APPLES for APPLES
In the Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning Trade, as it is with other types of customer based Service and Installation Industries, there are as many different contractors to choose from as there are options and brand names to choose from as well. Some contractors offer brands that only they offer in their area, some offer more options to choose from, and some differences in quality of installation. You, as the consumer, generally go into a potential purchase, usually a major purchase, without the knowledge of what is available, how it actually works, and you're not even given any other options to choose from. If you had this knowledge, it would help and it also would help if the contractors you asked for quotes from would match "Apples for Apples", which means that they were offering very similar products, installed in the same manner with similar materials, and offer the same "after the installation" service. Some contractors are quick to sell, but won't come back to fix anything that could be wrong. Even some will offer you a "Great Deal", do a quick low quality installation, and don't even bother to pull any permits if required.
Buyer Beware, some contractors do not look after the customer as well as other contractors would. Being a consumer myself, I have had "Scare Tactics" used on me on many purchases I've made. Its insulting when someone tries to sell you something, telling you that what you already have is not going to last much longer, or it is not as efficient as the newer models, and you have to change it out now before it goes bad and stops working, or else some huge catastrophe will happen. A good example is with boilers. Most boiler manufacturers have not changed their basic design in decades, outside of replacing the front bolt-on fire box cover for an oil fired boiler, to one that is a hinged door that the oil burner mounts on and makes it easier for a proper boiler cleaning. The basic design is the same and its just as efficient as its predecessor. In the case of boilers, there are some designs in the heat exchangers that are more efficient than others. In Furnaces, some last longer than others.
On several occasions, I've seen Sales Personnel from some companies tell the customer that their boiler or furnace is "Shot", is leaking water or carbon monoxide, and needs to be replaced. Some companies will see a Hot Air Furnace that's ten years old or more and automatically use "Scare Tactics" to sell you a new one. I have been called in to give a quote as well and upon close inspection, I could not find any leak or anything wrong with the boiler or furnace. Don't be afraid to get a second opinion or another quote. In the case with a Hot Air Furnace, it is a very good idea to have carbon monoxide detectors in close proximity of the heating appliance and through-out the home. Follow the instructions and periodically check them out to see if they are working.
Don't let anyone tell you that just because your heating appliance uses Natural Gas or Propane Gas, that it doesn't need yearly servicing like an oil fired one. There are things that need to be checked annually as well. Check with your appliance manufacturer about it. They all have Customer Support phone numbers and/or on line support available.
Beware of the quote that is much lower than any of the others. They probably forgot to include something and once they start the job they will hit you with Expensive Extras, or they simply are not doing the same job as the other quotes offered. The highest quote may not be the best one either. Ask for references from their customers. See if you can take a look at the job they did for that customer.
In these times, there are a lot of installers that were unfortunately laid off from the companies they were working for. Everyone needs to feed their family and they will offer you a cheap job, but are they going to be around to finish the job if they get called back to work, and will they be around to fix what may not be working as well as it was supposed to? There are a lot of good contractors out there, and sometimes the old adage is true, "You Get What You Pay For".
Our installations are not only installed to look like a professional job and to work like they are suppose to, they are also installed with possible servicing kept in mind. For an example, on circulating hot water boilers, we install isolating ball valves at the header on both supply and returns for each zone. If there were a problem with the circulator and/or flow check valve, with the zone valve, or even if a leak had occurred on a given zone, only that zone would be shut down to service and not the whole heating system. This is part of what I call "Paying Attention To Detail".
Another example is when we install submersible well pumps for a new home, we install what is referred to as a "three wire pump". A lot of companies out there use "two wire pumps", which means that the motor capacitor is mounted on the pump, deep down in the well. A three wire pump has the capacitor inside a small control box mounted on the wall near the well tank, where it is much easier to service. Most of the time, when a submersible pump stops working, it is the capacitor that has burned out and all that is needed is to replace it at the control box, instead of pulling the pump and replacing the motor. Little things like this saves the customer money in the long run. Even though I would make a good amount of money selling a customer a new pump every time a pump motor capacitor went bad, I'd rather save the customer some money and have them refer this company to their friends and family.
Unless you are completely satisfied with your contractor and you feel confident that they are looking out for your best interests, Always Get Three Estimates. Do your home work and know exactly what you want. Ask for references and follow up on these references. Ask for a quote in writing that spells out exactly what they are selling you and what they are going to do for you. Basically, have them match "Apples for Apples".