It’s common for HVAC companies to offer these when you get a new unit, or even if you’ve called them for repairs. They’ll tell you it will save you money in the long run.
But, of course, there’s a catch: It may run you up to a few hundred dollars a year. So, where’s the benefit?
There’s not always an easy answer to this. They’re not all the same. And, not everybody needs one.
Out here in the Fox River Valley, Compass Heating & Air has done all kinds of work on heating and cooling equipment new and old. And, we’ve offered these programs, which some people also call service contracts, to homeowners from Aurora to Algonquin. We’ve found that it’s a case-by-case thing.
Let’s take a look at what you should get from a contract and if one is worth it for you.
As the name implies, a contract offers you services for your equipment. That’s different than just replacing something if it’s defective. It’s more like a subscription than a product guarantee.
Speaking in broad terms, these come in three levels. They run anywhere from $100 to $500 a year.
If you look at our agreements, you’ll see offers such as no service charges for repairs, discounts, lifetime guarantees, and priority service among other things. But, not every company offers the same benefits.
Basic packages usually offer routine maintenance. A tech comes out two or three times a year. They’ll do a clean and check on your furnace before the winter. They’ll also look over your AC before it gets hot out.
These usually cover just the service call. Any parts they have to replace cost extra.
The next level up gets those parts paid for. If they need to do some work during those routine calls, the parts and labor are covered.
Usually, the top-tier service includes all of this and more. The next big item is priority service.
That’s when you jump to the front of the line if you have an emergency call. This is important during peak times of the year. That’s the dead of winter for heating repair and the dog days of summer for AC’s.
This is a big deal because it means you won’t be stuck without heat or cooling when you need it most. And, you won’t pay extra to have someone make a special trip out to you before it’s technically your turn.
So, that’s what they offer. Now, you have to decide whether it’s worth it for you.
When you’re weighing whether these maintenance agreement benefits will save you money, you should consider:
To start off: Are you a handy, do-it-yourself kind of person? If so, you may not need routine maintenance. If you’re cleaning out AC condensers and comfortable poking around in a heating unit, why pay someone to do it?
But, maybe you’re not that handy, or you just don’t have the time to do it. That’s when you may consider paying a monthly fee to know it’s taken care of.
Whether you do it yourself or not, however, routine maintenance goes a long way. It makes your equipment run better and last longer. That saves you money on monthly bills when the system is energy-efficient. And, you won’t have to shell out for a replacement as soon as if you didn’t keep up on it.
So, that brings us to our next factor: How’s your equipment looking these days? Is it newer and still under warranty? Or is it old and starting to fail?
Really, a service contract works best in a sweet spot in the middle of a unit’s life. If it’s still under factory warranty, you don’t need to pay anyone else for parts. An important thing to look for in your warranty is if a maintenance agreement is required or not. Conversely, if your equipment is getting old and breaking down a lot, you probably want to think about replacing it soon instead of hopping it another season.
So, you want to extend the life of your equipment in the years right after the warranty is up. Elsewhere, if you have a rainy day fund for emergencies, that may cover anything a contract would cover anyway.
If not, consider whether or not the yearly fee would be more or less than credit card bills and interest. Or, if you would need to divert other money for an unexpected breakdown.
Last: How’s the weather near you? Around Lake Michigan, the summers aren’t bad but the winters are pretty rough. It’s below freezing almost all the time between December and February. And, you can expect more than 36 inches of snow every year.
That means your furnace is putting in some heavy-duty work. That makes them more likely to break. And, you’re more likely to be really uncomfortable if they do. Suddenly, paying for priority service might make a lot of sense.
OK, so you’ve decided to invest in a yearly program. Now, you just need to make sure you’re getting a good one. That means making sure it gives you what you need. You also want to know the company you bought it from is legit.
The first step is some online research. Is the company in good standing with the Better Business Bureau? Do they have good online reviews?
Anyway, you also want to check out how long the company’s been in business. The longer, the better. That makes it much more likely that in November they’ll honor the contract you bought back in January.
Last but not least, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Any tech or customer service rep worth their salt will be ready with any answers you need. Make sure you understand everything you’ll get and also what you won’t. Make sure it lines up with what you need.
A contract like this can go a long way to save you money and heading off problems. You just need to make sure you get the right one!