What Is an HVAC Contractor? (2024 Guide)

HVAC service technician changing dirty air filter in the central ventilation system. Your home’s ductwork, heater, and air conditioner work together to make your home comfortable, regardless of the temperature outside. A working HVAC system...

HVAC service technician changing dirty air filter in the central ventilation system. Change filter in rotary heat exchanger recuperator. Air duct ventilation system maintenance for clean air. HVAC service technician changing dirty air filter in the central ventilation system.

Your home’s ductwork, heater, and air conditioner work together to make your home comfortable, regardless of the temperature outside. A working HVAC system is necessary for health and safety in extreme climates, and even in milder ones, HVAC equipment is important to maintain indoor air quality and proper humidity. No matter which brand of air conditioner or heater you have, a licensed HVAC professional is the best person to complete installations and repairs. Learn why in our guide.

What Do HVAC Contractors Do?

HVAC contractors are responsible for installing, maintaining, and repairing climate control systems. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. This means HVAC encompasses all the systems that move hot or cold air throughout a building, including vents and ductwork. Furnaces, boilers, air conditioners, heat pumps, and refrigeration systems are all types of HVAC units that an HVAC professional may work on.

Some contractors specialize in certain types of HVAC systems, while others have expertise in multiple ones. Due to the complexity of these systems, most states require contractors to earn and renew a specific license to offer HVAC services. This license usually involves passing an exam and gaining a certain amount of on-the-job experience. It's important to note that some states differentiate between an HVAC technician, who works for an HVAC contractor or company, and an HVAC contractor, who works independently.

Installation

HVAC professionals are responsible for the proper installation of heating and cooling systems in new homes. Many residential and commercial buildings also require the replacement or upgrade of their HVAC equipment over time. Retrofitting older buildings for new or larger systems can be particularly challenging.

While homeowners can install portable air conditioners and some window AC units themselves, all other types of air conditioning systems need to be installed by licensed professionals. The same applies to heating systems. These systems consume a significant amount of energy when running. Improper installation can result in energy wastage, leading to high utility bills. Therefore, it's important to factor in the cost of labor when considering the purchase or replacement of an air conditioner, furnace, or boiler.

Maintenance

HVAC systems are used heavily throughout the year. Even during milder seasons when they may not be in constant use, routine maintenance, including an annual tune-up, is crucial. An HVAC contractor will check refrigerant levels, change air filters, clean fans and vents, and ensure everything is in proper working order. If any issues arise, they will identify and address them before they escalate.

Many local HVAC companies offer annual maintenance plans, providing customers with priority scheduling before extreme weather conditions. This ensures that systems are tuned up and ready for optimal performance. Some companies may also offer duct cleaning services as part of their maintenance packages.

Repairs

HVAC repairs involve troubleshooting issues with the system and repairing or replacing damaged parts. This may include identifying leaks, testing thermostats, replacing supply lines, and more. Since HVAC systems are often concealed from view, problems may go unnoticed until the system suddenly stops working. Most HVAC companies offer emergency repair services, albeit at higher costs. Therefore, routine maintenance is crucial for early detection of problems and avoiding costly emergency repairs.

When Should You Call an HVAC Contractor?

You should call an HVAC contractor when you need to install a new system or when your current system is experiencing issues. Here are some details about the various systems that these contractors work on.

Air Conditioning

Air conditioners utilize a forced-air system and refrigerant to remove heat from indoor air and expel it outdoors. Refrigerant can be hazardous to both human health and the environment if it leaks. Consequently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that all air conditioning contractors obtain an EPA 608 certification to handle this chemical. Therefore, it's essential to call a professional if you suspect a refrigerant leak.

Licensed technicians are also necessary for other AC problems. If your AC appears to be running but fails to cool your home adequately or uniformly, it's advisable to have a professional inspect it. The same applies if your utility bills suddenly spike without any change in temperature. Inefficient operation of certain AC components can lead to excessive energy consumption.

Heating

Heating systems can include furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps, and they can derive energy from electricity, natural gas, propane, fuel oil, solar energy, or wood. Some heating systems, such as furnaces, distribute heat through airflow, while others use radiant heating in floors or walls.

If your heating system is performing weakly or unevenly, or if you notice unusual sounds or odors coming from the HVAC unit, it's time to call in an HVAC professional. While these systems may not utilize refrigerant, many use flammable substances and generate significant heat, necessitating professional repairs.

Ventilation

Ventilation systems are often overlooked, but they play a crucial role in maintaining air quality and distributing warm or cool air. These systems include the air ducts, vents, and fans that exchange stale indoor air with fresh air and circulate it throughout your home.

Issues with ventilation systems can be subtler compared to those with heaters or AC units. Improperly ventilated homes may become excessively humid, leading to mold, mildew, or pest problems. Unpleasant odors or an increase in allergens may also be indicators of ventilation issues. Fixing such problems may involve duct or vent cleaning, adding extra fans, or implementing air filtration measures.

How to Hire an HVAC Contractor

Hiring an HVAC contractor follows a similar process to hiring other home improvement professionals. Here are a few factors to consider when making your selection:

  • Check if HVAC contractors in your state are required to hold a license, and ensure that any company you consider has a current license.
  • Verify that the contractor and their team are bonded and insured to protect against any potential injuries or property damage.
  • Inquire about additional certifications, specializations, and experience relevant to your specific job requirements.
  • Some states differentiate between technicians and contractors. While technicians may be suitable for routine maintenance and minor repairs, contractors are often needed for larger projects or installations.
  • Discuss billing and payment terms, such as hourly rates or project-based pricing. Inquire about guarantees or warranties on their workmanship and any additional fees for emergency repairs.
  • Research the company's Better Business Bureau rating, accreditations, and customer reviews on platforms like Yelp and Trustpilot.

Other HVAC Services

In addition to the services mentioned above, HVAC contractors offer other valuable services, including:

  • Refrigeration: HVAC technicians install and repair refrigeration systems, primarily in commercial buildings.
  • Inspections: Professionals may need to conduct inspections to ensure that HVAC systems comply with building codes and regulations.
  • Smart Home Systems: Many modern homes have thermostats connected to the internet, and HVAC contractors can assist with the setup and integration of these systems.
  • Duct Cleaning: While typically not necessary unless recommended by an HVAC technician, duct cleaning can be performed to address specific issues, with costs ranging from $450 to $1,000.

Our Recommendation

If you don't already have a reputable local HVAC company, it's wise to find one now before you require emergency repairs. When it comes to scheduled services like installation or maintenance, we recommend obtaining estimates from at least three companies before making a final decision.

Remember, a properly functioning HVAC system is crucial for your comfort and well-being. By hiring a licensed and experienced HVAC contractor, you can ensure that your system operates efficiently, providing you with a comfortable living environment regardless of the weather outside.

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