Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Services: A General Guide

Published: 23rd September 2009
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In these sweltering summer months, most of us look forward to the artic refreshment at home or in the office. It's always a rush when you walk by an open storefront and a wave of icy air envelopes you, almost in spite of the glittering sun overhead. In the winter, these same locales give us protection from the cold and the dry, like ports in a storm. To achieve a man-made oasis like this one for your home or workplace, there's only one profession that you need to look for, and those are the HVAC workers of America.

What is HVAC?

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning services, lumped together because the delivery system for heat, cold and fresh air is, well, air. Every piece of HVAC equipment works on the principles of thermodynamics. Like blood through the veins or you in a mosh pit, the air goes with the flow and delivers a comfortable environment throughout the building, usually achieved by ventilation ducts and shafts.

In addition, the systems incorporate things like filtration, which is why in the springtime you don't burst into hay fever fits when you're indoors. Sometimes the abbreviation on the equipment is changed to HVACR when the building requires refrigeration, for example in a supermarket. Mixing different quantities of dry and wet air in the system allows control of humidity, but these systems consume comparatively large amounts of energy.

Okay, When Do I Need It?

If you're soliciting HVAC services, you're either installing a system in a building or looking for maintenance or repair. Since HVAC varies greatly depending on the kind of building, it is absolutely necessary to know what kind of ventilation you are working with.

For a new building or ventilation system, the design of the building has a great impact on the type of system. Often, architects work closely with HVAC professionals to incorporate comfortable environments into the design of the building, and in most large buildings it is actually a legal requirement. If your building is of this type, it would be wise to use the same contractor that installed the system in the first place, or at least know what kind of machinery is installed. Be aware that HVAC is a rapidly developing and intensely design-driven industry, so these buildings can have unique elements.

Usually, however, smaller buildings have stock central heating systems that only differ in the scale of machinery used. Air conditioning can sometimes be simpler, with "standalone" units cooling single rooms. If you've walked around in any metropolitan city and water dripped on your head, you've been a victim of standalone air conditioning leakage. Independent HVAC professionals can maintain these common units. Don't be skeptical when they pull out the duct tape either, since this is one job where duct tape actually can fix everything.

What are the Benefits?

Simply monkeying around with your leaky air conditioner or malfunctioning boiler is dangerous and foolish. For one thing, air conditioners often have chemical refrigerants that only EPA licensed HVAC professionals can legally handle. The issue goes further than environmental protection, since older substances like ammonia or sulfur dioxide are poisonous and newer purified propane is actually flammable and explosive. Boilers have dangerous gas and steam lines as well as electric components.

Beside the risk of becoming human barbecue, hiring an HVAC professional can ensure that your building complies with tightening energy efficiency regulations all over the world. In an increasingly energy-conscious society, HVAC systems are being designed to meet new standards, and older systems can easily cost an arm and a leg in fees and replacement. If you're replacing a system, you can ask about installing ventilation energy recovery, which will harvest the excess heat in the system and save you money in the long run.

What are the Risks?

Like all service industry, unscrupulous practitioners plague HVAC installation and repair. Unfortunately not everyone can be expected to recognize each bit and bob of their heating and air conditioning systems, so the average consumer must rely on certifications and reputation. Make sure that your HVAC professional has the appropriate EPA federal certification for the job: 608 for air conditioning, 609 for motor vehicle systems, etc, all of which can be found on the EPA webpage. Other local legal requirements may apply.

Another smart thing to do is to get estimates from competing companies, to figure out the lowest cost you can get for a service. The scale of parts and services ranges an incredible array of different systems, but a few thousand dollars should cover a single average home's heating needs. Researching the specific company will give you complaints and reviews as well.

Large companies like Sears offer replacement services for heating and cooling parts, but they are not responsible for other parts of your system. For the average homeowner or small building landlord, individual technicians will often offer to fix spot leaks or other worn components for a personal fee. These are admittedly quick fixes that you could do yourself, but their expertise is valuable and they will probably do a much better job. Absolutely consider bargaining with them for a reasonable price.

Depending on how resourceful you are, it should be no challenge to find a reputable company in your area that can handle the type of job you want. Whether large or small, this is one industry where not hiring a professional will definitely land you in hot water.

Kin Law is a writer for Yodle, a business directory and online advertising company. Find a contractor or more home care articles at Yodle Consumer Guide. Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Services: A General Guide

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