How do I find a HVAC professional to replace my furnace

I need to get my gas furnace replaced. It's a 1984 Carrier. I'll be interviewing 3-4 contractors. I'd rather give my business to a small and competent firm than one of the big chains (philosophically). First question: am I doing something dumb ruling out the big companies. Second question: what's the best way to determine if the professional advising me of a solution knows what he's talking rather than having a great personality. I'm sure some of the professionals are better than the others and asking friends will always produce great recommendations. Can you offer any advice? Any red flags to watch out for.
Any thing offered will be gratefully accepted.
I do appreciate any time you spend responding. Please reply by email if you prefer to do so.
Thanks,
HB
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Reply intermixed below.

First question I would have for you, if you called us, would be: Are you shopping price, brand, or quality? Reason...we interview the homeowner too. Its a two way street. A true pro in my opinion, will listen to you, and if say you want the lowest cost installation, you wont get it from us, and while I will give you a quote, I tell you up front, we dont install, nor sell garbage, and we are not the cheapest in town.
If you are shopping name brand, then we can talk.. If you are shopping quality, then we are in the right place...but if you are talking price...as in low bid...you probably wont get it from us. We are considered middle of the road pricing as we have several higher outfits here...but..again...it depends...main thing is to listen to you...find someone that listens...not tries to tell you before he listens what you need.

Thinkings good, but wont always get you a good install. Smaller firms can be the best you have seen. Bigger firms tend to rush. It boils down to the installer...and the best equipment in the world can be junk if not installed correctly.

Depends on your area. If you are in Southern California, you are doing yourself a favor by not calling George Brazil....LOL

Ok...did he show up in a 72 Pinto with a ladder rack on it? Check with the state licence board BEFORE you call for estimates. In most areas, you can do this online. You are looking for licenced techs..and companies, you would be amazed at how many people advertise say, in the Yellow Pages, and do not have the proper certifications...

To start, any competent tech or salesperson will look the entire existing system over. A manual J, or T will be done, and then, and only then, a manual D if the unit size that the J or T comes up with is different, or if the ductwork that exists seems, or appears older than dirt, or sized wrong. Pricing might not be on the spot, altho some do, we do at times, but not all the tiime. Permits. Permits WILL BE PULLED!! Any company that does not, might be cutting some corners or not really caring about the installation. That is a HUGE red flag. IF anyone says they have a deal on some old equipment, run. If they are not insured, run. If they refuse to pull permits, run. If they tell you a manual J and D or any other calculation are not required, show em the door fast.
Remember that the BBB is considered by many to be a cure all, and its not even close. The local BBB office here is under fire from several groups, not just professional HVAC companies due to a huge amount of erronous advice given over the last week about heating contractors and the job we do. Also, just because a company will not pay to be a member of a group that does actually very little and has no power to speak of, does not make it a bad choice...all it means is one less bullshit due to pay over the year.
Personally, if the guy that shows up is a total slob, thats a bad sign overall...some wont agree with me...but if the guy cant pull his pants up to cover his ass, then there is a good chance he wont take the time to do a job correctly. If he shows up wearing dirty clothes, that is obviously from crawling in a crawlspace or such, thats not as bad as showing with his jeans hanging to his lower ass...and thats just from experence..most of the better guys take a bit of pride in appearance..I know we do.
Checking the BBB listings, while AGAIN, not a sure thing, but it will help you to determine if the guys on a scam mission or not. If there are one or two bad marks, but thats all, it might not be a bad thing, since in this trade, you will not make everyone happy over time. However, if there are 50 bad marks over a short period of time, then, do not use as you might be #51.
Also, look in Google for this topic as its been covered many times. There are other things to look for that other homeowners can and have covered, and will be from a source of information other than another professional that might come across as a bit biased.
Believe it or not, I am on the homeowners side....I am one of the pros that will report a hack in a second...and sleep well at night knowing that I have shut a couple of guys down, as it might have saved a life or two. When you see some of the incredible bull that so called pros put in, and you are the one called in to repair it, then you understand why I have no problem blasting another member of the profession for stupid work.
Good luck. I know its not the easiest thing in the world to locate.

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Well thought out reply, you sound like someone I would not mind doing business with.
Would like to be shopping all 3 Price (a fair one) , brand and quality (will I hope that the last two have some connection to each other). I could use some advice, since you are in carolina's as am I, what should I expect to pay for good equipment in a Gas-pack). First quote I received (only so far) is about 4.5k - 5k for exterior gaspack combo (air and heat) unit. equipment being bid is Amana Air Command 13+. Air is 2.5 Ton (2nd unit same size upstairs) and heat is 70K btu (forget if thats a floor or total).
I would like to know how this rates, and if there are units that are more appropritate. The current traine unit (now 10 years old) has been a royal pain from day one (refrigerant leaked out in first year , control boards blew every 2-3 years. draft inducer mower replaced and now a crack in the heat exchanger.) what I want is something that will last minimum of 15 years (prefer 20) with a good to very good reliability record .
Bill
CBHvac wrote:

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Thanks for taking the time to reply. its the Triangle area so about midway from coast to mountains.... the heat was spec-ing an 80% efficient unit. I think the btu number itself from worksheet was about 51k. house has fair bit of glass. And already have the digital control. Was going to be a unit swap out too. no duct work. new pad and new connects.
If you don't mind. where did you find the amana products coming up short? We definitely want to get other bids. from what I gathered so far seems carrier has more products that get top ratings? is that actually true. I would like a unit that with regular service has a good chance of hitting 10-15 years without major repair bills.
Bill
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Check with your gas co., as they often have 1) rebates on furnace upgrades, often on specific energy-saving models, and 2) a referral system the provides some "peace of mind".
Sheila
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