Cool. Comfort. Cheap.

Don’t get burned. Here are 28 of the best air-conditioning and heating contractors in the Chicago area

Last summer, Maureen Mueller faced a classic Memorial Day hot spell, so she kicked on her air conditioner. It blew warm air. Welcome, summer!

After one of the harshest Chicago winters in recent years, prepare for a different degree: temperatures in the 90s and humidity levels to match. A reliable air-conditioning system makes your home an oasis of relief, and a broken one means misery—or, in extreme cases, death. (The Chicago heat wave of 1995 killed more than 700 people.)

Mueller, a Skokie resident, called several local companies. You want us to come out on a Saturday? A holiday weekend? Ha! But then she reached E. F. Bassing, a family-owned business that also specializes in heating, roofing, and sheet metal. Not a problem, they said. The owner came out himself. The repair estimate was more than what Mueller wanted to put into an aging unit, so she opted for a new one. Basser installed the equipment the following Tuesday, leaving Mueller cool and happy. “They got me going again and really seemed to care,” Mueller says. And her system? It’s been running fine ever since.

Fortunately, there are plenty of air-conditioning and heating service companies across the area that earn similar praise from their customers, according to an evaluation of 307 businesses by Chicago Consumers’ Checkbook. The nonprofit magazine (checkbook.org) collected more than 13,000 ratings of companies by surveying more than 100,000 Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers, checked on complaints on file with the Better Business Bureau and the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, and compared each company’s prices for a sample of specific repair and installation jobs. In all, 119 businesses received Checkbook’s top rating for quality. But here’s the better news: Turns out 28 of those companies also offered the lowest prices. Those businesses are listed on the chart on the next page.

To compare prices, researchers—without revealing their affiliation with Checkbook—provided specifications for routine jobs and found big differences. Prices to install a popular programmable thermostat, for example, ranged from $150 to $400, with an average cost of $263.

The chart also shows how prices at these 28 companies compare with the average prices for all the 307 evaluated. For example, at Comfort Care in Batavia, you could expect to pay $81 for jobs that on average cost $100 elsewhere.

For repair jobs, call and describe the symptoms. A company should be able to tell you over the phone what’s likely to be wrong and give you a price, assuming a correct diagnosis. If you can’t get a preliminary diagnosis and estimate over the phone, you’ll have to schedule a service call. If the first company that comes to your home gives you an estimate that is a few hundred dollars or less, it usually makes sense to have them go ahead with the work—it saves the time of having others come to your home, as well as paying the minimum service charge for the visits. But before paying, get a detailed invoice, including a description of the symptoms before the repair, a list of all labor charges and parts replaced, and a written warranty.

If the repair estimate is more than $500, shop around. Get several businesses to give you written proposals. You might save hundreds on a repair job, or even thousands on the installation of new equipment. If you need a new system, compare their proposed designs and the reasoning behind them. How well your system is designed affects comfort, noise, and vibration levels, as well as future maintenance, so ask for a performance guarantee: Get places to promise a certain standard, such as maintaining an inside temperature of 78 degrees or cooler if it’s 85 degrees outside. Then negotiate for at least a year’s warranty against defects in installer’s equipment or workmanship. Finally, ask if you can hold off on making the full payment until the job is finished or, better yet, after you’ve run the system for a while.

Of course, prevention is one of the easiest ways to avoid major catastrophes. Change your air filter. Dirty filters tax the system, and extremely filthy ones can cause air-conditioning condensing coils to fail. Check your filter each month. If you can’t easily see through it while holding it up to a light, replace it. You’ll probably need to replace the filter two or three times for each cooling season and heating season. Clear debris away from the outdoor unit. Keep the grilles of the unit free of grass clippings, leaves, and other debris, which can inhibit airflow.

