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Where do you find the right contractor for Updating?

Our house is a mid-1950's ranch. When we moved in 3 years ago, we had to update/upgrade it electrical system. In the next couple of years, we'd like to update/upgrade its ventilation ducting (original?), heater (1973), and maybe add A/C to bring it up to today's air quality and energy standards. Is there an all-in-one kind of contractor that will help us do a whole-system approach?

We live in a fairly temperate climate with only about 3-10 days of frost in the Winter but about 7-15 days of very hot days in the Summer/Fall. The heating ducts run through the unconditioned crawlspace & the returns (?) run through the unconditioned attic. The house has NO insulation in the walls, and only about 2-3 inches of rock wool in the attic. And, it is built primarily over a vented crawlspace (the garage and enclosed patio have concrete slab). The garage has a ceiling that connects it to a common attic.

When we talked to one HVAC contractor, he didn't seem to want to do anything to the ducting (validate its size, etc.) except eliminate the heating ducts to the enclosed patio. When we talked to 2 insulation contractors, they did not want to talk about what to do with air flows (natural beneficial venting) and air leaks (natural non-helpful venting).


Re: Where do you find the right contractor for Updating?

Go to several different HVAC supply houses in your area and ask the same questions. Don't take the first recommendation you get, and don't stop with just one supply house.

Talk to the HVAC (or "mechanical") inspector in your jurisdiction and nearby jurisdictions to see if they are willing to give out some names. They will hesitate to be too specific, but will probably give you 3 or 4 names to pick from.

Combining the info from these sources will give you a very good idea of who to contact, and this will be the key to a good installation.

HVAC is the most complex system of any house, so you want to be sure they get it right.

Re: Where do you find the right contractor for Updating?

I always say that family and friend recommendations are the best. If they were happy, then chances are you'll be too. Here are some other tips:

Online Resources
There are several reliable Web sites on the Internet that provide information on dependable contractors in your area. These sites have reviews of contractors and usually list only licensed HVAC contractors.

Better Business Bureau (BBB)
The Better Business Bureau is a good source for researching information about a specific HVAC company. You can also do a search for HVAC contractors who are in good “A+” standing. You can search the BBB online or contact your local BBB branch office. If the contractor you are interested in had a complaint against him, find out the nature of the complaint and how it was resolved.

Go with your instincts and don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Make sure to get everything in writing and clarify all warranties.

Find reliable HVAC contractors in your area.

Re: Where do you find the right contractor for Updating?

My thanks to both you for your replies. :D

Next Mon & Wed I have a little time off from work so I'll heading to the city permit/inspectors office. I also checked with the BBB and 2 other online sites: 1 is "local" recommendations (between about 5 towns) site, and the other regional ("yelp"); as well as saw that COSTCO has a members service with Lennox. From all that I've called 2 and have about 2 more I want to call for a free estimate. Hopefully the ones I get from the city inspector/permit guy will match up with one of these 4-5.

Let's see if things go better this time than previously.:)

Re: Where do you find the right contractor for Updating?

You should find an energy auditor. The first thing you need is air sealing and appropriate insulation. Heating contractors and insulators far too often are clueless about energy efficency. You don't say where you live. I would try the BPI, the Building Performance Institute, or RESNET for a recommendation. The heating equipment should be sized with a manual J calculation.

UPDATE: Where do you find the right contractor for Updating?

Our house size is 2000 sf living area, and 2400-2500 sf attic space (due to a garage with ceiling). We live in the "East Bay" hills in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Our insulation is 2-3" rock-wool, original to the house.
- We apparently do have some duct seal leaks. Our ducting, we were told this time, are original/1956 (5" & right angles) with some modifications (6" added at some point for 1 room). They have asbestos tape seals, so we will need to call an abatement company (@$1500-2000). We can replace with either "collapsing" (@$3000) or rigid (for $1500 more). BTW which is better and why so?

Alas, I did not make it to the local city permit/inspectors' office. Still gotta do that. Did go again/back to the Dept of Energy (DOE) and Lawernce Livermore websites. I am a bit gun shy about getting an "auditor" because of their upfront cost ($500-1500 quoted over the phone), and given their ties to specific "fix-it" companies (as evidenced by the upfront cost rebates that they tout).

Did meet with 3 more HVAC/Insulation contractors: (a) a RUUD HVAC shop, (b) a Lennox HVAC shop, and (c) an insulation shop (blow-in & radiant barrier). Results:

(a) RUUD shop is having a buy A/C, get heater free sale. However, their total cost came out about the same as the Lennox shop: $12-14K for the HVAC and replacement ducting.

(b) Lennox shop advised that we could go with either of 2 models of A/C (both the same size). Lennox shop was the only one to make mention of the asbestos tape needing abatement. Other shop noted it though. Lennox also provided a heater only bid given our low level of need/use, and let us know we should have at least another 11 years life left on our 14 y.o. heater.

(c) Insulation shop was disappointing. Their guy was the least interested in seeing the attic and crawl space. He provided a much higher bid than we got 3 years ago, coming in about the same cost as the HVACs, (and higher than what the Livermore website says it should cost for our square footage), did not bid on the crawl space, and seemed more interested in pushing their new radiant barrier product than anything else. He was also unfamiliar with the radiant barriers available at HD and Lowes, and one of their direct competitors.

Basically, he raised more questions in my mind about radiant barriers than he answered about his product. For example:
- HD & Lowes have foil and what looks like foil enwrapped bubble wrap. Why does the latter have a higher R rating (R-13 to 16 depending on installation) than the foil enwrapped fiberglass (R-11)?
- How does the radiant barrier affect the breathe-ability of the blown-in or batting insulation?
- Is a radiant barrier OK when you have ridgeline venting?
- Is a radiant barrier OK on roofing joists when you have solar panels? (I've heard "no," and a qualified "yes")
- Once one lays down the radiant barrier (i.e., over ceiling joists), how does going back (for electrical repairs and additions/remodeling) impact the radiant barrier, and are we looking at paying for mending it each time?

He did provide entertainment, especially when his B&D heat-loss gun showed the same readings for the ceiling, floor and outer walls and he could not believe his meter.

Re: Where do you find the right contractor for Updating?

You ought to try this company. http://www.recurve.com/contact/
They are in SF. I met Robert Mitchell a few tears ago. They will set you right.

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