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Questions to Ask Before Hiring an HVAC Contractor in Washington, D.C.

While residents of Washington D.C. currently pay an average of 13.80 cents per kWh for electricity, monthly utility bills in the District can end up costing hundreds of dollars due to energy wastage from poorly maintained or improperly installed HVAC systems. Therefore, it is advisable to hire a good HVAC contractor to regularly inspect your home's heating and cooling system. This may help you save up to 20 percent on your electricity bill. When in search of a good HVAC contractor near you, ask the following questions to ensure you are hiring the best hand for the job:

Are You Licensed to Practice as an HVAC Contractor in Washington D.C.?

The District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) is the agency responsible for overseeing and regulating all contractors operating across Washington D.C. Accordingly, interested persons seeking to perform HVAC services within the city must be licensed by this agency. Following the provisions of section 17-315 of the district's Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Licensing law, operating without a DCRA-issued professional license is unlawful and attracts penalties that may include fines of up to $300 or a maximum imprisonment term of 90 days.

There are two classes of HVAC contractors licenses that the DCRA issues to eligible individuals, namely master refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic license and master refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic limited license. Each license authorizes slightly different services. For example, master refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic limited license holders can only handle air conditioning systems up to and including 25 compressor horsepower, while master refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic license holders can work on air conditioning systems larger than 25 compressor horsepower. Nonetheless, anyone interested in obtaining any of the licenses must follow certain requirements to determine their eligibility. The requirements include being at least 18 years old, obtaining on-the-job practical experience in the HVAC field under the supervision of a master refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic license holder, and passing a license examination. Persons who have complied with the stipulated license requirements can proceed to apply for a contractor license online. Parties with inquiries regarding HVAC contractor licensing requirements or the licensing process can contact the DCRA at (202) 442-4400, by email, or through an online contact form.

You can confirm if your desired HVAC contractor has been duly licensed by verifying this contractor's licensing status on the Access DC portal. However, note that you will also need to create a user account or log in to your already registered account to utilize this portal. Queries regarding license verifications can also be directed to the DCRA at (202) 442-4400 or by email.

How Much Do You Charge Compared to Other HVAC Contractors in Washington D.C.?

On average, HVAC contractors in Washington D.C. earn a mean hourly wage of $31.06. However, the exact charge rate for your HVAC project may vary, as contractor charges are usually influenced by the required labor and materials for handling a project, the type of project they are handling, and other miscellaneous fees that may be involved, like permit fees. In determining the going rate for your project, you can consider bids from at least three contractors. Not only does considering multiple bids assist with determining the going rate for your project, but it also assists with avoiding excessive or exorbitant charges.

An HVAC Contractor inWashington D.C. earns an annual average wage of $64,610. The table below provides a cost comparison of the mean hourly wages for HVAC contractors in Washington D.C. against those of HVAC Contractors in major cities in the United States:

Washington D.C. HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage
New York City HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage
Detroit HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage
Austin HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage
Chicago HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage
Los Angeles HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage

Do You Comply with the Washington D.C. Building Code for HVAC Work?

Any HVAC-related work performed within Washington D.C. must adhere to the provisions of the 2013 District of Columbia Mechanical Code. The Mechanical Code stipulates minimum safety standards for the commencement of mechanical works and governs the installation, construction, repair, and use of mechanical appliances and equipment across the city. Mechanical equipment and appliances governed by this Code include exhaust systems, duct systems, combustion air systems, pressure vessels, refrigerant piping, and solar systems. Per section 101.1 of the Mechanical Code, which focuses on administration and enforcement, non-compliance with the Mechanical Code during HVAC-related projects is punishable with a maximum fine of $2,000 and a maximum imprisonment term of 90 days. Therefore, it is critical that you only engage HVAC contractors who are well-versed in the Mechanical Code, especially the Code's provisions that directly affect your project. If you have any queries related to the Mechanical Code or city requirements regarding your project, you can contact the Washington D.C. Office of Planning at (202) 442-7600 or by email.

Will You Get the HVAC Permits as Required by the Washington D.C. Code?

In Washington D.C., any home improvement or construction project involving the installation, erection, alteration, enlargement, repair, replacement, or removal of mechanical systems cannot start without a mechanical permit. Accordingly, you need a mechanical permit for any HVAC-related work. However, per section 105.2 of the District of Columbia Mechanical Code, certain HVAC-related works are exempted and can be started without a permit. Such works include:

  • The installation of portable heating appliances
  • The installation of portable cooling units
  • The replacement of minor parts of any mechanical equipment, so far it does not make the equipment unsafe

Applications for mechanical permits within Washington D.C. are reviewed by the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), and permits are issued after a successful review. Mechanical permit applications can be submitted online through the DCRA Citizen Access portal, however, permit applicants should note that they must register a user account or log in to an already registered account before they can access the portal. Depending on the nature of the HVAC work, permit applicants may also be directed to submit building or project detail plans. Plan submissions are typically made online through the city's ePlan Project Dox portal.

Upon receiving a mechanical permit, permit holders are generally required to schedule inspections with the DCRA at different stages of the HVAC project. Such inspections are to ensure that the HVAC work does not violate city requirements or safety standards. Inspections can also be scheduled online through the DCRA Citizen Access portal. If you have inquiries or need more detailed answers on the processes for obtaining a permit and scheduling inspections, you can contact the DCRA at (202) 442-4400 or by email.

