The Brantford, Ontario, Chapter of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors of Canada (HRAC) notes six considerations that consumers should take into account before hiring an HVAC contractor.

1. Finding reputable contractors.

Contact neighbors, friends, relatives, and co-workers for opinions on work done recently by a contractor. Or use the business directory for your area or newspaper, radio, and television ads to identify contractors. Either way, be sure to check whether the contractor has appropriately certified personnel on staff (licensed air conditioning mechanics, electricians, gas fitters, oil burner technicians, etc.), whether they offer 24-hour emergency service, and what maintenance and service agreements are available for long-term care.

2. Getting estimates.

Arrange for at least three estimates on large jobs and always insist that the contractor come and inspect the jobsite. Some small jobs may be priced out and an estimate written immediately, but larger jobs (including replacement installations) will require additional time to price properly and to prepare a heat loss and gain calculation for proper sizing of the equipment.

3. The contract.

Your contract is a legal, binding document when signed by both parties, so be sure you understand and agree with the contents before signing. Any changes or additions in the work to be done should never be made without those alterations being written into the contract and initialed by both parties. If extra billing is to occur, it must be clearly stated and initialed by both parties. The contract should clearly state the following items:

  • The required licenses and permits that must be purchased by the contractor;

  • Responsibility for removal of old equipment and materials;

  • Warranties and guarantees on material and labor;

  • Approximate start and completion dates;

  • Price and terms of payment; and

  • Provision for consumer orientation regarding operation and maintenance of the equipment and/or operations manual to be left with the consumer.

    4. Payment methods.

    Payment terms will vary but in all cases the payment schedule should be easy to understand and should clearly state if interest charges are applicable. A nominal deposit may be requested.

    5. Insurance.

    For your protection, it is important that the contractor and any subcontractor have liability insurance. You may wish to ask who the policy is with and follow up to verify if it is current. They should also be able to produce a certificate of good standing from the provincial Workers' Compensation Board.

    6. References.

    Reputable contractors will be happy to give you the names and addresses of customers they've done work for in your area. You may wish to contact the Better Business Bureau, which maintains records of consumer complaints about members.

    HRAC notes that it requires its members to carry relevant trade, fuel safety, and municipal licenses as well as worker's compensation and liability insurance. The association lists members in good standing on its Web site at

    Publication date: 09/13/2004