(707) 800-6287 |  Sonoma Napa and Marin Counties

Santa Rosa and the surrounding cities like Sebastopol and Windsor have warm Mediterranean climates, which is ideal during the winter but can get pretty brutal when summer rolls along. With summer temperatures regularly reaching the 90s, it’s no wonder that most Santa Rosa residents rely pretty heavily on their air conditioners. Keeping a steady flow of cool air into your home is pretty vital in Sonoma County, so a properly-working AC unit is a necessity.


Of course, the downside of being so reliant on your air conditioner is that you need to make sure it’s running smoothly at all times. That means regular maintenance and the occasional repair to keep it in good working order. Finding the right HVAC contractor can be a challenge for anyone, but it’s especially difficult when you need to get your air conditioner up and running again as soon as possible. There are plenty of factors to balance; you need to make sure you find a technician who knows what they’re doing, but you also don’t want to end up overpaying for something simple. Homeowners are always wary of being gouged, but it can be hard to tell who’s being truthful when you don’t have enough technical knowledge to assess the unit for yourself. Luckily, we’re here to help, and we put together this short guide to help you find the right HVAC contractor in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, or anywhere else.


What to Look For in a Santa Rosa HVAC Contractor

Every situation is different, which means the right contractor for you might not be the right contractor for someone else. It’ll be up to you to assess what some of your individual needs are and find a technician who can meet those needs – this post can’t really help you with that. However, there are some traits that any good HVAC technician or contractor should have. These qualities make up the solid foundation that separates reputable tradespeople from their sketchier competitors, and it’s extremely valuable to know how to spot them. With that in mind, here are a few things you should look for in every HVAC contractor you consider for your next air conditioner repair or maintenance job, no matter what the specifics of your situation might be:


Technical Knowledge and Experience

This might seem like a given, but that’s exactly why it’s so important to look out for it. We tend to assume that anyone who works in a trade like HVAC repair knows what they’re talking about, but that’s not necessarily always the case. Not all contractors are created equal, and some of them are just plain better at what they do. Of course, it can be difficult for you to tell whether or not someone is an expert in HVAC service without being an expert yourself, but there are some things that you can keep an eye out for the next time a technician or contractor is at your home.


HVAC repair and installation is actually a pretty broad skill set, so it requires a lot of baseline knowledge to be good at it. The way air conditioners function is very different from how furnaces work, for example, or how hydronic heaters operate. You need to find a contractor who has a firm knowledge of all these systems so they’re never surprised or confused by what they see. Luckily, in California, the state handles that for you. In order to acquire a C-20 HVAC repair license in California, any technician or contractor has to take a few tests to prove that they have the knowledge and skill set to handle any unit they might find in the field. If you’re working with a licensed tradesperson, you can feel pretty confident that they’re experts in their occupation, so make sure you find a fully-licensed contractor for any work you require.


Of course, even the most knowledgeable HVAC contractor will sometimes run up against a problem they’ve never seen before. How they respond to that problem is a big part of what separates the great contractors and technicians from the good ones. A great contractor should be able to troubleshoot and work out a solution on the fly, without getting lost or overly confused. Keep in mind that HVAC repair is usually billed by the hour, so if you have a technician just sitting around scratching their head, you’re actually losing money. The key to assessing this skill is communication. You want your HVAC contractor to be in consistent communication with you when they’re working on a difficult problem. They don’t have to walk you through every little thing, but they should be letting you know what they’re going to try next and why it might work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either!


If every prospective HVAC contractor you speak to seems to have a pretty firm handle on the work, then experience can be a great tiebreaker. There’s really no replacement for experience in the field, and even the smartest and most capable contractors and technicians will only improve as they spend more time working on different HVAC systems. A contractor who has spent decades in the industry will be able to recognize problems and come up with solutions much more quickly because there’s a good chance they’ve seen those problems before. While experience isn’t everything, it can definitely put one option over the top.


There is one caveat to the issue of experience, of course. HVAC technology can change extremely quickly, and the tech inside new air conditioners is getting more advanced by the day. All the experience in the world won’t mean anything if your contractor hasn’t been keeping up with the changes in the industry. Someone who’s truly serious about being the best contractor they can be will be constantly re-training themselves and keeping abreast of trends in the business. When you meet an HVAC contractor for the first time, ask them how recently they were trained on something new – if they haven’t bothered learning any new skills in the last decade, they might not be the best option out there.