What Kind of HVAC Services Do You Offer?

Finding out the kind of service your desired HVAC contractor offers is the first step to ensuring you receive a satisfactory service. HVAC contractors in Washington D.C. typically offer several services, including HVAC installations, repairs, replacements, and alterations. Some contractors further focus on working in residential buildings, while some focus on working in commercial buildings. Therefore, it is crucial to determine whether a contractor's specialty is relevant to your HVAC needs. One way of finding out is by asking if the contractor has handled a similar service like yours or if the contractor focuses on handling your type of service. However, note that the nature of the service you need and the contractor's specialty majorly influence how much the contractor will charge for any service rendered. Provided below are average cost estimates for common HVAC services in Washington D.C.:

Air conditioner installation
$4,500 - $6,000 (2 - 3 ton unit, with existing ductwork)
Air conditioning tune-up/repair
$100 - $135
Central air purifier installation
$1,200 - $1,800 (standard grade unit)
Thermostat installation
$170 - $200 (mid-grade thermostat)
Whole house humidifier installation
$510 - $600 (mid-grade central humidifier)
Window air conditioning unit installation
$310 - $346 (5,000 btu window unit)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Do You Offer Emergency HVAC Services in Washington D.C.?

Between 2020 and 2021, electricity prices in Washington D.C. increased by 31.75%. Considering this increase, city residents are generally advised to quickly fix any home appliance or electrical system defects that can potentially increase their utility bills as soon as these defects are noticed. These defects typically include HVAC-related malfunctions or defects like faulty motors and capacitors, duct leaks, and dirty filters, as well other noticeable unusual noises and sounds coming from your home's heating or cooling system.

However, it is essential not to blindly rush into repairs in order to avoid engaging a poorly skilled contractor or falling victim to a scam. First, you need to find a competent contractor near you. In this regard, you can utilize consumer-oriented websites like Better Business Bureau and Yelp. With these websites, you can search for contractors based on proximity, and you can easily find reviews or testimonials from a contractor's previous clients. Alternatively, you can also ask family and friends for good contractors around, as referred contractors are usually easier to get along with. When you choose to engage a contractor, remember to first verify this contractor's license. It is generally safer to engage a licensed contractor, as their activities are usually strictly regulated, thereby reducing your likelihood of getting scammed while also increasing your chances of receiving decent service.

Do You Carry the Necessary Insurance Policy for HVAC Contractors in Washington D.C.?

All employers in Washington D.C., including HVAC contractors, are mandated to maintain workers' compensation insurance and compensate employees in the event of work-related injuries or accidents. This insurance requirement is unsurprising, considering there were over 4,000 work-related accidents and injuries resulting from HVAC-related works in 2019. However, more importantly, it is crucial to hire a contractor who maintains general liability insurance. This insurance protects you from personal expenses that may result from bodily or property damage during your HVAC work. To confirm that your HVAC contractor is properly insured, you can ask the contractor to provide their certificate of insurance and verify it with the appropriate insurance provider.

How to File a Complaint Against a Bad HVAC Contractor in Washington D.C.

Before hiring a home improvement or HVAC contractor, you should perform some due diligence and research on this contractor in order to avoid engaging a home improvement scammer. Home improvement scams are not unusual in Washington D.C., and there have been several reported instances of homeowners being scammed out of their money. For example, in early 2019, a home renovation contracting company was ordered to pay over $200,000 in restitution for misleading homeowners after collecting payments for home renovations and improvements and failing to deliver the services for which these payments had been made. Later that same year, the District of Columbia's Attorney General's Office commenced a lawsuit against another home improvement company after several complaints from homeowners reporting that this company performed shoddy and dangerous repairs.

There are several other examples of both reported and unreported home improvement scams that have occurred across the Washington D.C. area. Hence, performing due diligence before engaging a contractor is highly recommended to avoid falling victim to the schemes of these scammers. In this regard, doing the following can be helpful:

  • Before hiring any contractor, find out about their reputation, professionalism, and service delivery. You can do this by asking the contractor to provide references from previous clients, by asking friends and neighbors, or by looking the contractor up on online third-party consumer platforms like Better Business Bureau
  • Compare estimates from at least two more contractors. This can help you avoid paying exorbitant rates and also find out when a particular contractor's rate is too good to be true
  • Be suspicious of contractors who ask personal questions or a string of uncomfortable questions. Questions bordering on whether you live alone, your social security number, and where you work are particularly suspicious
  • Verify the license of any contractor you choose to hire
  • Ensure you have a written agreement with your contractor. For large-scale projects, you can engage the services of an attorney for contract drafting and review
  • Only make full payment after the contractor has completed the project as agreed

If you happen to come in contact with, or end up getting defrauded by a contractor during your HVAC project, you can file a consumer complaint with the DCRA. The Department generally reviews and investigates these complaints and tries to ensure complainants are compensated. However, this compensation is not guaranteed.

Where you are unsatisfied with the efforts of the DCRA, and the compensation you seek does not exceed $10,000, you can commence a small claims case against the relevant contractor at the Civil Division of the District of Columbia Superior Court. Note that it is best to seek legal advice from an attorney before taking any type of legal action.