Winter has arrived in the greater Houston area, and while Houstonians typically do not experience the harsh winters seen in other areas of the country, it is still important to protect yourself and your home from the cold.

Homeowners will want to ensure their heating systems are ready for operation during these cooler months.

Accordingly, if you need a tune-up or repair of your heating system, BBB offers the following tips for selecting an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractor:

Know what you need. Before you call a contractor, know the model of your current system and its maintenance history. Also make note of any uncomfortable rooms. This will help potential contractors better understand your heating needs.

Research the company’s background and licensing. Visit online at for the BBB Business Review of any service company you plan to hire. Learn more about its reputation and any history of complaints. Always confirm that the company is licensed and insured. You can verify an HVAC contractor’s license by checking with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation at their website or call 800-803-9202.

Compare prices and service packages. Get at least three estimates for any heating or air conditioning repair, maintenance or replacement. All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided and the materials to be used.

Be sure to request and check references. Ask for references from the company’s last three jobs and check them out before you sign a contract.

Require a written contract. Do not permit work to start without a signed, written contract that includes start and completion dates, exact costs, specific work to be done, and warranty information. Be sure to read the fine print carefully.

Discuss the deposit required and additional payments. Do not pay more than 25 to 33 percent of the total job cost as a deposit. Final payment should not be due until the job is completed. Do not pay in cash; pay by check or credit card.

Review warranty coverage. Find out if the company offers any type of warranty or guarantee. Make certain you understand the terms and conditions of the coverage. Also, be sure to check the warranty on your current heating unit to determine whether any repairs or replacements may be covered.

Ask about energy efficiency. Many new units are manufactured to be more energy efficient than older units. Look for the Energy Star label to find out about products that may cost a little more up front, but save you in energy costs over time. Some models may be eligible for a tax credit.

Ask your HVAC contractor to verify tax credit eligibility and provide the Manufacturer Certification Statement for the equipment you plan to purchase.

The Better Business Bureau is an unbiased nonprofit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Visit or call 713-868-9500. Leah Napoliello is senior director of Investigative Services with the BBB of Greater Houston and South Texas. Send questions to Leah Napoliello, Better Business Bureau, 1333 West Loop South, Suite 1200, Houston, TX 77027, or e-mail Include your mailing address and phone number.



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