SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—In October, we did a post that talked about the hidden camera investigation NBC’s Today Show did this summer on New Jersey air conditioning and heating companies. They wanted to find out if the reputation the HVAC industry has of overcharging and misleading consumers had any truth to it, and the sad result was that all six of the companies they investigated lived up to the bad reputation.

Although the report was disheartening to honest HVAC professionals who do strive to offer customers high-quality services, it is a great opportunity to teach homeowners what they need to know to combat this epidemic.
“Education and research are the two tools you need to equip yourself with to protect against companies that want to rip you off,” says Gabriel Carini, who provides heating and air conditioning services in the San Diego area.

Find companies with good reputations for customer service and quality repairs. ( Research is the best way to do this, so don’t wait until you have an air conditioning or heating emergency to find one. Start by gathering recommendations from friends, family and acquaintances, then look several of those up online. Look at their website, read Google+ reviews, check Yelp and Angie’s List for reviews, and make sure they have a good rating with the Better Business Bureau.

“Some review sites like Angie’s List require a small membership fee, but when you think about how much you’re likely to invest in a new HVAC system or large air conditioner or heater repair the cost is well worth it,” says Carini, who started his San Diego, CA heating and air conditioning company in 2003.

The type of person a company puts on their front line lets you know a lot about how they do business, so call the companies that looked the best after your online research to get some general information from the office. You can ask about certifications and licenses and get references. Talking to previous customers is a great way to find out if a company if worth your money.

“If you’re having a big job done like a full HVAC installation, get estimates from two or three companies,” says Carini. “It’s always good to have some frame of reference for prices and the extent of the work included in the job. A lowball estimate could be a sign of a company that will cut corners on installation.”

This checklist from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, a non-profit association for the HVACR industry, is a great way to help identify good companies in your area. (

Familiarize yourself with your unit and its main components. Sometimes people overlook the fact that a heating and cooling system is more than a thermostat and box outside that can be turned on or off to control your indoor temperature. No one expects you to be an HVAC expert, but knowing the basics about your system will give you the ability to maintain it and understand what the technician is talking about when they’re diagnosing the problem during a service call.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” says Carini. “Sometimes people are reluctant to ask because they don’t want to seem dumb, but we’re there to provide you with a service. Our technicians are always more than happy to answer questions or explain how to maintain a customer’s unit.”

A heating and cooling system impacts the comfort, health, durability and energy efficiency of your home and, of course, your wallet in the form of utility bills each month. It may not be glamorous or thrilling reading, but flip through the unit’s manual to find out what type of system your home has and its main components. For example, a forced air heating and cooling system has two parts: the equipment and the distribution system. The equipment might include an outdoor condenser unit and an indoor blower, while the distribution system would be referring to the ductwork that connects everything and carries it to different portions of the home.

“Learning about this big part of your home will help you protect yourself from dishonest HVAC companies and keep your home and family healthier and safer,” says Carini.