- THE MAGAZINE
I’ve 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 of the year. And that puts an awful strain on air conditioners and a whole lot more stuff we took for granted back East.
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 also knew that I was well in advance of the cooling season so that I wouldn’t be stuck at the busiest time of year trying to do this work.
Lucky for me that 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 belt and suspenders in place. The good news is I never had to use it. Still there was 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 prices 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 that’s okay because although I wanted good value all I was really seeking was a quality job and someone who would engineer the right solution and stand behind their work. And I let each of the three salespeople know this right up front.
The three contractorsOne contractor, who was recommended by a general contractor friend of mine out here, literally spent 10 minutes in my home looking at the labels on the existing equipment. He presented me with a price on the back of his business card. I asked him if he was going to do a heat loss and heat gain to make sure it was sized correctly and write out a proposal spelling out what he thought he should do. He told me he does this work all the time so he knows what I need, but if I wanted to call in his friend to do the load calculations it would cost $300. He reassured me that his word and his business card were his bond.
The second contractor was actually the company who had serviced the equipment here year after year under two previous service agreements. He spent a whole hour doing the load calculations and looking the job over in general. The bad news is that two weeks passed and he never called back. So, I called him and he had no apology other than to say he was busy. Okay, it was two months before the heat hit out here, but he had my cell and email address, he could have contacted to tell me so. Magically prompted by my call, the contractor 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 on the other side of the home.
The third contractor was from a 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. They were neat, courteous and dug and solved the problem even though it was a busy New Year’s Day. I also saw a nice news piece on them covered by a local TV station where the 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 was full of great comments about them, too.
The salesperson came by and spent an hour doing the load calculations and unprompted, he said that he saw a problem where the existing air handler on one side sat would restrict the proper sizing of the new units. The new ones are bigger than the initial install from 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 #3 was selected and they did as promised, including coming back two weeks later 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 keep the house clean and they always seemed friendly and genuinely interested in making customers for life.
Yes, Contractor #3 had made a customer for life and he was coincidently far more expensive than his competitors. Go figure!