Your HVAC unit is an essential system within your home, providing much-needed relief when temperatures become extreme. Not only does an HVAC system cool and heat your home but also, it keeps the air clean by filtering out dust and debris. When your HVAC unit stops performing optimally, or when it fails, you will need to hire a professional to make the necessary repairs. The question is, what type of professional should you hire: An HVAC tech or handyman?
The answer to your question about which type of professional to hire depends on several factors, including but not limited to the extent of repairs, permit and licensure requirements, and cost. For help making the most informed decision, carefully consider the pros and cons of using a handyman vs HVAC tech.
What’s the difference between a handyman and an HVAC technician?
A handyman is, in the most basic sense of the term, a jack-of-all-trades. This type of professional can handle a myriad of odd jobs around the home. Handymen and women are often the go-to repair or maintenance persons for home and business owners across the country. Because the jobs they typically perform are small — and because most states limit the dollar amount handyman may make off any single job — handyman rates are often reasonable.
An HVAC technician, on the other hand, is a licensed professional who performs very specific work on HVAC systems alone. This type of professional must possess licensure and certification (in most states) and will likely have gone through a certification program and apprenticeship. Individuals may also have to pass several exams before they can earn their technician titles.
Because HVAC techs must go through rigorous training, most are intimately familiar with all heating and cooling system mechanisms. For this reason, they are the people for the job when repairs or failures involve integral or major components. Because of their specialization, HVAC techs typically charge significantly more than handymen.
Can a handyman fix an AC unit or furnace?
Whether a handyman can fix an AC unit or furnace really depends on whether the issue is major or minor. If the fix is small and something you considered handling yourself, a handyman should be able to do the job for you and do it well. However, if the issue is major, or if it involves an integral component, you may want to entrust the job to a professional who has the right tools and knowledge to complete the repair correctly the first time around.
What is a major fix versus a minor one, though, and how to know who you should hire, an HVAC tech or handyman? Unfortunately, there is no way to tell for sure the size of a job until you receive a professional diagnosis.
That said, a good rule of thumb is to hire an HVAC technician for a reoccurring issue, as reoccurring issues are often signs of more significant problems. If the issue occurs for the first time, though, and if you suspect it is something a shrewd handyman can troubleshoot and fix, it may not hurt to pay for a handyman’s services first. In the worst-case scenario, the handyman will look at the unit (likely for free) and let you know that it’s a job for a trained technician.
HVAC-Related Jobs a Handyman Can Usually Do
When it comes to HVAC system repairs, you may only consider hiring a handyman if a more capable homeowner would also feel comfortable making the fix. Examples of fixes handymen can easily make are as follows:
- Clean and replace air filters
- Melt ice buildup
- Reset or replace the thermostat
- Test and possibly replace your capacitator
- Clean the whole AC unit or furnace
Beyond these services, your best bet would be to hire an experienced HVAC tech.
HVAC vs Handyman: The Benefits of Hiring the Former Over the Latter
When comparing a handyman vs HVAC tech, you ultimately need to consider what you gain by hiring one versus the other and, consequently, what you lose. Below are the top tradeoffs of hiring a handyman over an HVAC tech.
HVAC units are intricate and costly. An experienced HVAC technician has extensive training and familiarity with all the components of an HVAC system or furnace. As a result, he or she can make even the most complicated repairs without causing damage to the unit. Unfortunately, it is unlikely a handyman can say the same.
Though skilled workers, and though jacks-of-all-trades, most handymen do not have the knowledge, know-how or tools to make intricate repairs without risking damage to the entire unit. For this reason, many home and business owners feel more comfortable hiring HVAC technicians than they do handymen.
While not always the case, HVAC technicians typically have more knowledge of local building codes and permits as they pertain to heating and cooling systems than do handymen and women. This type of knowledge usually comes in handy when you’re having an entirely new system installed, in which case you would want to hire an HVAC tech over a handyman regardless.
However, even a slight repair that is not done to code could have adverse effects in the future. For instance, if you try to sell your home, you may have to redo the work up to code beforehand. If, for whatever reason, the city finds out you authorized unpermitted work, you may face a hefty code violation fine.
In addition to having knowledge of local building codes and permitting requirements, HVAC technicians are familiar with system safety hazards and how to avoid them. For instance, to a technician it may be common knowledge that you must run all furnace exhaust fumes outdoors. Failure to do so is a major safety hazard that could result in illness or even death, as toxic fumes remain trapped indoors. Though some handymen may be familiar with some such safety precautions, not all are — and most are not familiar with all the relevant safeguards.
