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How to pick a contractor to install your new AC system

Choosing an HVAC contractor is a BIG decision. After all, this is the AC system that will keep your home comfortable for years to come, and this is the company you are trusting to make sure the system does its job. Therefore, it makes sense to do your homework and check out the contractors ahead of time–to make sure you hire the right contractor. Just like when you paint or build something, it should be 90% preparation and 10% action.

The Red Flags

  • #1 The Contractor Doesn’t Ask About Your Comfort – The reality is, to choose the best system for your future needs, it is important to understand how the system you have now has been performing for you. Has it kept you and your family comfortable? How are your utility bills? Do you have hot or cold spots? Not doing this sets a situation up for failure.
  • #2 Failure to Inspect Ductwork – An HVAC system is only as good as the ductwork that supports it. Airflow is everything. Do you have enough return ductwork and airflow? Do you have enough supply ductwork to support the system you need? Not checking these out is a serious red flag. Installing a new system without evaluating the existing ductwork — which may be inadequate or leaky — is a recipe for trouble; you may “buy” high-efficiency equipment, however, what you “get” will be a low efficiency and poorly performing system.
  • #3 Not Performing a Load Calculation – A good HVAC professional will not guess on the size of unit you need for your home or just install the same size that was there before. They will do a load calculation to determine if the size of the system that is appropriate for your home. They shouldn’t pick a system off the top of their head or just install the same size as the one that is being replaced without having a principle-based reason for doing so—if they do, it’s a red flag.

Your Contractor, Your System

If you’re like a lot of people, you may say: “I want a bigger system.” It seems logical that a bigger system will perform better and cool you off quicker. What you don't know is that in central heating and air system design, bigger isn’t always better. While a bigger system may get the house to a comfortable level quickly on a very hot day, on an average day it will not run long enough to take the humidity out of the air. So, for that speed, you are paying a big penalty in terms of comfort, performance, and efficiency. You want a contractor who seriously considers things like this, not just one who is looking to increase the amount of the invoice, regardless of your true needs. You may also be interested in a variable speed system.

Oversized systems are such an energy-wasting problem nationally that the federal government is getting involved, by trying to get contractors to pay attention to this critical capacity sizing issue. According to the law, HVAC contractors have to follow both the energy and mechanical code and should be sizing the system properly for the home. It is actually against the law to install an oversized AC system, even though it happens every single day by AC contractors who don’t know better or who do not care.

Think Utility Smart

When choosing your AC contractor, look towards your utility program. In Central Texas, many homeowners have Austin Energy as their electric utility. AE has taken a major role in reducing the consumption load on our grid and balancing that with customers comfort. Austin Energy has a 30-year history of performance and efficiency programs that reward homeowners and contractors for doing things the right way. Often, when a homeowner comes to us at McCullough Heating and Air and asks about the best way to do things, we suggest that they look to Austin Energy for unbiased guidance on best practices.

While we feel confident in the work we do here at McCullough, and want you to choose the right contractor for your job no matter who it is, we’d love to talk to you about your project or give you a second opinion on a new system. We also recommend you look to Austin Energy to learn about energy efficiency options and the recommendations they make regarding contractors who can do the best job possible for you, your family and your home.

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