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Choosing the Right Heating Contractor

The day your furnace is installed is the most important day in your furnace’s life.

How well your furnace is installed is a major factor — if not the most important factor — in how well your furnace will operate and the efficiencies you will get.

A shoddy install will ensure your furnace never reaches its maximum efficiency, will shorten your furnace’s life span, and could increase the number and cost of repairs you will need.

For these reasons, plus your safety — you are dealing with natural gas — furnace installation is not a DIY job. You will need to hire a professional.

Another reason to hire a professional is you could void the furnace’s warranty if you install it yourself.

Also, the quality of the installation is more important than the brand and model of furnace you choose. An entry-level furnace, installed properly could outperform a high-end furnace improperly installed, regardless of the efficiency ratings and the brand.

This is why I recommend you choose who will install your furnace first and let them advise you on the model and brand of furnace to buy.

Before we go over the qualities you want in your heating contractor, first let’s deal with what you don’t want.

Buyer Beware – What to Avoid

Avoid contractors who:

  • pull a bait and switch, they advertise a great deal but tell you the furnace “on sale” is not appropriate for you and try to sell you a more expensive unit;
  • provide a quote over the phone without looking at the job;
  • pressure you to sign a contract;
  • use scare tactics;
  • require the payment upfront or a large cash deposit;
  • will give you a lower price if you pay them cash and agree to no paperwork;
  • provide a quote that is either a lot cheaper or way more expensive than the other quotes without explaining why;
  • makes you feel uncomfortable; or
  • are not licensed to do the work, in Alberta, you can check your contractors’ credentials online.
Things to Consider When Selecting Your Furnace Installer

Buying a new furnace is a big investment. You want to make sure you are in the best hands because a proper installation is the best way to protect your investment.

But how do you decide which company will do the best job for you?

The answers to these questions will help you choose the best heating contractor.

  • Are they experienced and licensed to install furnaces?
  • What’s their track record?
  • Do they stand by their work?
  • Do they have integrity?
  • What are your financial considerations?

To help you assess each company, we’ve developed an easy-to-use question checklist for you.

Are They Experienced and Licensed to Install Furnaces?

How Long Has the Company Been Installing Furnaces?

Installing a furnace is a very specialized skill and when dealing with natural gas there are some very serious safety consequences. So, your local handyman isn’t going to cut it.

You want to use a legitimate company that has the resources to support their warranties, insurance, licensing, and other requirements to run a business.

A company that has been around for several years will most likely be there in the future to support the warranties and guarantees and fix any issues you may have with your new furnace.

This doesn’t mean a company that has only been in business a short while won’t be around in the future but it is something to consider.

Are They Licensed to Install Furnaces?

This is twofold.

First, does the company have all the required business and trades licenses? Each jurisdiction will have different requirements and it is up to you to find out what the requirements are where you live.

For example in Alberta, if the heating contractor accepts money before all the work is completed and discusses or finalizes the contract away from their normal place of business, they are considered a prepaid contractor.

If this is the case with your heating contractor, they will need a Prepaid Contracting License from the province. The province maintains a database, so you can check to see if your contractor has the appropriate license.

In addition, some municipalities require contractors to be registered with them. Calgary is one and you can check out the city’s database to see if the company is registered.

Second, do the individuals installing your furnace have the applicable training and certifications. Again, the requirements differ between jurisdictions.

In Alberta, installing or replacing a furnace is considered a “compulsory trade” and the installer will need their Certificate of Qualification proving they are certified to install a furnace in new construction or replace a furnace.

According to the Government of Alberta, a person with a gasfitter – class A or gasfitter – class B certificate (sometimes referred to as a “ticket”) can install a furnace in new construction and replace a furnace in existing construction.

Here’s where it can get confusing. In Alberta, a plumber and a sheet metal worker can install your furnace in new construction and replace your furnace in your existing home. This is because the plumber and sheet metal worker apprenticeship programs are dual certification programs and include the gasfitter – class B training.

However, not all plumbers and sheet metal workers have completed the dual certification programs, so make sure you see their gasfitter – class B certificate.

A journeyman sheet metal worker who did not complete the dual certificate programs (the program became dual certificate in 2017) is not qualified to install a furnace in new construction. However, they are qualified to replace a furnace in existing construction.

Plumbers who did not complete the dual certificate programs are not qualified to install a furnace in new construction or replace a furnace in existing construction.

In a nutshell, a certified sheet metal worker who did not complete the dual certificate program can replace your furnace. And a certified gasfitter with either their class A or class B ticket can replace your current furnace and install a furnace in new construction. This includes certified plumbers and certified sheet metal workers who participated in the dual certificate program.

