10 Powerful Questions For Your Contractor

If you’re preparing to hire Contractors in the Saratoga, Lake George, or Glens Falls area, this may be the most important page you’ll ever read.

Whether you’re hiring a Mechanical Contractor directly, or you’re relying on your General Contractor to bring in his own hired crew or subcontractor for your heating and cooling needs, getting the answers to these questions will have a direct effect on your comfort and utility costs for as long as you live or work in your home or office.

The finest heating and cooling delivery system will only be as good as its designer and installer. These 10 Powerful Questions will help you learn the key secrets to hiring the intelligent way.

1. May I get the names and phone numbers of customers you’ve worked for, and permission to call and visit the job sites?

The boiler room for FW Webb’s Plumbing & Heating Glens Falls Area Supply (Queensbury NY branch), designed and installed by David Sellers. It includes five hydro-air heating units for the showroom and receiving area, and one zone for the sidewalk snowmelt. The two-stage boiler provides added fuel economy.

Experts love to show off their work, and happy clients love to display their state-of-the-art heating system.

If possible, ask for and follow up with referrals whose projects are similar to yours.

Another possible source for finding out which Mechanical Contractors are the “cream of the crop” in your area, are local plumbing and heating supply houses.

The Managers of these supply houses will be able to give you their short list of the most technically capable technicians that they do business with.

Another benefit of asking a Supply Manager for references: you can be sure they won’t recommend any contractors who have a reputation for not paying their materials bills on time.

A supplier’s lien on your home due to a fly-by-night contractor who didn’t pay the materials bill for your project is certainly an aggravation you don’t need.

2. Will your heating system designer perform a comprehensive heat loss calculation to size my system?

Always ask! Not all installers take the time to do this. Those that do may not have the experience to do it properly.

Dan Holohan’s book Just Add H2Oh! gives an instructive description of what a properly trained heating system designer will do for you:

“He spends a good deal of time going through your home [or blueprints], measuring the dimensions of your rooms, windows and doors. He looks for fireplaces, exhaust fans, recessed lighting fixtures, and other things that can cause heat to escape from your home. He inspects the quality and quantity of insulation in your attic. He also asks whether you will have any additional insulation installed in your walls. These things can make a big difference in how much fuel you’ll use, and what size your heating system will be.

He takes the time to survey your home and perform an accurate heat-loss calculation because this always results in the greatest economy for you. He would never guess at how much heat your house might lose on the coldest day of the year. Nor would he ever base the sizing of new heating equipment on what’s already in an existing home. That’s simply not good engineering. He can’t take for granted that the long-gone contractor who first sized the heating equipment was correct. It always pays to check, especially nowadays with fuel costs so high.

And when he performs the heat-loss calculation on your home, he certainly doesn’t use ‘rules of thumb.’ ‘Rules of thumb’ often make the sizing process easy for a heating contractor, but these overly conservative rules also are guaranteed to increase your fuel bill every winter from now on.

Most of the ‘rules of thumb’ we’ve run across in our travels come from the days of single-pane-glass windows, little or no insulation in the walls or ceiling, open-window ventilation, and cheap fuel. Your heating contractor should refuse to provide you with an oversized heating system, and that’s why he always takes the scientific approach.

And nowadays, the science is pretty advanced! He invests in both the computer hardware and software that helps him do his job of sizing your system quickly and accurately. The system he proposes will fit your home like tailor-made clothing rather than something off the rack. There is no reason to increase your long-term fuel bills by oversizing, and that’s why he begins your project by sizing it accurately.”

Unfortunately, Mr. David Sellers has been asked to testify as an expert witness in several radiant floor heating lawsuits in our area that were the result of poor design.

He’s also been involved in being paid to re-design brand new systems that just didn’t end up keeping homes warm.

The last thing you need is to have to tear out sheetrock in your new home after your first winter there, because of the inadequate design skills of your contractor. (The true story of one of our local clients.)

Heating system design and installation disasters are preventable! Make sure whoever you hire has the skill and experience to do it correctly.

3. What’s the difference between a condensing and non-condensing boiler? Which one is best for me?

Go here to learn the real truth about the Condensing Boiler Catch 22

4. Will you use test equipment to measure and adjust the combustion process for my system? Please explain.

Modern heating equipment manufacturers require the use of expensive combustion testing equipment to adjust their equipment for safe and proper operation.

Yet many heating installers don’t even own this necessary equipment.

Or worse yet, they’ll claim you don’t need it!

The installation manuals of heating equipment stipulate the proper range of oxygen (for natural gas systems only), carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide in the exhaust.

What happens if your contractor doesn’t use the equipment to verify the proper levels?

  • The manufacturer’s warranty may be voided.
  • Your system will suck more fuel than necessary.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning can kill you!

Unfortunate news reports of near misses and deaths right here in the Glens Falls Region caused by carbon monoxide poisoning are proof that some contractors don’t take this matter seriously.

5. What is outdoor reset control, and should my hydronic (hot water) heating system have it?

Outdoor reset controls automatically keep your home within your comfort range as outdoor temperatures go up or down. Your desired perfect temperature will be achieved, but not surpassed.

Your heating system will work like a system.

The outdoor reset feature is like having cruise control for your home comfort. It regulates the temperature of the water that flows through your heated floors (or radiators, or baseboard radiators) based on the outdoor temperature.

So when your system is climbing the hill because it’s 20 below outside, the accelerator will go to the floor. In the spring and fall when it’s 50 degrees, and you’re coasting down the hill, your system will let up on the gas.

You’ll never have to think about whether the system is on or off. You’ll only notice the comfort.

Do you want to save money with a more efficient system? And do you want to increase your comfort by reducing temperature swings in your home?

Then you want your designer to be skilled and experienced with outdoor reset.

6. Will you subcontract my work to other companies?

Don’t get caught signing with Slick Heating Sales Inc or Sly General Contracting LLC, who will turn around and subcontract to Joe Butt Crack Coffee Breath Plumbing Company to install your boiler and heating system.

7. Are your technicians trained and certified to install the equipment you’re recommending?

When you’re negotiating with a Plumbing and Heating or General Contracting company, the salesman is of necessity knowledgeable about his products. This, in and of itself, is not an indication of the skill of those actually installing your system.

Remember, the finest boilers, furnaces, and air conditioning equipment is only as good as its installer.

With all the information available today, there’s no excuse for a heating or cooling installation tech to pass up the education provided by manufacturers of the equipment he installs.

Ask if the manufacturer has a certification program, and if the installer has passed it.

8. May I please have a copy of your Liability and Worker’s Compensation insurance certificates?

In the event you hire an uninsured contractor, or your General Contractor hires an uninsured sub-contractor, you may become legally responsible if any injuries to workers and/or damages to their personal property take place while working at your home or place of business.

Be sure all workmen and subcontractors on your project are covered under their company’s Worker’s Compensation and General Liability policies.

Obtain copies of the Insurance Certificates before your project starts.

9. What do you think of the NY State Energy Conservation Construction Code?

Thanks to the New York State Green Building Code passed on December 28, 2010, unlicensed and misinformed Upstate NY Contractor & Builder ripoffs may soon become a thing of the past!

Read the Consumer Protection Message about it here.

10. Please explain the principles behind Common Radiant Floor Heating Design & Installation Myths

Make sure you NEVER work with a technician who can’t explain the Building Industry’s common radiant floor mistakes. (Or worse yet, is a Myth Believer himself!)

If you just ask the contractors bidding on your project these simple but vital 10 questions, you’ll rest assured that your heating and cooling system will be the most reliable and money-saving that you can get in Clifton Park, Hudson Falls, Bolton Landing, or anywhere in between.