Though not every state requires its HVAC technicians to obtain licensure, many do. For many home and business owners, licensed contractors offer more peace of mind than do unlicensed handymen. This is because licensed professionals must remain up-to-date with local and state building codes and regulations. They are also familiar with permit requirements. Moreover, licensed professionals must meet continuing education requirements to maintain their licensure. Finally, licensed professionals must assume liability for any harm or damage they cause, whereas handymen are not necessarily held to the same standard.
Building off the above point … Most states require licensed professionals to carry insurance so that they can meet any financial obligations that arise from incorrect or poor work. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the handyman you hire carries insurance. If he or she makes a mistake or does more harm than good, you may be on the hook for additional repairs.
Because of how expensive and complex HVAC systems are, most manufacturers will only honor a warranty if all repairs are or were performed by a licensed and certified professional. In fact, most warranties contain clauses that require home or business owners to invest in routine maintenance — routine meaning “annual” — by a licensed technician. Failure to keep up with the maintenance requirements may render your warranty inactive.
If you wish to save money by hiring a handyman instead of an HVAC tech, review your warranty for maintenance and repair clauses. Though hiring a handyman vs and HVAC tech can save you money upfront, it may end up costing you in the long run.
Both HVAC technicians and handymen can offer guarantees. When deciding who to hire, ask contenders about their guarantees. If they guarantee their work, for how long will the assurance last? If either type of professional does not guarantee his or her work, be wary, as there is no good reason not to.
While specialized knowledge and training are helpful in the completion of maintenance and repair tasks of any heating and cooling system, no professional — handyman or technician — can do a job without the proper tools. HVAC technicians and contractors are far more likely to have the appropriate tools in their arsenal than everyday handymen. Specialized tools that techs typically have that other professionals do not include refrigerant gauges, meters, coil fin straightener, multimeter and core removal, among others.
If you’re like many homeowners, you struggle to decide between hiring an HVAC tech or handyman because of cost alone. While it’s fair to say that HVAC technicians’ rates are considerably higher than those of handymen, the fact is that they can charge higher rates because they have more experience and knowledge. This experience and knowledge allow them to work faster, which saves clients money in the long run.
You will notice the speed with which HVAC techs work almost right away. While a handyman may take a few hours to identify and diagnose an issue, most experienced techs can diagnose a problem by simply listening to your account of the issue or by listening to the system itself. A quicker diagnosis, in most instances, means a faster repair.
Finally, because of their specialized knowledge, HVAC technicians can identify future issues and make the necessary repairs before they become costly problems. This is one major benefit of investing in annual inspections, and a primary reason why manufacturer warranties require them.
The Cost of Service: HVAC vs Handyman
Though there are several reasons to hire an HVAC technician instead of a handyman, one major drawback is cost. It is no secret that handymen charge significantly less than licensed and certified professionals. This is true for several reasons, but one of the main reasons they can do so is because they did not have to pay for training, and they do not have to pay for licensure, certification or continuing education courses. So, what can you expect to pay a handyman vs HVAC tech? Below are a few averages worth considering:
- The average handyman rate for independent workers is between $60 to $70 per hour.
- Handymen who work for companies typically charge up to $125 per hour.
- Small jobs typically take one to two hours; medium jobs between two and four hours; and large jobs anywhere from four hours to several days.
- HVAC techs charge between $75 to $150 per hour.
- Most homeowners pay for two to four hours of service from HVAC technicians.
- HVAC companies do not just charge for technicians’ time — they also charge service call rates of between $75 to $200.
It’s important to note that most states cap the value of projects that handymen can take on. For instance, in California, handymen can only conduct up to $500 worth of work on a single project without a license. In Michigan, the cap is slightly higher, at $600. In Nevada, handymen can work without a license so long as the value of the project does not exceed $1,000.
Does It Matter Which Type of Professional You Call or Hire?
In most cases, your decision to hire a handyman over an HVAC technician boils down to your preferences and budget. Do you prefer a licensed, insured contractor, or will you trust your neighborhood handyman? Also, you need to ask yourself, can you afford an HVAC tech?
You should also consider warranty and whether work by a handyman will void it. Finally, you should consider the size and scope of the project. If a large or intricate repair is necessary, it may make the most sense to pay for an HVAC tech’s services up-front rather than risk developing costlier issues in the future.
HVAC Tech or Handyman: Which Professional Is Right for You?
When you have an issue with your heating or cooling system, you cannot go wrong by hiring an HVAC technician. A technician has the proper training, experience, knowledge and tools to conduct repairs or maintenance in little time and without incident. Technicians also often have insurance and can confidently guarantee their work.
That said, reputable handymen also have the right experience, knowledge and tools to conduct most simple repairs. They also charge considerably less, making them an attractive option for home and business owners alike.
Ultimately, the best way to determine which type of professional to hire is to do your research. Look into licensure, certifications and reviews, and don’t be afraid to rely on referrals.