NBC’s Today Show Investigates

Posted on March 23, 2014 · Posted in Articles

On July 10, NBC’s Today Show aired an undercover investigation segment on air conditioning repairs. The “sting” operation took place at a home in New Jersey, where contractors were called to a home experiencing a problem with its air conditioning system. When they misdiagnosed or misled the customer, they were confronted by the Today Show team about their methods.

Robert C. (Bobby) Ring served as Today’s expert consultant for the segment. Ring is president of Meyer & Depew Co., a contracting business in Kenilworth, New Jersey. He also serves as a member of the national Board of Directors of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), the nation’s largest non-profit trade association serving the indoor environment industry.

“I was glad to work with the Today Show to help educate the public about what they should look for in a quality contractor,” said Ring. “I was very disappointed by those contractors who did not seem to be doing the right thing. Overall I think this segment was an important reminder to homeowners that they need to do their homework before they call a contractor. But I also believe it is important to remember that upgrade options are sometimes about improving comfort, lowering energy bills, or solving a long-term problem, not just about increasing the size of the bill.”

ACCA, which develops and publishes the national standards used by professional contractors to ensure quality HVAC installation and maintenance, said the segment was an important reminder during a very hot summer.

“When choosing a contractor, it should not be about which company buys the most prominent search engine link, or has the flashiest website, or has the biggest yellow page ad,” said Paul T. Stalknecht, ACCA President & CEO. “While there are thousands of professional contractors who do outstanding service and care about their customers first, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to find them, and that takes a little work.”

First, ACCA says, it is vital that homeowners develop a relationship with the right contractor before their system breaks down. “Find the right contracting business, and sign up for their maintenance agreement program,” Stalknecht says. “This is important for two reasons: One, having your system inspected and cleaned twice a year is mandatory to ensure that your system lasts as long as possible. And two, if your system fails in the middle of the summer, the best contractors in your area will probably be busy taking care of their maintenance agreement customers and they may not have time to come visit you.”

In addition, when a system fails during the summer, and the homeowner does not have an existing relationship with a contractor, homeowners rarely take the extra steps needed to choose the right contractor. “Do it while your system is still working,” Stalknecht says. “Don’t wait until you find yourself stranded in 100-degree heat, feeling pressured to make a decision quickly.”

According to ACCA, the steps to finding the right contractor include:

  • Get referrals from friends and neighbors. “The best predictor of a contractor’s future behavior is to find out how well they performed for someone you trust,” Stalknecht says.
  • Verify that the contractor employs NATE-certified technicians. NATE is the industry’s baseline technician certification. (www.natex.org)
  • If your state or city requires HVAC licensing, verify that the contractor is properly licensed. Each jurisdiction has different rules, unfortunately, so you will need to check with the appropriate websites.
  • Verify that the company belongs to a reputable non-profit trade organization, such as ACCA. This can demonstrate a commitment to ongoing education in a rapidly-changing industry.
  • Ask the contractor to describe their employee training program. If they’re not able to answer this question, they probably don’t have one, and that’s a red flag.
  • Verify that the contractor provides a regular maintenance or service agreement program.

If your system requires replacement, ACCA says it’s important to remember that HVAC systems are complex, and a system’s successful installation depends more on the abilities of the installer than the equipment itself. “Replacing an HVAC system is not like taking one box out and putting another in,” Stalknecht says. “It’s a system that is part of another system, the entire building. There are numerous steps that must be taken to ensure maximum comfort and energy efficiency.”

To help consumers make the right choice when installing a replacement, ACCA developed a “Quality Installation Checklist” which homeowners can use to compare bids from different contractors. It outlines the necessary steps and lets the homeowner “score” each bid to show the true value of a proposal. The checklist, along with a number of other articles and online resources for homeowners, can be found at www.acca.org/consumer.

“While often hidden from view, when an air conditioning system stops working in the summertime, we suddenly realize how important it is,” Stalknecht says. “Unfortunately, when it’s working, too often we neglect it. Which makes it even more likely that it’s going to stop working! Just like cars, HVAC systems need regular maintenance. Take care of them and they will last a long time. Neglect them and they will leave you stranded when you need them most. The key is to find the right HVAC contractor to keep everything running smoothly.”

For more information about this morning’s Today segment, visit www.today.com.