Sebastopol is fairly typical of California cities, in that it gets hot during the summer—very hot. For that reason, most area residents rely on their air conditioners heavily between the months of May and September. The only ones who don’t are those who don’t have an air conditioner or those who aren’t using theirs for one reason or another.
One of the most common reasons that Sebastopol residents ignore their air conditioners is that they aren’t sure who to trust for service. Even when the weather is at its hottest, many people are scared of being gouged. Don’t worry, though—it’s absolutely possible to find an honest air conditioner technician in the Sebastopol area. You just have to know what to look for when choosing the right contractor for the job.
Honesty is one of those terms that is easy to understand as a concept, but harder to pinpoint with practical criteria. You might be able to give a dictionary definition of the phrase, but do you really know what factors mark an honest air conditioning technician in the Sebastopol area? If you don’t, that’s okay: we’re here to help. Below are a few things you can keep an eye out for that should assist in determining an honest contractor when you meet one.
You might think that a company should stand on the strength of its work alone, and that unreliable companies could use people skills to make up for lack of proper craftsmanship. However, the opposite is more likely the case. When we talk about people skills, we don’t mean giving a good sales pitch or flashy advertising. We mean a contractor who knows what’s important to you and takes the time to discuss the work they’re going to do with you before they do it. The most important “people skills” to have are transparency and honesty. A good HVAC technician should give you an accurate quote before they start working on your system, and should be able to explain exactly why they need to do the job they’re recommending, in a way that makes sense to you.
Once you know what your HVAC technician is planning to do, you should be aware how long it’s expected to take. Since most service professionals charge by the hour for labour, finding a reliable technician will mean finding one who completes their work reasonably quickly. Let’s look at air conditioner installation, for example.
The installation of your air conditioning unit should not take more than a few days at maximum—in fact, many companies offer to complete an installation within the space of 24 hours. Make sure your technician is offering you a comparable time frame for the job, but be wary of anybody who promises instant results—there’s no such thing.
Proper Training and Certification
Another thing you’ll want to look for when you’re hiring a contractor to work on your air conditioner is a license. While licenses aren’t required in every state, they certainly indicate a desirable level of professionalism. California, on the other hand, requires an HVAC contractor license for any job that exceeds $500. Make sure that your contractor has their C-20 if you’re hiring them for any significant job.
What does a C-20 license indicate? Easy: A C-20 license tells you that your contractor has completed at least two exams, as well as receiving pre-approval from the state before doing so. Even qualifying for the exam to get a C-20 requires four years of experience. As a result, you can be sure that any contractor you approach who has a C-20 license possesses the necessary skills to perform honest and high quality service on your HVAC system.
There are several services you should reserve for licensed contractors. If you’re installing an HVAC in your home, seeking routine maintenance or getting extensive repairs, always check to make sure that your contractor has their C-20 before signing an agreement with them.
One of the easiest ways to make sure that you’re dealing with an honest contractor is to call them with questions about your unit before you hire them. Skilled and trustworthy air conditioning technicians usually won’t be stingy about sharing a few titbits of advice with you—they’ll regard it as an opportunity to show you how qualified they are for the job. When you’re considering a service, make sure to call and chat with them about your situation first. Their responses will tell you plenty about their qualifications.
It’s not hard to find an honest air conditioning service in Sebastopol, but it certainly helps if you know what to expect. Keep this list in mind when you’re searching through contractors, and use it to find high quality help. Remember: the contractors you want to work with should be efficient, forthcoming, and properly licensed. Working with someone who meets all the above criteria will result in you receiving the best possible service for your unit, and enjoying a summer where you won’t have to break a sweat for any reason. Contact us for more information.
Like the rest of Sonoma County, Sebastopol has some of the best weather the country has to offer. There’s no snow, very little rain in the summer, and mild temperatures all winter long. However, as an inland town, Sebastopol does get pretty hot during the summer. If you’re going to spend any time in the area between May and September, an air conditioning system is really a must. After all, nobody wants to spend five months just lying around and sweating all day, right? AC is just a fact of life for residents here.
