Jim Bear, former president of the Iowa Geothermal Association, offers some common-sense tips on finding the best contractor to install your geothermal heat pump.
1. Word-of-mouth is the best way to find a good installer. Ask your friends, neighbors, others in your community to find out which company they’ve used … and whether they recommend the contractor. Word of mouth works, Jim says. As owner of Tri-County Refrigeration in Plano, Iowa, since 1976, he says, “I haven’t advertised in 15 years. All of the work I do is word of mouth.” Get the names of at least several contractors and check them all out thoroughly.
2. Look at other jobs the contractors have done, and talk with the homeowners to find out what they think of the contractor and the geothermal system installed. If possible, do so without the contractor being present, so you get the real scoop on the company and product. Also make sure that the system you are purchasing will be similar – and installed in a similar manner – to the one you are checking out.
3. Do your research. You can find a lot of information online and by talking with a number of experts in the field. Check out the Iowa Geothermal Association for a list of contractor members. The site also includes brief descriptions on how geothermal works, too. Read brochures from various companies and ask questions if you don’t understand details. Angie’s List or other rating services can be useful resources, too. Remember, though, when looking at consumer comments, that no matter how good a contractor is, there will be some negative comments. And often, unhappy consumers will broadcast their displeasure more loudly than satisfied customers.
4. Longevity counts, both with the contractor and the product the company sells and installs. Good companies stay in business; the same holds true of manufacturers of HVAC equipment. Contractors do change the products they sell, so be sure that as you are talking with consumers and checking out the contractor, that you also spend time asking questions about the specific geothermal product and what the contractor’s track record is with that particular brand. Jim said that at one point in his career, he sold a product that was less than perfect, and his business took years to recover from having to do “damage control.” He is now much more satisfied with his current affiliation, and his customers are, too.
5. Be wary of any contractor who tells you there is only one way to do the job. If you have suggestions or a certain way you want the job to be done, a contractor should take your ideas seriously and attempt to figure out a way to accommodate your needs.
6. Check out organizations the contractor belongs to and the training the contractor has. These may include the Iowa Geothermal Association; International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, which provides an accredited installation certificate; and RSES. In addition, HVAC installers are required to be licensed by the Iowa Plumbing and Mechanical Systems Examining Board. Jim warns that there may be contractors working as geothermal installers who have not complied with the law. Avoid them! Reputable contractors have taken the required professional classes, including CEUs, to help them become knowledgeable installers.
7. Ask the contractor if his/her company is qualified to perform warranty work on the geothermal brand you are planning to purchase. Jim warns that some contractors are not fully trained to diagnose problems, but instead, operate solely as “parts changers;” that is, if there is a problem, “they’ll scratch their heads and change one part after another to see if one of the swaps fixes the problem.” A reputable contractor will answer questions you have about staff training/qualifications on the equipment he/she is proposing to install. Ask for references and certificates as proof of this knowledge.
8. Last, Jim says, “This one is kind of crazy, but look at the contractor’s personal appearance and truck.” If he/she is neatly dressed, takes shoes off or puts on booties at your door, and has a clean and organized truck, you can gain some insight on how neat and organized that contractor will be when working in your home.
Source: Jim Bear, past president, Iowa Geothermal Association, and owner, TriCounty Refrigeration in Plano, Iowa. Check out Iowa Geothermal Assocation.