I have lived in Arizona for the last 10 years. For eight months of the year, it’s a lovely place to be. But it gets just a little toasty the other four months. And that puts an awful strain on air conditioners and a whole lot more mechanical stuff we took for granted back on the East Coast.
Having grown up in the plumbing, heating and cooling business in New York, I knew that I couldn’t push my cooling equipment too long out here without risking a breakdown at the worst time of year. There’s only so much a quality tune-up to a 20-year-old heating and cooling system can do.
So I sucked it up and got three recommended contractors to stop by and provide a quote for my heating and cooling systems. I knew I was well in advance of the cooling season so that I wouldn’t be stuck at the busiest time of year trying to get the work done.
Luckily for me, the former owner who custom-built this house was smart enough to invest in two separate systems that each handle one side of the home. It has always been efficient and I loved that there was a backup in place should one unit fail. The good news is I never had to use the second system. But I still had that peace of mind knowing it was there to carry me through the worst if one unit died prematurely or just wasn’t working.
Frankly, I hated the process of getting price quotes and meeting contractors. I have been on the other side of selling plumbing and HVAC equipment, so I know what it’s like and I’m empathetic. That doesn’t necessarily make me a good shopper. But it’s OK because although I wanted a good value, all I was really seeking was a quality job and someone who would engineer the right solution and stand behind his work. And I let each of the three salespeople know this right up front.
The first heating and cooling contractor, who my general contractor friend recommended, spent about 10 minutes in my home looking at the labels on the existing equipment before he presented me a price on the back of his business card. I asked him if he was going to do a heat loss and heat gain analysis to make sure the system was sized correctly, and write out a proposal spelling out what he would provide and do.
He told me he does this work all the time so he knows what I need, but if I want to call in his friend to do the load calculations, I could for about $300. He said his word and his business card were his bond.
The second contractor was actually the company who serviced the equipment here year after year under the two service agreements I had. He spent a whole hour doing the load calculations and looking the job over in general. The bad news is two weeks passed and he never called back. So I called him and he had no apology other than to say he was busy. It was two months before the heat hits out here, and he had my cell and my email so he could have contacted to tell me. But, OK.
Magically prompted by my call, he said in the cover letter of the price quote that he would have to undersize the air handler because it’s the only thing that could fit in the dimensions on the other side of the home.
The third heating and cooling contractor was from the company that my brother, who has a vacation home out here, uses. I was there on New Year’s Day checking his heat to make sure it was working and sure enough, it wasn’t on one side of the house. I called my brother’s contractor and the technician was neat, courteous and dug in to solve the problem even though it was a busy New Year’s Day. I saw a nice piece on the company done by a local TV station, where the business owner was giving good advice on how to ensure you get a proper tune-up on your system. It wasn’t a commercial, but rather he was known as an expert with a sterling reputation in the industry.
The Internet is full of great comments about the third contractor. The salesperson came by and spent an hour doing the load calculations and, unprompted, he said he saw a problem with where the existing air handler on one side sat. It would restrict the proper sizing of the new units, which are bigger than when this system was installed in 1991. He assured me that he could find a way to bring in a contractor, and together they worked out how the platform could be lowered to accommodate the properly sized new unit without any change to the airflow or other issues we discussed.
Contractor No. 3 was selected and the company did as promised, including stopping back two weeks after the job was done to do a quality inspection.
I asked my wife what she thought of the whole process. She said all she knows is the company we chose always called when they were on their way, they wore shoe covers that kept the house clean, and they always seemed friendly and genuinely interested in making customers for life.
Yes, Contractor No. 3 had made a customer for life, even though he was far more expensive than his competitors. Go figure!