How to find a heating contractor
Tips on heating and air conditioning in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Long Island
The heating contractor always looks good to you when your heater dies in the dead of winter and he fixes your problem.
But he will look even better if he periodically checks your heating system during the winter and cleans it during the summer to keep breakdowns from happening.
And best of all, you will look smart and your family will feel comfortable and safe as the heater keeps humming during New York’s brutal cold spells.
Good advice, too
A heating contractor installs and maintains boilers, furnaces, central air conditioners and heat pumps. He also can advise you on pros and cons of new equipment if you want.
An experienced heating contractor carries tons of useful information in his head and will share it for free.
Don’t be shy about asking for advice about leaky windows, the strengths and weaknesses of your home’s insulation, and ways to improve the quality of your indoor air.
How do I find a good heating contractor?
Consumers will find valuable tips at Energy.gov, a website for the U.S. Department of Energy.
It will give you a strong start to answering the question, “How do I choose a contractor for my home or business?”
First of all, don’t be reluctant to ask questions.
Your purchase will have major financial costs – not just for the system and installation but the long-term expense for operation and maintenance.
These suggestions apply whether you’re looking for one of the largest HVAC companies in the United States or the best HVAC firm in Brooklyn.
The guidance includes:
• Ask, ask, ask — Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for referrals for the best HVAC they know in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Long Island or Queens.
• Ask contractors if they are licensed in New York and how much experience they have with your specific heating system. (Look below for lots more information on systems.)
• Interview contractors and request customer references. Ask customers: Did the contractor do the job within budget and on time?
• Solicit bids for three or more contractors. This research will help you determine not only who offers the best price but who also has the ability, organization and know-how to do the job right.
• Look for bargains, rebates and special offers. One option: www.energystar.gov. It lists heating and cooling equipment that provide significant, long-term energy savings.
• The contractor should evaluate your system’s problems and offer solutions. If you plan to buy a new system, he can advise you on which system is best for your home.
Bigger is not always better. A system too large is inefficient and expensive. The contractor’s inspection should include the square footage, the level of insulation, the windows and doors, and the duct system, if you have one.
• Ask the contractor to put the estimate in writing, with itemization for parts and labor. Note: While the cheapest system may be nice short-term, a more expensive but more energy efficient system will pay bigger results over time.
• Ask the contractor for a written timeline on scheduling and job completion.
What a heating contractor does
A heating contractor usually is part of a full-service HVAC company – which offers Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning installation and repair, plus plumbing, duct repair and even chimney cleaning.
A heating contractor may specialize in residential or commercial heating or he may handle both.
In recent years heating and cooling contractors have increased their expertise in indoor air quality, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic. They can help you with whole-house humidifiers or dehumidifiers, germicidal or ultraviolet light system installation, and whole-house electronic air cleaners.
What a heating contractor knows
In New York City, for example, a heating and cooling contractor must be especially adept at installing and repairing boilers and furnaces.
These heaters use natural gas or oil as fuels; electricity has many advantages, but it’s too expensive to use as a heat source.
Steam heat is the most common method for many New York City buildings. Gas or oil is used to heat a boiler, which produces the steam, which is then funneled through the building.
Maintenance is Job 1
Whichever system you choose, it’s important to know that a fault often is not in the equipment but in the maintenance. To function at their best, boilers and furnaces need periodic cleaning during the winter and an overhaul in warmer weather.
Some maintenance work can be done by a building’s staff or by a savvy do-it-yourselfer, but other work requires a skilled, experienced technician. Or you can hire a contractor to conduct periodic checks and cleaning.
Maintenance includes cleaning and checking equipment for leaks and inspecting fans, thermostats, motors and other components.
Cleaning a boiler is essential for safety, too. Heat-insulating material inside the boiler’s combustion chamber can eventually break apart.
Specific equipment may be needed to repair faulty components. Breakdowns seem to always occur on long weekends or during especially cold or hot times. That’s why you want a full-service contractor who responds 24/7 to emergencies and has all the relevant parts, licensing and expertise.
Now we’re entering a truly complicated and potentially expensive area.
There’s no one-size-fits-all system; every building and every family has its own needs and budget.
A top-notch HVAC contractor will accurately measure a home, remove the existing system without unnecessary disruption, and install a new system that is the right size. This job may include ducts, connections, wiring, tubing, and electrical lines.
What you need to know
For New Yorkers, here is some valuable background information whether you are dealing with the largest HVAC companies in the United States or the best HVAC contractor in Brooklyn.
Boilers and furnaces are examples of central heating systems. They called “central heating” because they produce heat from a central place and then send it throughout the house.
