How to Hire a Good HVAC Contractor in Chicago
Chicago households pay an average of 14.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. Hiring a qualified HVAC contractor can save you nearly half of the energy used in your home. For instance, if your heating and cooling system are properly installed, it increases the efficiency of such equipment by up to 30 percent. When in search of a qualified HVAC contractor near you, ensure to carry out your due diligence by asking the following questions:
- Are You Licensed to Practice as an HVAC Contractor in the City of Chicago?
- How Much Do You Charge Compared to Other HVAC Contractors in the City of Chicago?
- Do You Comply with the City of Chicago Building Code for HVAC Work?
- Will You Get the HVAC Permits as Required by the City of Chicago Code?
- What Kind of HVAC Services Do You Offer?
- Do You Offer Emergency HVAC Services in the City of Chicago?
- Do You Carry the Necessary Insurance Policy for HVAC Contractors in the City of Chicago?
Are You Licensed to Practice as an HVAC Contractor in the City of Chicago?
Anyone in Chicago who wants to work as an HVAC technician in Chicago will need a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certificate per section 608 of the Clean Air Act. This section also relates to any professional conducting refrigerant line-pressure tests or handling or adding refrigerant to existing AC systems in the city. Per chapter 1 of the Chicago Municipal Code, it is unlawful for a contractor to carry out HVAC work without the EPA certification and it attracts a fine of up to $500.
To be eligible for the certification exams, applicants must be at least 18 years of age and hold a valid Chicago driver's license. Applicants must have received training for two years at an accredited community or technical college. Alternatively, applicants must have two years of experience as an apprentice or entry-level worker for an HVAC company. If the applicant meets the requirements, they can obtain their EPA Certification from an approved organization in Chicago. For information and inquiries on HVAC contractor certifications in Chicago, interested persons can contact the Chicago Department of Building by dialing 311 if calling from within Chicago and (312) 744-5000 if calling from outside the city.
If you need to confirm if your intended HVAC contractor has all the necessary certification, you can request a copy of such certificates for verification.
How Much Do You Charge Compared to Other HVAC Contractors in the City of Chicago?
The average hourly charge of HVAC technicians in Chicago is around $29. However, this charge is primarily influenced by the cost of materials, permits required, and the nature of the HVAC project. As such, it is advisable to get estimates from at least three HVAC technicians before hiring any HVAC technician. This allows you to compare prices and gives you an idea of the average market cost for your planned project.
An HVAC Contractor in the City of Chicago earns an annual average wage of $60,970. The table below provides a cost comparison of the mean hourly wages for HVAC contractors in Chicago against those of HVAC Contractors in the rest of Illinois as well as other major cities in the United States:Chicago HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage$29.31Illinois HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage$28.24Los Angeles HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage$31.31Phoenix HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage$24.07Houston HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage$26.40Detroit HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage$24.55Philadelphia HVAC Contractors Mean Hourly Wage$28.80
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Do You Comply with the City of Chicago Building Code for HVAC Work?
The Chicago Mechanical Code regulates the design, installation, maintenance, alteration, and inspection of HVAC systems within the city. These HVAC systems include air conditioning systems, ventilation systems, boilers, heaters, and refrigeration systems that have been permanently installed and utilized to control environmental conditions and related processes within buildings. This Code also provides minimum standards to ensure the safety and protect the health of Chicago residents when handling mechanical systems.
It is important to ensure that your intended HVAC technician is well versed with the Code provisions relevant to your project. This technician must also comply with these provisions while working on your projects. Non-compliance with the Code attracts city-imposed sanctions and penalties enforced by the Chicago Department of Building. For more information on how the Code relates to your projects, you can contact the Department of Building at (312) 744-3449.
Will You Get the HVAC Permits as Required by the City of Chicago Code?
Homeowners or their authorized HVAC technicians must obtain the requisite permit from the Chicago Department of Building when planning projects requiring the erection, installation, alteration, repairs, removal, conversion, or replacement of mechanical systems within Chicago. If an applicant is unsure if their mechanical projects require permits or if they will require zoning approval, they can consult with the city's Zoning Ordinance Administration.
The type of permits required for mechanical projects depends on the size of the project. These include the
- Easy Permit (EPP)
- Standard Plan Reviews (SPR)
- Developer Services (DS) permits
The Easy Permit (EPP) is necessary for home improvement, repairs, and replacement of mechanical systems in smaller projects. In contrast, larger projects require Standard Plan Reviews (SPR) and Developer Services (DS) permits. To apply for the requisite permits, applicants can complete and submit the appropriate permit application form and plans to the city's Department of Buildings at:
- Chicago City Hall,
- Department of Buildings
- 121 North LaSalle Street
- Room 900
- Chicago, IL 60602
- Phone: (312) 744-3449
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, Monday through Friday
Alternatively, applicants can complete the required permit application online. It is essential to note that if your planned project involves any regulated equipment like ventilation and heating equipment, you will need to apply for a valid air pollution control permit from the Chicago Department of Public Health. Permit applicants who are uncertain whether their projects require this permit can utilize the online resources provided by the city's Department of Public Health to find out. Applicants may be required to complete an application for the air pollution control permit online via the City of Chicago Permit Portal. Alternatively, they may be directed to complete and submit the relevant air pollution control permit application form in person at the city's Department of Buildings address provided above. After the mechanical permits have been issued, permit holders must schedule inspections at various stages of their projects. A building official performs this inspection to ensure that the works comply with the Mechanical Code.