Air Conditioning Service in Sebastopol
However, air conditioners do come with some costs involved, especially when things go wrong and your AC suddenly isn’t working the way it should. Nobody wants to shell out the cash for the repair unless they have to, but allowing your AC to run while it’s compromised will only result in higher power bills every month, so you’re not really saving any money by letting it sit. If your air conditioner is on the fritz, you should really get it fixed as soon as you can. That means finding an HVAC contractor, which comes with its own challenges.
With so many options, finding the perfect HVAC company for you can be tough. Most people don’t have any frame of reference for how much AC repair and installation can cost, which leaves them feeling wary of upcharges and rip-offs. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you find an experienced and trustworthy HVAC contractor in your area.
Know-How and Experience
Before anything else, the most important thing you should be looking for in an HVAC contractor is knowledge. After all, even the most trustworthy and honest contractor is useless to you if they don’t actually know what they’re doing, right? HVAC repair and installation is a broad skill set, and you want to make sure your contractor or technician is ready for anything your air conditioner might throw at them. Of course, know-how can be pretty difficult to judge when you’re meeting someone, especially since the average homeowner doesn’t exactly have an encyclopedic knowledge of HVAC systems. However, here are a few skills you can look for next time you have a technician at your house:
- Knowledge of HVAC Systems and Methods – This is the obvious one, but even the greenest HVAC technician should have a broad knowledge base when it comes to the inner workings of HVAC units. That’s extremely difficult to ascertain, of course, since you can’t exactly quiz them on the topic without just becoming an expert yourself. Luckily, the state of California has your back. Before getting a C-20 HVAC license, all prospective contractors and technicians have to pass a few in-depth exams proving that they know what they’re talking about. That’s one of the reasons why you should always look for a licensed contractor – we’ll talk a little more about licenses later on.
- Troubleshooting and Problem-Solving Skills – The only thing about life that’s certain is that nothing is certain, and that applies to HVAC repair and installation as well. Even the world’s most experienced technicians will still run into problems and situations that they’ve never seen before. That’s why advanced problem-solving skills are an absolute necessity. Service appointments are typically billed by the hour, so if your HVAC technician is just sitting around scratching their head, then they’re actually costing you money. You want someone who will immediately get to work on troubleshooting the problem and solving it as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Knowledge of Safety Protocols – There are plenty of appliances more dangerous than air conditioners, but it’s still important that your contractor or technician sticks to safety protocols. A shoddy or unsafe work setup could lead to accidents or injuries, and some of the chemicals inside the AC are potentially dangerous if mishandled. If something seems unsafe about the way your technician is working, then you should listen to that instinct. HVAC work has safety protocols for a reason.
- Willingness to Learn – A truly knowledgeable and experienced HVAC contractor knows just how quickly technology can change. The training they received as an apprentice could be partially or almost entirely obsolete in a decade or two, which makes constant re-training a necessity. When you meet an HVAC contractor for the first time, asking about their recent training experiences is a great way to test how seriously they take their profession. You want someone who’s willing to pay attention and stay on the cutting edge of the industry. Not only will this help them out when they come across newer tech in the field, but it also means they can present you with more options when you’re looking for a new system.
Experience is also key to finding the best HVAC contractor out there. A fresh contractor will still have all the knowledge required to fix your AC, but there’s really no substitute for experience. A contractor who’s been in the industry for a while will be able to recognize problems more quickly and solve them more efficiently. If all the other factors seem more or less equal, going with the more experienced option is rarely a bad choice.
You could be in contact with the most skilled and experienced HVAC contractor in the world, but if they don’t have the customer service skills to match their field knowledge, you’ll still wind up having a negative experience. Dealing with customers is an important part of running a successful HVAC business, and that requires a certain amount of people skills. Of course, usually when we talk about “people skills,” we’re referring to salesmanship, charisma, and other flashy social talents. In this instance, however, we mean skills like transparency, honesty, and being overall easy to work with. You don’t need a contractor who’s going to sell you something, you need one who understands what’s important to you and can clearly explain their process and the work they’re going to do in a transparent way. The relationship between a contractor and a customer is all about trust, and if you find yourself second-guessing what your current HVAC contractor is telling you, it might be time to find someone new.