Boilers, which last 15 to 30 years, are very common. They provide hot water or steam through pipes to radiators, floor systems or coils. Their energy efficiency can reach 90 percent, especially if they are relatively new and technologically advanced, or as low as 50 percent if they are old.
With boilers you can enjoy zoned heating and cooling, but boilers are more expensive than furnaces – both for installation and for energy consumption.
Furnaces, which last 15 to 20 years, are also common in New York. Furnaces heat air and circulate it via air ducts.
One choice is natural gas versus oil. Both have pros and cons.
A new natural gas furnace can be nearly 99 percent energy efficient.
The energy efficiency of an oil furnace, on the other hand, is only between 80-90%, but an oil furnace costs much less on the front end. Natural gas furnaces can cost up to 25% more to buy.
A natural gas furnace also uses ducts for the forced air distribution system, which can double as a delivery system for air conditioning, too.
• Solar heating, heat pumps and electric heating work well elsewhere, but they aren’t yet built to singlehandedly deal with New York’s cold weather. In time, technology may make them more feasible.
• Some people use “hybrid heating,” perhaps a heat pump during mild weather and a furnace or fireplace for colder temperatures.
• Ductless mini-splits work in areas that lack ductwork, such as garages or attics. They also work for large-building owners who want to create separate zones for various areas.
• Portable heaters can be cost-effective when heating a single room or supplementing your main system.
How the heat reaches you
Various heating distribution systems can bring the heat.
• Baseboards pull cooler air to the bottom and push warmer air out the top.
• Forced air systems take air from a furnace and transport it through ducts and vents.
• Radiant heating or steam radiant moves heat from a hot surface such as a radiator or a wall or floor panel.
Steam heat or hot water heat?
Each system has plusses and minuses, as all the top heating and air conditioning companies in New York will tell you.
Let’s start with steam systems, which deliver heat and use relatively little electricity.
But, since steam systems don’t use pumps to circulate the treated air, a building may have uneven heating -- too warm here, too cool there. It’s also much more difficult to have zoned areas in large buildings that rely on steam.
Hot water systems are more likely to provide even heat distribution throughout a building and to work efficiently in zones controlled by separate room thermostats.
Hot water systems are very quiet and operate with few breakdowns.
But hot water systems deliver heat more slowly than steam systems and may use more electricity to power the circulating pumps that keep the water flowing.
Water hammer woes
Furnace repair companies in Brooklyn and elsewhere often are called about “water hammer,” also called “steam hammer.”
That’s the loud banging and hammer-like sounds you might hear after quickly turning a water faucet on or off.
This means the piping system has a case of water hammer – water has condensed in a horizontal section of pipe and can’t drain back to the boiler.
This is bad not just for your ears but also for the pipes. A heating contractor must track down the source and find a solution.
Moisture and furnaces
Moisture buildup isn’t uncommon, especially since many furnaces and boilers are located in basements.
Moisture in a furnace can lead to mold. This is often due to poor ductwork, inadequate insulation or an accumulation of dirt and dust.
Safety and furnaces
Every technician should check the heat exchanger whenever he inspects a furnace.
There’s a reason why the heat exchanger is the most expensive part of a furnace. It makes sure deadly carbon monoxide gas doesn’t seep into the system’s airflow. If the heat exchanger cracks or corrodes, you may need a whole new furnace.
You will save money and avoid breakdowns if you conduct periodic checks, lubrication and cleaning.
• The equipment will last longer and require fewer major repairs.
• You will hold the line on utility costs.
Conversely, poor maintenance shortens life expectancy and requires more power usage. Indeed, rising utility bills often indicate a problem within an HVAC system.
Common HVAC problems
The top HVAC companies in New York all receive similar calls. They include:
• Sluggish or limited airflow: A clogged or dirty air filter can restrict airflow, making the system work harder to circulate air. This in turn hurts the quality of the indoor air. Filters should be changed whenever they get dirty. They tend to get dirty faster if your home has pet dander, smoke, or aerosols.
Weak or aging parts such as belts, fan motors and ducts also can hamper airflow.
• Malfunctioning thermostat: The problem may be a simple fix – a new battery – or a more serious cause that keeps the thermostat from producing the desired temperature.
• Faulty ducts. Even properly installed ducts can develop leaks over time or be jostled by vibrations or rodents, allowing treated air to escape at your expense. Inspecting and cleaning ducts can eliminate these problems.
About Lighthouse HVAC
Lighthouse HVAC is a locally owned, full-service heating and air conditioning company in Brooklyn.
Lighthouse serves homes and businesses in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Long Island.
The company’s technicians are licensed and insured. Lighthouse guarantees all work.
We provide emergency service 24/7.