Your home’s heating and cooling system is vital to your home and your family’s safety. And maintaining or replacing it can be an expensive — and often unplanned — experience.

By helping you recognize industry best practices and questionable sales tactics, this page can equip you to make better, more-informed choices.

Best Practices to Look For

When choosing a heating and cooling contractor, look for these positive business practices that indicate professionalism:

  • Free evaluations and cost estimates — You should not pay for evaluations or estimates of work that may be needed in your home.
  • Clear plan for work — While unexpected obstacles or additional repairs can be discovered during any project, your contractor should be able to outline the plan for work and a cost estimate in advance, based on the information known at that time.
  • Respect for your home — Discuss the plan for any temporary deconstruction that may be needed (for example, creating access to venting through a wall). Your home should be in the same condition after the contractor’s work as it was beforehand. This includes the contractor handling cleanup and any repairs to walls, etc.
  • Right tools for the job — Your contractor should have all the tools needed for the job, including ladders.
  • Insurance to protect you — Reputable contractors insure their workers to protect you in case they are accidentally injured while working in your home.

Suspect Tactics to Avoid

Unfortunately, not all HVAC contractors have your best interests in mind, and may be looking for a way to make a quick sale. The following scenarios are signs of improper sales tactics:

  • Carbon monoxide claims — You should not be told that carbon monoxide is present in your home without the use of a measuring device. Other signs to watch for include being told that your lips are blue, or that the technician is lightheaded and that these conditions are being caused by carbon monoxide in your home.
  • Heat exchanger excuses — If you’re told that your heat exchanger is cracked, you must be given proof or a reasonable explanation. Be careful of pictures of a heat exchanger crack that may actually be a stamping mark. Another poor sign is if you are not told that a heat exchanger warranty may be in effect if your current unit is less than 20 years old.
  • General maintenance misrepresentation — During maintenance inspections, you may be wrongly pressured to buy with irrelevant information or claims that:
    • - “Several parts on your current system are ‘out of factory specs.”
      - “Multiple parts on your current unit are starting to fail.”
      - “Your Freon levels are too low.”
      - “Your system has a faulty part (making you fear that it may not have been changed).”
      - “You’ll get five or 10 years of “free” maintenance.”
      - “Lifetime replacement or repair warranties will be in place on new equipment.”
      Another questionable tactic occurs when a contractor advertises a special maintenance price. But you find out later the fee only covered an inspection – and not the actual maintenance cost.
  • Purchase-process red flags — You should never feel forced to buy. In the state of Iowa, any contractor must honor your request to cancel a contract within three days of signing. Here are some red flags:
    • - The brand name of the equipment you’re buying is withheld from you.
      - You see an ad for something that appears too good to be true and the company cannot provide you with clear terms or “fine print” to back it up.
      - You’re forced to return product brochures or proposal paperwork to the representative unless you sign a contract to buy.
      - The company can’t support their claims that the new “high-efficiency” equipment you’re buying truly meets the industry definition – and isn’t just performing at a higher efficiency than what you have now.
      - You’re being asked to buy due to “factory overstock,” “truckload pricing,” or “never-pay-for-a-service-call-again” promotions.
  • No-go guarantees, disappearing discounts and changing prices — These scenarios occur when you:
    • - Are promised guaranteed savings or money-back guarantees, but don’t receive the amount promised. You should not be offered guarantees or savings by a technician or representative who you have not met.
      - Buy a new system that doesn’t qualify for rebates or tax credits as promised.
      - Buy a system without receiving the utility rebate check. You should also not be asked to “sign over” the check.
      - Are forced or told you need to sign a legal contract to get your money back.
      - Are told to expect to pay a specified monthly amount — only to discover that the advertised amount factors in overall savings — and doesn’t reflect the actual, higher amount that you will be required to pay each month.
      - Are invoiced at a much higher amount that what you thought or had agreed to.
      - Suddenly are able to buy a product for substantially less because a representative “called the office.”
  • General pressure — This can involve a wide range of fear tactics to attempt to force a purchase. You should never:
    • - Experience delays when you ask a technician or sales representative to leave.
      - Be forced to threaten to call or actually call the police to get a representative to leave.
      - Need to sign a contract to satisfy a representative before he/she will agree to leave your property.
      - Experience a sales call that takes more than three hours.
  • Slams on the competition — A company’s products and services should be strong enough to stand on their own without attacking competitors. Warning signs include:
    • - Being shown an “unauthorized competitor” proposal that claims to show another company’s pricing.
      - Hearing disparaging remarks about a competitor, such as “They always have the highest price in town” to prevent you from getting another estimate.
      - Being led to believe that your newer equipment was improperly installed by a competitor, and that, as a result, it needs to be replaced, or that work needs to start all over.
  • Exaggerated health claims — You shouldn’t be promised that:
    • - Duct cleaning or an air cleaning device will end your allergies.
      - An investment in air purification will resolve sleep, sinus issues, as well as other physical or mental ailments.