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Got A/C problems? BBB says stay cool when hiring a repair service or other contractor

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Wed, Jul 29th 2015 03:35 pm

Editorial by the BBB

It's been a long time since we've seen a heat wave in upstate New York. With the summer heat approaching its peak, it would be unbearable to be left without air conditioning in your home or office. During this time of the year, heating and air conditioning companies are extremely busy as a result of either new customers or for maintenance or repair.

In the heat of trying to find a company fast, Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York says it is important to be cautious of the company you choose.

"This is the time of year when air conditioning systems are most likely to fail, because of heavy use," said Warren Clark, president of BBB of Upstate New York. "If you are searching for professional help, the best place to turn is bbb.org to find an accredited air conditioning specialist. No one wants to be left 'out in the heat' when it comes to scheduling repairs."

Over the past year and a half, people turned to BBB close to 22,000 times to inquire about heating and air conditioning contractors. People filed 109 complaints against air conditioning contractors from 2013 to 2015.

Many complaints from consumers were for overcharging, substandard repairs and poor customer service.

To ensure you don't become a victim of bad service, BBB offers the following advice:

Before calling for service, troubleshoot a few basic things. Is your thermostat operating properly? Has the electrical breaker powering the unit tripped? Are the air in-take screens or filters on your outside unit dirty or blocked and need to be cleaned? Sometimes there are minor, inexpensive things you can do yourself to alleviate a problem and avoid paying for a service call or repair.

You could already be covered. Look at the warranty on your system to see whether any repairs or replacements are covered. Remember, many systems come with long-term coverage.

Start with trust. If your troubleshooting led to a real problem, ask around for referrals on HVAC contractors, and check out trusted companies here.

Make sure the company you hire has proper licensing and insurance. If a company does not have these, the company may not be legitimate, and could end up being to blame (and blaming your for mishaps). To find out if the contractor you are interested is licensed and insured, you can go to the New York State Division of Licensing Services website. Know the model of your system, and be able to describe the problem it is having - this will make it easier for the contractor you hire to diagnose the problem and fix it faster.

Get three estimates in writing. Those estimates should include a full description of the services and materials to be used so you can adequately compare them; this includes the air conditioner's size and units of energy, as well as the calculated cooling capacity of your home. Also, compare all available warranties.

Beware of contractors who attempt to use a sense of urgency and high-pressure tactics to complete a sale. Always take the time to get a second opinion, even if the contractor is claiming it is an emergency. Dishonest contractors know you have a three-day right of cancellation unless the situation is deemed an emergency, which requires you to waive your right to this law by signing an emergency waiver. Therefore, scammers may try to claim an emergency when it is not.

Always pay by credit card if you can, and avoid paying cash. If paying by check, make it out to the name of the business rather than payable to the employee or another individual. Some unethical employees and subcontractors steal from consumers by convincing them to write checks directly to them rather than the company that was hired.

Are you being scammed? Click here for a handy checklist. For information on reported scams nationwide, visit BBB's "Scam Tracker."

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2014, people turned to BBB more than 165 million times for BBB business reviews on more than 4.7 million businesses and charity reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org.

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