What Is an HVAC Contractor? (2024 Guide)

By Cristy Lynch Updated February 5, 2024

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Your home’s ductwork, heater, and air conditioner work together to make your home comfortable, regardless of the temperature outside. A working HVAC system is necessary for health and safety in extreme climates, and even in milder ones, HVAC equipment is important to maintain indoor air quality and proper humidity. No matter which brand of air conditioner or heater you have, a licensed HVAC professional is the best person to complete installations and repairs. Learn why in our guide.

 


 

What Do HVAC Contractors Do?

HVAC contractors install, maintain, and repair climate control systems. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. This means HVAC encompasses all the systems that move hot or cold air throughout a building, including vents and ductwork. Furnaces, boilers, air conditioners, heat pumps, and refrigeration systems are all types of HVAC units that an HVAC professional may work on. 

Some contractors specialize in certain types of HVAC systems, while others work on many different ones. Since these systems are complex, most states require contractors to earn and renew a specific license to offer HVAC service. Usually, this license requires passing an exam and having a certain amount of on-the-job experience. Some states distinguish between an HVAC technician, who works for an HVAC contractor or company, and an HVAC contractor, who works for themselves.

Installation

HVAC professionals should install heating and cooling systems in a new home. Many residential and commercial buildings also need to have their HVAC equipment replaced or upgraded over time. This process is especially complex when an older building needs to be retrofitted for a new or larger system.

Portable air conditioners and some window AC units can be installed by homeowners, but all other types of air conditioning systems need to be installed by licensed professionals. The same goes for heating systems. These systems require a lot of energy to run. Improper installation can cause the unit to waste energy, leading to high energy bills. Be sure to factor labor into the cost of an air conditioner, the cost of a furnace, or the cost to replace a boiler.

Maintenance

HVAC systems are used heavily throughout the year. Though they may sit dormant for milder seasons, it’s important to do routine maintenance on your HVAC system, including an annual tune-up. An HVAC contractor will check your system’s refrigerant levels, change air filters, clean fans and vents, and ensure everything is working as it should. If anything is malfunctioning, they will identify the problem before it can get worse.

Local HVAC companies often offer annual maintenance plans that give customers priority scheduling before the weather becomes too hot or cold. This way, the systems will be tuned up and ready for the season. Some companies may offer duct cleaning services as well.

Repairs

HVAC repair consists of troubleshooting a problem with the system and fixing it or replacing a damaged part. This repair work may include identifying the source of leakage, testing thermostats, replacing supply lines, and more. Most companies offer emergency repair services, since the system is often hidden from normal view, and residents may not notice problems until the system abruptly stops working. Charges for emergency repair can be high, making routine maintenance even more important to spot problems early.

 


 

When Should You Call an HVAC Contractor?

You should call an HVAC contractor when you want to install a new system or your current system is having problems. Here are more details about the various systems these contractors work on.

Air Conditioning

Air conditioners use a forced-air system and a chemical called refrigerant to remove heat from indoor air and send it outdoors. Refrigerant is hazardous to both people and the environment if it leaks, so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all air conditioning contractors to earn an EPA 608 certification to handle this chemical. For this reason, it’s especially important to call a professional if you think your air conditioner has developed a refrigerant leak.

Less dramatic problems also call for a licensed technician. If your AC sounds like it’s working but isn’t cooling your home properly or evenly, you should have a professional look at it. The same holds true if your utility bills suddenly spike even though the temperature hasn’t. A part of your AC system might be working inefficiently, causing it to use too much energy.

Heating

Heaters can include furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps, and they may get their energy from electricity, natural gas, propane, fuel oil, solar energy, or even wood. Some heaters, such as furnaces, use airflow to distribute heat throughout a building, while others may use radiant heating in the floors or walls.

If your system is heating weakly or unevenly, or if the HVAC unit is emitting unusual sounds or odors, it’s time to call in an HVAC professional. Although these systems don’t use refrigerant, many use flammable substances and generate a great deal of heat, so repairs are best left to the pros.

Ventilation

Ventilation systems are sometimes overlooked, but they’re important for maintaining air quality and distributing warm and cool air. This system consists of your home’s air ducts, vents, and fans that exchange stale indoor air with fresh air and move it throughout your home.

Problems with a ventilation system are often subtler than those with heaters or AC units. An improperly ventilated home may become too humid, leading to problems with mold and mildew or pests. You may notice stale odors or excess allergens. Fixing ventilation problems may require cleaning or unblocking ducts or vents, adding extra fans, or filtering indoor air.

 


 

How to Hire an HVAC Contractor

Hiring an HVAC contractor is similar to hiring most other types of home improvement professionals. Here are some things to keep in mind.

 


 

Other HVAC Services

Here are some other things HVAC contractors do in addition to the services listed above.

 


 

Our Recommendation

If you don’t already have a reputable local HVAC company, it may be a good idea to find one now before you need emergency repairs. When it comes to scheduled service such as installation or maintenance, we recommend getting estimates from at least three companies before hiring one.

 


 

HVAC Contractor FAQ

What is the full meaning of HVAC?

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

What is the difference between a mechanical and HVAC contractor?

An HVAC contractor is a specific type of mechanical contractor who’s trained and licensed to work on HVAC equipment.

What does HVAC do?

HVAC systems control the climate within a building. They heat, cool, and circulate the air to create a comfortable environment. HVAC contractors install, maintain, and repair HVAC systems such as air conditioners, heaters, and ductwork systems.

Why should I hire an HVAC contractor?

You should hire an HVAC contractor for most of your HVAC needs. HVAC systems are complex, and mistakes can lead to hazardous situations. HVAC professionals are well-trained to fix and maintain these complicated home systems. They’ll be able to get the job done quickly and efficiently, as well as ensure things are up to code.