In Alberta, you can check your tradesperson’s credentials online. All you need is their first and last name and their certificate or AIT ID number which can be found on their journeyman wall and wallet certificate.

Make sure you know who can legally and safely install a furnace where you live. And don’t be shy, ask the company for proof they and their installers have the appropriate licenses.

Does the Company Carry Appropriate Insurance?

A reputable company will carry some type of public liability and property insurance, even if they aren’t required to. Yes, some places don’t require a business to carry liability insurance? Shocking, I know.

You want to make sure your home and family are protected and the company cares about protecting you. So make sure you ask to see their certificate of insurance.

Do They Have Workers’ Compensation?

The company must have a worker’s compensation program. Ask to see their Letter of Clearance, (in Alberta ask to see their Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) number).

If they are exempt, ask to see the letter from Workers’ Compensation stating they are exempt and information on the company’s private disability insurance

Do They Follow Industry Standards and Best Practices?

To ensure your safety and comfort, you want a professional contractor who follows all applicable laws, regulations, codes, and industry best practices and standards and makes sure their employees do too.

Do They Have Processes in Place to Ensure a Perfect Install Every Time?

Installing a furnace is a complicated process with many steps and different safety checks.

You want to make sure your contractor does a thorough install. But we’re all human and mistakes can happen. And unfortunately, there are contractors out there that cut corners.

Ask what processes the company has in place to make sure mistakes don’t happen. How they answer this question could help you determine if the contractor cares about completing a quality install or takes shortcuts.

A great example of a process to ensure an excellent install is an install checklist the installer completes for every install. It details, in order, every little step and safety check needed so nothing is missed.

What’s Their Track Record?

This is more than how long the company has been in business. It includes the company’s reputation, if they have more satisfied customers than disgruntled ones, and how they handle matters that are important to you.

What’s the Company’s Reputation?

How do you determine this? Ask your friends, family, and coworkers for recommendations. If someone you know has had a good experience, there’s a good chance you will too.

But be a little wary of recommendations from another contractor or tradesperson. They may base their recommendation on their relationship with the installer instead of the installer’s quality of work.

Also, check out the company’s online reviews. Both Google and HomeStars are good places to find reviews.

There isn’t a business out there that doesn’t have disgruntled customers but you want to make sure the company you are researching has significantly more happy customers than disgruntled ones.

What Do the Company’s References Say?

Ask the company for references for similar jobs they have done. Yes, we know a company isn’t going to give you a reference from an unhappy customer. But getting references lets you ask the customer questions about the issues that are important to you.

Now, these references are only useful if you follow up on them.

Once you receive the references, call them and find out what their experience was with the company in question. But what to ask? I’ve developed this list of questions to get you started.

How Does the Company Handle Your Priorities?

For example, if recycling is important to you, ask how they dispose of the old furnace. Does the whole thing go to the landfill or does the company recycle what they can from the furnace and packaging?

Another example is timing, perhaps you only have a set number of days for the install, you will want to know if the company can accommodate you and if they meet their timelines.

Do They Stand By Their Work?

Will the Company Provide a Written Contract?

If they won’t, don’t use them. It’s as simple as that!

Once you have selected the company, get it in writing! Do not rely on an estimate. You want a detailed contract that contains two types of information:

  • Information that shows the contractor meets the business requirements to legally operate in your region and protect you and their employees in the case of an accident.
  • The quote should itemize everything the installation needs and you and the contractor have agreed to.

Here’s a Contractor Interview Checklist [correct title TBD] to help you keep track of all the details.

Does the Company Provide Warranties?

Find out what kind of warranties and guarantees they offer. Make sure they are easy to read and you don’t need a lawyer to translate the document for you.

Not all warranties are created equal, so it is important to understand your warranty. Make sure you read the fine print, many have a slew of conditions that renders the warranty essentially useless.

Does the Company Carefully Explain the Various Warranties?

You will probably end up with several warranties from different parties. A warranty for the furnace itself from the manufacturer, possibly warranties for various furnace parts from the parts manufacturers, and a warranty on the installation from the heating company.

Your heating company should make sure you understand what each warranty covers, what could void the warranties, what documents you need to keep, and the warranty process for each one.

Warranties are very specific and can be tricky to navigate. A couple of things to look for:

  • often the furnace warranty covers only the cost of the failed part, not the labour cost to replace it;
  • what will void the warranty; for example, many warranties will be voided if you install or repair the furnace yourself or use an unlicensed technician;
  • tons of fine print, this could be an indicator that the warranty really doesn’t cover very much; and
  • how long you have to make a claim.