One great way to get a sense of how an HVAC company operates is to look at how they give estimates. Free, no-strings-attached estimates are an absolute requirement in the HVAC industry. If a contractor refuses to give you an estimate, that’s highly unprofessional and should be considered an enormous red flag. The estimate should always be in writing, never verbal only, so you can refer back to it later. If a contractor tries to give you a verbal quote without a detailed, written estimate to go along with it, they could be angling to bump up the prices once the job has been completed. A good contractor will also go over every aspect of the estimate with you, clearly explaining exactly what kind of work they’re going to do and why, and should answer any questions you might have. Transparency and clarity are key here, and you should walk away feeling like you’re in the loop and comfortable with all the work that’s going to happen.
While these things might feel like secondary concerns, customer service is a good indicator of how any business is run. Because HVAC contractors and technicians, like most tradespeople, are usually significantly more knowledgeable in the subject at hand than their customers are, dealing with them can put you in a vulnerable position. It’s important to find a contractor who will work with you fairly and honestly instead of trying to take advantage. In this way, finding a good HVAC contractor is a little like finding a good car mechanic.
Air conditioners can last for 15 or 20 years if you take good care of them, so ideally you’d like to use the same HVAC repair company for the next couple of decades. That means finding someone you can build a long-term relationship with, based on honesty and trust. Contractors know that too, which is why the good ones will put in extra effort to make their customers feel comfortable with every step of the process – after all, their future business relies on it.
Licensing and Insurance
In California, a C-20 HVAC license is required for all jobs costing at least $500. That means you could technically hire an unlicensed technician to handle smaller maintenance jobs, but we recommend against it. Whatever your opinions on trade licenses as a whole, a license signifies a certain amount of credibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. To get an HVAC license in California, a prospective technician has to pass several exams that test their knowledge of different HVAC systems. They also need to have four years of experience as an apprentice before they can take the exams. Once a technician is fully licensed, they’re considered a journeyman and can conduct business on their own.
We’ve talked about both HVAC technicians and HVAC contractors, so this is a good opportunity to explain the difference. A technician is essentially a mechanic for HVAC systems, specializing in repair, maintenance, and inspection. Everyone starts out as an apprentice technician for four years so they can get their license. Some journeymen remain technicians, while others move on and become contractors. Technicians and contractors hold the same licenses but perform different duties. Much like a general contractor in the construction industry, an HVAC contractor focuses on big-picture projects like running their business, designing and planning HVAC systems, and managing a team of technicians who do most of the fieldwork.
Another reason to stick to licensed contractors is that they’re a requirement for license bonds. License bonds are one of two types of contractor bonds, the other one being surety bonds. Surety bonds act as insurance in case a contractor makes a mistake and the payout is used to repair any damages caused. They’re typically used only for larger projects and are signed on a project-to-project basis. License bonds are held by every licensed contractor in California, and act as insurance against damages caused by unethical or unprofessional behavior. If you hire a sketchy contractor and their unprofessionalism causes damage to your home, you can file a claim with the state licensing board and the resulting payout is taken from the contractor’s licensing bond.
Every licensed contractor in California is actually required to hold a licensing bond of at least $15,000. That’s an extra layer of protection you get when working with a fully licensed contractor. While the vast majority of HVAC companies will just do their best to help you out and do the work you hired them for, it’s still worth sticking with licensed contractors just in case. The last thing any homeowner wants is to end up stuck holding the bag when an unlicensed contractor accidentally damages their home. Licenses and bonds are what separate professional HVAC contractors and technicians from amateurs. Even though an unlicensed technician might have the expertise required to fix your air conditioner, you’ll have very little recourse if something does go wrong. For that reason, we highly recommend working with licensed and bonded contractors only.
When you’re looking around for an HVAC company to handle your repair and maintenance needs, you might find some that advertise as being “factory authorized” for a few specific brands of air conditioners. Factory authorization is partially just an advertising technique, but it does actually mean something and could make a difference when you’re deciding between two different contractors. These certifications aren’t handled by any governing body but are actually given out by the manufacturers themselves. Each brand has its own set of requirements that a business has to meet in order to be factory authorized, usually including a certain level of training on their products, high customer reviews, and robust customer service policies like satisfaction guarantees. It’s a win for both parties – the contractor gets a certification that they can use to stand out from the competition, while the manufacturer gets to make sure the contractor carries and sells their products.
