinegar, or substitute peroxide for the vinegar, to clean out the drain pipe. Let the pipe sit for a while in the solution and then put all the parts back in place. Once you start using your air conditioner on a regular basis, check it periodically to ensure condensation isn't building up.

You can keep your air conditioner running efficiently with some preventative care measures. Here are various steps you can take that will prolong the life of your system and help you save on your energy bills each month. Remember to shut off the power to your AC before cleaning it or performing any of these tasks.

Clean Your Filter It's always a good idea to clean the AC's filter at least twice a year. It gets dirty and clogged after a few months, it can increase your unit's energy consumption by as much as 15 percent.

Remove Leaves and Twigs Since many air conditioners are located outside, they could get a lot of debris such as leaves, dirt or sticks in their cages or even in their interiors. After you turn off the power to the unit, use a screwdriver to detach the cage so you can clean the debris from the system.

Clean and Straighten the Fins To get the best performance from your air system, clean the fins of the unit with either a garden hose or a special spray you can find at your local home improvement store. Use your hose to run a strong stream of water to remove any built-up dust or debris stuck in between the fins. Remember that air flows through these little fins, so if dirt gets caught in them or if a fin is bent, it will reduce the cooling efficiency. Use a butter knife or other knife with a dull end to carefully straighten out any smashed fins.

Keep Your Yard Clean Not only is it good to rake up leaves to protect your lawn's grass, it's also beneficial for your air conditioner. Rake leaves, cut grass and trim back any tree branches around the unit as a preventative measure. All this yard debris could end up blocking the fins or other parts of the system and cause your AC to use more power to generate cool air in your home.

Cover it Up for Winter Another precaution you can take to prolong the life of your central air unit is to cover it up during winter. Protect it from ice and snow by putting a sheet of plastic or wood on top of the unit. However, only cover the top and not the whole machine. You don't want to trap moisture that could cause it to rust and you don't want to provide a hiding spot for pests.

Make Sure it's Level Ensure your system is on a level plane. Over the years, the soil and mat under the unit can shift. If it's not balanced, you run the risk of damaging the inner workings of the unit.


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