For more information regarding mechanical permits and inspections, you can contact the city's Department of Building at (312) 744-3449. Meanwhile, for any air pollution control permit inquiries, you can contact the Chicago Department of Public Health (312) 747-9884.
What Kind of HVAC Services Do You Offer?
HVAC technicians offer several services in Chicago, including installation, maintenance, repair, and emergency services. When looking for HVAC technicians in the city, you must ensure that your intended technician has the expertise to handle the work. Some technicians may be well versed in installation and maintenance, while some may only be well skilled in carrying out repair services. Before concluding that work contract, ensure your intended HVAC technician is not only qualified but also specializes in performing HVAC works related to the services you need. Also, confirm the average cost of services the HVAC technician charges for their services in the city so you can budget accordingly.
Provided below are average cost estimates for standard HVAC services in Chicago:Air conditioner installation$3,991 - $5,252 (for two - three ton unit)Air conditioner repair$92 - $106Window A/C unit installation$251 - $285Whole house humidifier installation (midgrade) -$1,500 - $2,500Whole house humidifier installation (flowthrough) - $410 - $509Central air purifier installation$963 - $1,561Thermostat installation$126 - $149Cost of boiler installation$4,800 - $5,800 (for 40-80 mbtu/hour electric boiler)Cost of boiler installation$4,439 - $5,879 (for 40-80 mbtu/hour gas boiler )Cost of boiler repair- $167.20 per hour (plus parts) (Range$71.60 - $262.80)Forced air furnace installation$2,906.25 - $4,212 (for 80,000-100,000 btu electric furnace)Forced air furnace installation$2,686 - $6,166 (for 80,000-100,000 btu gas furnace)Forced air furnace repair for a furnace tuneup - $99 - $130Furnace inspection$65.60 - $121
Do You Offer Emergency HVAC Services in the City of Chicago?
At some point, different homes in Chicago experience mechanical faults that require emergency services. Some of these mechanical faults requiring urgent attention include malfunctioning fans and heat exchangers, broken thermostats, and refrigerant leaks. It is not a good idea to ignore these problems because it costs more to repair extensive mechanical faults and it puts your home at risk of fire and other uncomfortable problems such as poor ventilation. However, while it may be necessary to urgently address faults in your home's mechanical system, you must conduct due diligence and not rush into repairs. Therefore, it is imperative that you hire a qualified and licensed technician. You can find a licensed and skilled HVAC technician near you for your emergency needs via online directories maintained by trade associations like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association.
Do You Carry the Necessary Insurance Policy for HVAC Contractors in the City of Chicago?
In 2020, 7,900 non-fatal occupational injuries were recorded amongst HVAC contractors in the country, including in Chicago. While HVAC technicians in Chicago are not mandated to maintain general liability insurance, it is advisable for you to retain the services of an HVAC technician who has an active liability insurance policy. This is because it will protect you from incurring personal costs when there is any bodily injury or property damage during your project. As such, it is a good idea to request from your intended HVAC technician a copy of their general liability insurance, and you should also confirm the same with the issuing insurance company.
If your intended HVAC technician will be working with employees, it is important to note that Illinois law requires contractors to maintain workers' compensation insurance policies for their employees.
Unscrupulous contractors in Chicago employ different tactics to scam homeowners and business owners who have one mechanical issue or another in their homes. Some contractors make unsolicited phone calls or door-to-door solicitations claiming to offer free services. These contractors even make recommendations for unnecessary upgrades or repairs and end up leaving your homes unattended midway or worse than it was. In 2020, the Illinois Attorney General's Office charged a Chicago man with home repair fraud after scamming at least 12 people of more than $300,000 for different home improvement repairs that were never completed. This is why residents of Chicago are advised to always look out for these fraudulent individuals and protect themselves when planning any home improvement project, including HVAC-related projects. Some other common methods used by these deceptive contractors include:
- High pressure to sign a work contract without allowing you to review the agreement.
- Reluctance to provide copies of their certifications.
- Insistence on cash payments.
You can avoid falling for these scams by following these tips when hiring an HVAC technician in Chicago:
- Research the intended HVAC technician's background and certifications. Always make sure you verify any certificate they present from the issuing body.
- Get and compare different estimates and other service packages from different technicians before hiring one
- Be wary of unsolicited bids
- Avoid making large upfront payments and make full payments after the work has been satisfactorily completed
- Make payments with a card or check, and rarely with cash. This enables you to keep records of all payments between you and the HVAC contractor
- Always request references from your intended HVAC contractor and possibly contact these references for reviews
- Ensure all required permits for your intended projects are obtained before work commences
- Execute a written contract with the technician that states their work description and other information essential to the project. You may consult an attorney for legal assistance with drafting the contract or a legal review of any drafted contract
- Keep safe all copies of documents related to the HVAC work, such as the signed contract, receipts, and invoices
You can file a report against unscrupulous HVAC technicians with the City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection through the city's 311 system. For direct monetary compensation, you can file a civil action against the technician at the Circuit Court of Cook County. However, before filing the action in court, it is best to get proper legal advice from a lawyer near you. You can use the lawyer referral services provided by the Chicago Bar Association to find active lawyers near you.