Findings from CHECKBOOK's report include:
Thirty-six of the companies were rated "superior" for "overall performance" by 95 percent or more of their surveyed customers, while 28 companies scored much lower, receiving such favorable ratings from only 65 percent or fewer of their surveyed customers.
Prices varied widely. Some examples of price quotes CHECKBOOK gathered for routine jobs:
- For the installation of a new Aprilaire Whole House Media Air Cleaner, prices ranged from $300 to $830.
- To install a Honeywell VisionPro Touchscreen TH8000 programmable thermostat for an air-conditioner and furnace, prices ranged from $125 to $589.
- For basic-maintenance contracts, not including costs of any parts or costs of labor for needed repairs, prices ranged from less than $100 to more than $300.
CHECKBOOK found no relationship between price and quality of service. Lower-priced services rated better than higher-priced services for "doing work properly." You can pay less and still get top-quality service.
Although most consumers surprisingly don't get competitive bids even for costly jobs, getting more than one bid will often save homeowners hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The most important maintenance task for a cooling system is something you can do yourself-regularly replacing the air filter. If you do that faithfully, getting a maintenance visit from a technician may not be necessary every year. Yearly visits are more likely to be justified if the system is old, heavily used, in a dusty area, oil-fueled, or in a very large house.
Be skeptical about entering a maintenance contract. If you might want one, be sure to check exactly what is covered and shop for price. CHECKBOOK found prices for the same coverage ranged from $100 to $300.
Before installation of a new system or major system expansion, get proposals from several contractors and use each one to help you define your needs. How well you design the system will affect how quickly and uniformly the house is heated or cooled, how much noise and vibration you experience, how troubled you will be by drafts, how easy the system will be to maintain, and other important aspects of performance.
If you are considering buying new equipment, be skeptical about claims of cost savings from more energy-efficient equipment. There may be substantial savings, and there are compelling public-interest reasons to install efficient equipment. But some companies are prone to exaggerating the size of the savings-in order to sell new equipment, or more expensive equipment.
Get several companies to make proposals, ask for documentation of how much you will cut your energy bills compared to what you now have, and ask questions.
CHECKBOOK suggests software consumers can use to do their own energy cost comparisons and also provides examples of the effects of energy-savings for different options in an illustrative home. For many area homes, the best option may include a heat pump.
When choosing a system, keep in mind that bigger is definitely not always better. An oversized unit will cost more, and will cycle on and off constantly, thus boosting your utility bill, making more noise, requiring more frequent maintenance, and dying sooner.
A list of some top-rated companies in the Chicago market:
S Arthur Ave
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
Alan Heating Air Conditioning
510 Spring Rd
Elmhurst, IL 60126
Home Comfort Systems
N Pinecrest Rd
Bolingbrook, IL 60440
Al Air Heating & Cooling
7703 W Lawrence Ave
Norridge, IL 60706
Enrights Heating & Cooling
9270 Corsair Dr #4
Frankfort, IL 60423
Al Kaplan Heating & Air Conditioning
http://www.checkbook.org/interactive/heatac/other/detail.cfm?firmCode1=2380300 2577 United Ln
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Through special arrangement with nonprofit Chicago Consumers CHECKBOOK, ABC7 viewers can access CHECKBOOK's ratings of 214 local air-conditioning repair services without a subscription until Friday, July 27, 2012, and can view CHECKBOOK's air-conditioning repair advice indefinitely via this link: www.checkbook.org/abc7/acrepairs