Also, find out if the furnace brand offers an extended warranty. Many do, but you need to register for them. Find out if the heating company will register your furnace on your behalf or if you need to do it.

Do They Have Integrity?

This is the big one. You are trusting them with your money and to be in your home and around your family.

You want to use a company with integrity, a company that takes pride in what they do and stands behind their work, a company that cares about their customers.

So how can you tell if a company has integrity?

The answers to the following questions will help you determine if the heating company has integrity or not.

Do They List a Physical Address?

This seems like an odd one to include but even someone who is just starting out and working out of their home is happy to list their address.

Moonlighters and fly-by-nighters usually don’t list a physical address so you can’t find them if there’s a problem and they can avoid liability and responsibility.

Do They Listen to You?

Are they patient and do they listen to you?

Every person you deal with at that company should be listening to you. How can they help you pick the best system and teach you how to run it to reach its peak efficiency if they aren’t listening to you?

How Do They Treat You?

Do they treat you and your home with respect? Do they explain the timeline and process? Do they answer all your questions without talking down to you? Do they show up on time? If you answer yes to these questions, you are probably dealing with a company with integrity.

You will have a good idea of a company’s level of integrity based on the integrity of each employee you interact with. If anything doesn’t feel right or sets off your “spidey senses”, you may want to use a different company.

Does the Company Do Employee Criminal Record Checks and Drug Testing?

The comfort advisor and technicians are strangers and you will be in your home alone with them.

You want to use a company who understands this and does everything in their power to make sure the people entering your home are not a danger to you and your family.

How Do They Treat Their Employees?

How a company treats their employees is a good indicator of integrity. Companies who treat their employees with respect and invest in their training have happy employees who treat their customers well and with respect.

But how can you tell if a company invests in their employees? You can ask about ongoing training but here are other clues:

  • clean and well-maintained service vehicles;
  • the office staff deal with your calls promptly and politely;
  • well-groomed technicians;
  • knowledgeable comfort advisors and technicians; and
  • a workforce who is happy and proud of the company and their work.

Does the Company Have a Win-Win-Win Attitude?

You want a contractor who has a win-win-win attitude.

You win because you get a great product, an excellent install, and a great experience.

The employee wins because the company treats them right, invests in their training, and compensates them appropriately.

The company wins because they have satisfied customers and are making money so they can continue serving their clients.

Are They Thorough and Transparent?

There is no such thing as a standard installation. So you want a company who takes their time to understand exactly what you need and what your installation entails. A company who clearly explains the reasons behind their recommendations, answers all your questions, and provides a detailed quote.

If the company isn’t being thorough and transparent, they may have taken shortcuts and not done a proper analysis of your situation Which means their recommendations aren’t based on any solid information. If this is the case, you will end up paying more than the quoted price and could end up with a subpar install.

Are They Convenient?

Remember, this will be a long-term relationship because you will probably use this company for your annual maintenance and any future repairs. If it is a pain getting them to install your furnace, it will be a pain for future maintenance and repairs.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • How easy is it to deal with the company?
  • Are you able to speak to a person when you call?
  • How long does it take to get someone to your house?
  • Do they offer 24/7 service for repairs?

The answers to these questions will tell you how much focus and care they put on their customers.

Who needs the headache of dealing with a company who takes forever to call you back when there are companies out there that are a dream to deal with?

What Are Your Financial Considerations?

This is more than what you can afford. Though the considerations discussed could help you afford a more expensive furnace or make the investment easier on your finances.

Do They Offer Financing?

A new furnace and its installation is a big investment. Financing it over time could make it more manageable.

But before you sign on the dotted line make sure the financing is with a reputable financing company and they are offering a fair and competitive interest rate.

Again, make sure you read the fine print. You don’t want any nasty surprises.

Is the Company Registered with Rebate Programs?

Rebates are a great way to save money on your new furnace. Different organizations from all levels of government to non-profits to manufacturers offer rebates.

Many rebate programs require heating companies to register with them. This requirement is to root out fraud and to ensure the program is giving a rebate to a consumer who has actually purchased the right furnace and had a qualified technician install it.

What’s the Company’s Buying Power?

The more buying power a company has, the less they pay for the furnace and they can pass on some or all the savings to the customer.

The size of a heating company is not necessarily an indicator of their buying power. A small company could belong to an organization that buys furnaces for its members, ensuring stronger buying power than the individual members could get on their own.

Yes, I know this is a lot of information. But this is an important decision and a big investment, so you need to do your research.

But don’t worry, we’ve put together a checklist of the questions you should ask a heating company before you hire them.

Now to pick a furnace, to learn how to select the best furnace for you and your family keep reading.

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