Got a heavily used or old system? In those cases, scheduling an annual maintenance visit before temperatures rise can be a good idea, but beware of maintenance contracts for newly installed systems. There is little hard data that supports the value of annual visits. Some systems run fine for years without professional care. If you do decide you want a contract to cover unforeseen repairs, be sure to check what exactly is covered, and be careful not to pay more for the contract service than you would ordering repairs individually at regular labor rates. Checkbook found prices for one contract with the same coverage ranged from $100 to $175.

Remember that equipment typically breaks down during heat waves. Even if you have a maintenance contract, the company may not be able to keep pace during these peaks. And keep in mind that some very costly repair jobs—like replacing an air-conditioning compressor—are usually not covered by maintenance contracts. Should you start to melt while waiting for service repairs, drink water continuously and avoid popping salt tablets. Then long for winter’s cold fronts.

 * * *

28 TOP-RATED AC & HEATING SHOPS

Feeling toasty? Who to call for repairs and installations
 

NAME

ADDRESS CITY PHONE Percentage of customers who rated company “superior” for overall quality

Amount you might expect to pay for work that would cost $100 at the average Chicago-area company

Alan Heating/Air Conditioning 510 S. Spring Rd. Elmhurst
630-833-1100
87
$82
Arnold Heating & Cooling 6609 W. 79th St. Burbank
708-430-4141
85
$68
Biewer Heating and Air Conditioning 38W704 Highland Ave. Elgin
847-687-2664
93
$86
Bob Andersen Heating & Cooling 3121 S. Edgewood Ave. La Grange
708-579-1662
96
$75
Buchner Heating & Air Conditioning 1500 Dearborn Ave. Aurora
630-896-4600
100
$86
Comfort Care 530 S. River St. Batavia
630-406-3010
100
$81
Comfort Savers 1033 Crystal Ct. Glenview
847-998-6000
95
$79
Deerfield Air Conditioning & Heating PO Box 51 Deerfield
847-945-2800
95
$85
E. F. Bassing 9851 Keeler Ave. Skokie
847-675-4030
100
$80
Enright’s Heating & Cooling 11560 W. 184th Pl., #A Orland Park
708-614-1441
100
$86
Floyd’s Heating & Air Conditioning 501 Ridge Rd. Homewood
708-799-0090
87
$88
George’s Heating & Air Conditioning 1860 Oxnard Dr. Downers Grove
630-971-2649
81
$87
Home Comfort Systems PO Box 1189 Bolingbrook
630-739-5764
90
$71
Ibbotson Heating 514 S. Arthur Ave. Arlington Heights
847-253-0866
90
$87
Jay Mar Energy Center PO Box 2209 Palatine
847-358-6350
94
$86
J. D. Harps 2842 W. 101st St. Evergreen Park
708-636-4705
100
$80
Lockwood Furnace 2300 McDonough St. Joliet
815-744-4004
82
$87
Marszalik & Sons 5637 S. Kolin Ave. Chicago
773-585-7500
97
$73
Mike’s/Bremen Service Harlem Ave. & 175th St. Tinley Park
708-532-2266
85
$82
Mike’s Refrigeration Service 2237 W. Belmont Ave. Chicago
773-348-6793
96
$88
Modern Heating 11982 W. Wadsworth Rd. Beach Park
847-872-3508
86
$82
North Farm Heating & Cooling 397 Armstrong Dr. Buffalo Grove
847-541-2333
90
$69
Petrik & Son 5600 Virginia Ave. Clarendon Hills
630-323-8220
88
$87
Rosewood Heating 1702 S. Dixie Hwy. Crete
708-672-7498
100
$82
Sorensen Heating & Cooling 581 S. Columbine Ave. Lombard
630-627-5552
86
$75
Stephens Plumbing & Heating 747 Ogden Ave. Downers Grove
630-968-0783
90
$85
Steve’s Heating & Air Conditioning 210 N. Dunton Ave. Arlington Heights
847-253-9093
82
$80
Visser Heating & Air Conditioning 168 W. Grand Ave. Elmhurst
630-530-1211
88
$81

 

Illustration: Mario Wagner

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