The real question, of course, is whether or not you should pay attention to factory authorizations. The answer is, well, kind of. Since each certification is given out by manufacturers with their own set of qualifications, it can be tough to tell how much it really means. However, you can probably take it as a sign that a contractor has a certain amount of experience and expertise with the brand in question. If you have, for example, a Carrier brand air conditioner, a Carrier-certified contractor could very well have more experience with Carrier units, as well as a wider variety of Carrier parts and products available for you to buy. HVAC companies also tend to partner with manufacturers that they genuinely believe in. On the other hand, a factory-authorized business could be more likely to push that brand on their customers even when they could be better served with a different manufacturer. Then again, they could just be using it as a marketing tool and it might not have any effect at all on the service they provide.
Ultimately, factory authorization shouldn’t be the primary selling point for any HVAC contracting company. Experience, customer service, and reputation should all be weighted higher than factory authorization when you’re making your decision. However, if you’re having trouble deciding between two contractors and one of them holds factory authorization for your brand of air conditioner, it might be a good idea to go with that option. There’s a good chance that the salespeople and technicians at that business have more experience with your brand, as well as more parts readily available for your air conditioner. Valley Comfort, for example, is a factory-authorized dealer of Bryant Heating and Cooling products, which means we have more options for sale if you prefer that brand. Factory authorization also requires a certain level of credibility and reputation in the first place, since the manufacturers don’t want their names associated with second-rate businesses. Most reputable HVAC companies will be factory authorized by at least one manufacturer.
Finding the Right Company for You
Even with all this information in mind, it can be difficult to know where to start looking for an air conditioning repair company. It’s tempting to just run a Google search for “HVAC companies near me” but you could end up with a subpar contractor if you don’t do your research. Here are a few things you can keep in mind when you’re looking for that perfect HVAC contractor:
- Ask Around – A company is only as good as its reputation, and word-of-mouth is the best way to put together a list of the best contractors in the area. Before you take to the internet, ask around in your community. Check with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to see if any of them have recommendations for a good HVAC contractor. If certain names show up multiple times with glowing reviews, add them to the list. Then, once you have a few names, you can head to the internet to look at customer reviews. We recommend sticking with Google and Facebook reviews since they’re the most credible.
- Ask for References – When you’re in the middle of finding a new long-term HVAC contractor, it’s perfectly reasonable to be in touch with a few different companies at once while you narrow down your options. One great thing you can do is ask each company for a handful of references. Getting the opportunity to speak with current customers and ask questions can be a lot more valuable than scouring through online reviews from anonymous strangers.
- Get Multiple Estimates – Whether you’re looking to install a new air conditioner or just have a few repairs done on your current one, you should feel free to shop around and get estimates from a handful of contractors before deciding. Any reputable HVAC contractor should be more than willing to earn your business that way. Make sure they come to your house and do a full evaluation before giving an estimate. Quotes given over the phone are essentially worthless since the contractor has no way of knowing the specifics of your situation. Only after they’ve seen your house and air conditioner can they give a proper estimate – in writing, of course.
Some of these steps might seem like overkill, but it’s okay to take some extra time when making your decision. Remember, you’re not just deciding on the best contractor for this single job, but potentially for years to come. It’s well worth going through the hassle of multiple home evaluations and estimates before finally making the call if that means you can start a relationship with a trustworthy contractor that lasts for decades – you’ll be especially glad you did when the time finally comes to install a new AC.
If you live in Sebastopol or anywhere else in Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties, feel free to get in touch with Valley Comfort Heating & Air if you have any other questions. We’ve been serving the air conditioners of this area for years to come, and we’re confident we can earn your business. We encourage you to contact us if you want to set up an appointment or home evaluation, get a free estimate for any repairs or installation you need, or even just if you have more questions about HVAC repair, installation, and maintenance. You can get in touch with us here through our website, over the phone at (707) 329-4120, or by heading into town and visiting our location in Santa Rosa. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you with any HVAC-related needs you might have.