Customer Service

Obviously, customer service is important for any business, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to find a tradesperson like an HVAC contractor. Of course, in this context, we’re talking about more than just friendliness when we talk about customer service. Finding a trustworthy contractor is always a high priority – after all, nobody wants to be gouged or taken advantage of when they’re just trying to get their air conditioner fixed. It’s important to find a contractor who’s going to be honest and transparent with you, without trying to upsell you or overcharge you for something simple. The relationship between a customer and a contractor should always be based on trust, otherwise, you’re just going to have a negative experience every time you make a call. Even if you’re not being overcharged, you’re just going to feel stressed out the whole time unless you’re confident you can trust the person working on your air conditioner.


All that being said, how do you actually tell if a contractor is trustworthy? One thing to look at is their policy on estimates. Any reputable HVAC contractor should offer free, no-strings-attached estimates in writing before you make any decisions. This is a pretty basic requirement in the HVAC industry, so it should be considered a red flag if your contractor refuses to give you an estimate before doing the work. It’s also a red flag if they prefer to give verbal estimates in person or over the phone. It’s fine to give a simple estimate or guess over the phone, but unless it’s followed up by a detailed written estimate, there’s nothing to keep the contractor from changing their mind and charging you more after the work is completed. A good technician or contractor should be able and willing to sit down and explain everything they plan on doing, as well as give you a detailed estimate of how much it’s going to cost. This is an important part of being transparent and honest, and it’s a necessity for reputable contractors.


When you install a new air conditioner in your Santa Rosa home, you can expect to keep using the same unit for up to 15 or 20 years if you take good care of it. Ideally, you should be working with the same HVAC repair and maintenance company throughout the full lifespan of the unit. That means you’re not just looking for someone to come in and fix something once – you’re looking for someone you can build a relationship with and continue working with for years or even decades to come. A good contractor is well aware of this and is more than willing to work with you and do what it takes to earn your trust so you’ll keep coming back year after year. That’s why trustworthy contractors tend to stay in business for longer than sketchy ones, who focus too much on short-term profit and can’t build relationships with their customers to earn repeat business.


Licensing and Insurance

We already mentioned the C-20 HVAC license earlier on in this post, but it’s worth digging a little deeper into what that means. In California, any HVAC contractor has to have a C-20 license in order to perform work costing $500 or more. That means general maintenance and minor repairs can be performed without a license, but you need to find a licensed contractor to handle installations and repairs that require major replacement parts. However, while you’re technically free to hire an unlicensed technician to handle your regular air conditioner maintenance in Sonoma County, we’d recommend against it. If a contractor or technician holds a C-20 license, that means they’ve passed a series of tests covering HVAC operation, maintenance, repairs, and general business ethics. An unlicensed technician hasn’t passed any tests at all, so you’ll just have to take them at their word if they claim to be knowledgeable. Choosing a licensed option is always going to be less risky and it means you won’t have to find someone new when your air conditioner breaks a major internal part.


In California, both HVAC contractors and technicians have to hold C-20 licenses. The difference between a contractor and a technician in the HVAC world is a little like the distinction between a contractor and a builder or carpenter in the construction industry. Everyone in the industry starts out as an apprentice technician working under someone else’s license. After four years, an apprentice can get their own license and become a journeyman technician. Some people prefer to work with their hands and spend their whole careers as technicians, while others become contractors and move over to the business and administration side of things. For the most part, when you’re hiring an HVAC repair or installation company, you’ll meet with a contractor to go over the work but a technician will be the one actually handling any repairs. That’s not always the case though – some contractors prefer to do repairs themselves, while others stick to the office and let their technicians take care of the work. Either way, the work will be done by someone experienced, knowledgeable, and licensed.


There’s another major reason why you should stick to licensed contractors and technicians as well: insurance. Contractors typically hold two different insurance policies: surety bonds and license bonds. Surety bonds protect a tradesperson against honest mistakes they make in their work. Nobody’s perfect, but if somebody makes a mistake while working on your air conditioner and damages it further, then you shouldn’t be expected to pay for the repairs yourself. The payout to fix your damaged air conditioner would be taken from the surety bond in this case. Anyone can hold a surety bond, even an unlicensed technician, but it’s only one of the two kinds of insurance contractors generally hold.


The other kind is a license bond, which is used as protection against unethical or unprofessional behavior. All licensed HVAC contractors in California are required to hold license bonds of at least $15,000, and that money is used for payouts if they behave unprofessionally and damage your home or AC unit as a result. As the name suggests, you can only get a license bond if you hold a license, which means unlicensed technicians don’t have them. If you work with someone unlicensed and they turn out to not be as trustworthy as you expected, you, unfortunately, have no way to get restitution for their mistakes.


The last thing you want as a homeowner is to be left holding the bag if you hire an unlicensed contractor who makes some mistakes. Licenses and bonds are what separate serious professionals from amateurs, and we’d highly recommend not taking the risk when you hire someone for your next AC repair job. With a fully licensed and bonded HVAC contractor, you can relax knowing that you’re hiring someone experienced and knowledgeable and that you have avenues for restitution if something does go wrong with the work. That peace of mind is well worth having, so make sure you don’t waste your time with unlicensed amateurs.


Finding the Right Company in Santa Rosa

We’ve gone over plenty of qualities you can check before you hire an HVAC contractor, but where do you start? It still takes plenty of work to even track down a list of reputable repair companies in your area, and it can be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re new to Santa Rosa and you’re not sure where to begin. Hiring an HVAC contractor always starts with a little research, but don’t worry, we can help with that too. Here are a few things you can keep in mind as you’re getting started on your search:


  • Ask Around – While you can always start by searching the internet for some options, it can be hard to tell which of those are any good. You’re much better off starting by asking your friends, neighbors, and coworkers if they have any recommendations. A company’s public reputation is always extremely important and there’s a good chance that you’ll hear the same few names multiple times. Everyone is on the lookout for a trustworthy and capable HVAC contractor in Santa Rosa, so you should have plenty of people willing to sing the praises of their preferred option. Once you have a list of names that have come up several times, then you can hit Google. Take a look at some online reviews to see if there are any issues that come up over and over. Five-star reviews are always a good sign, but make sure to read some three and four-star ones as well so you’re getting a more even-handed take on the quality of service.


  • Ask for References – This might feel a bit like overkill, but it’s actually a great idea to ask the HVAC contractors on your shortlist for a few references from satisfied customers. Getting a chance to speak one-on-one with people who have experienced the service can be a lot more valuable than just scrolling through anonymous reviews online. How much time you spend on steps like this will really depend on how thorough you want to be. If you’d rather find someone good as quickly as possible, you can certainly do that based on personal recommendations and a quick search through online reviews. However, if you want to really take your time and make sure you’re going with the best possible option, you shouldn’t rush through the process. It’s perfectly reasonable to start conversations with a few different contractors at once so you can compare their references and how they respond to any questions you might have. Since the HVAC industry thrives on repeat business, any good contractor should be more than willing to jump through a hoop or two to earn you as a customer.


  • Compare Estimates – If you’ve narrowed your list down to a few reputable options, then you can start comparing the price. Collect estimates from every name on the list and see how they compare to each other. You might be tempted to just start with this step and choose whichever contractor offers the lowest price, but resist that urge. If one contractor is offering work at significantly lower rates than their competitors, there’s a decent chance that they’re willing to cut corners to keep costs low. Keep in mind that estimates given over the phone aren’t especially valuable. A contractor really needs to visit your home and take a look at your air conditioner personally before they can offer a full written estimate, so don’t make your decision based on a few phone calls. It might be a lot of work, but you’ll be glad you took the time if you end up with a contractor you can continue to work with for the next 20 years.


In Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, or anywhere else in Sonoma, Napa, or Marin counties, you should see Valley Comfort Heating & Air’s name come up when you ask for recommendations. We’ve been serving customers in the area for years and we’re proud of our reputation. If you find yourself in need of a new HVAC contractor and you’re shopping around, we’re more than happy to do what it takes to earn your business. You can get in touch with us today through our website here, stop by our location in Santa Rosa to speak to us in person, or just give us a call at (707) 360-6499.