If you own a home, you’ve probably been in a position where you were Googling or asking friends and family for recommendations for hiring a contractor and ended up with a plethora of names. As you started narrowing the names to best fit your needs and budget, you’ve probably considered hiring a friend of a friend who knows the trade, is not licensed, and can do the work at a much lower price. Is someone who trims the price really worth it? Is the quality there? Do they have the knowledge they need? Here are a few major bangs you get for the extra buck when hiring a licensed HVAC contractor.
The Actual Licensing
All Maryland licensing requirements are managed by the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, DLLR, except in Baltimore County, which is under the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Licensing for a trade, such as HVAC, electrical, or plumbing, requires hours of on-the-job training under a master technician, plus passing the stringent state licensing exams. There are several different levels of licenses described below:
An apprentice level is the first step in training to become a licensed HVAC technician in Maryland. According to the DLLR, apprentices must only work to assist the master HVAC technician with their work, and cannot do any work on their own.
Usually, an apprentice has to register with various state and local boards to indicate that they are in training for the journeyman level, the next level up. As an apprentice, they will need to work for three years directly assisting a more experienced technician and pass the journeyman’s exam which tests their overall knowledge of HVAC science and technology. A passing score is 70 percent or higher.
A journeyman is the next level of on-the-job training that a licensed HVAC technician must go through. In order to apply for a journeyman license, the apprentice must be able to demonstrate that they were an apprentice to a master-level technician for at least three years. During those three years, they would have needed to spend a minimum of 1,875 hours under the direct supervision and control of a licensed HVAC contractor. As you can see, even becoming a next-level apprentice requires a lot of experience and training. As a journeyman, a technician is able to perform HVAC services for a customer, but only with the supervision of a master-level technician.
After the journeyman stage, there are three levels of licensing that the worker can go for. The limited licensee requires two years of journeyman-level work under the direct control and supervision of a licensed HVAC contractor. In the year prior to their application, they must demonstrate that they have worked a minimum of 1,000 hours in the field.
There is a limited contractor examination that they must pass with a score of 70 percent or higher. Once passed, they qualify as a limited licensed HVAC technician. Limited licensees are allowed to exclusively maintain and repair one or more HVAC systems in Maryland, but not to provide installation services.
Master Restricted and Master Licenses in Maryland
At the Master Restricted and Master levels, technicians are allowed to maintain, repair, and install HVAC systems. There are many types of systems and the main difference between the two license types is in the number of system types they are allowed to work on. Restricted licensees are limited to one to four types of the system while unrestricted master technicians can work on any of Maryland’s six categories of systems.
To qualify, the journeyman must demonstrate that they have worked to provide services for a minimum of 1,875 hours while working for a master-level technician. They must also take and pass the Master or Master Restricted examination with a 70 percent or higher, and have at least three years of experience under the direction and control of their training master HVAC technician.
Becoming a master plumber
Similar strict standards apply to become a master plumber. Just like the HVAC system, a master plumber starts off as an apprentice working for a master plumber solely as an assistant. They must accumulate 7,500 hours over four years before they can apply for their journeyman status.
As a journeyman, they can do plumbing work under direct supervision. It takes another 3,750 hours of journeyman work in two years, plus passing a backflow certification course, providing three letters of reference, and a passing score on the exam before they can become a master plumber.
When hiring a licensed contractor, one of the “extras” you get is insurance. There are two types of insurance that you should be concerned with; liability and worker’s compensation. The liability insurance protects you against any damages that may be caused to your home during the course of work performed by the contractor. Worker’s compensation insurance protects you if an employee working in-home were to get hurt on your property. While your homeowner’s insurance could cover the claim, your rates would likely increase and could prevent you from getting coverage in the future.
Bonding is completely outside the realm of insurances and is a monetary guarantee for you, the customer, that the contractor will complete the job on time and to a certain standard. Should the contractor not fulfill their obligation, by using cheaper materials or not completing the job, the bond would cover the repairs to bring the job to par. A bond could also cover any stolen personal items or repairs resulting from the damage they caused.
How to protect yourself
The best way you can protect your home, as well as yourself, is to request copies of the contractor’s license. Once you have the licensing information, you are able to check with local, county, and state licensing authorities to confirm the company is in good standing. Insurance policies and copies of bonds should be readily available at your request as well and it’s never a bad idea to check references on websites such as the Better Business Bureau.
Hiring the best
A mistake made by an unlicensed contractor could not only cost you a lot of time and money, but it could also mean you don’t have any recourse to have the unlicensed contractor make things right. When you need HVAC or plumbing work done right, you should always contract a licensed expert. As you can see, it takes thousands of hours and detailed knowledge to become licensed in Maryland, so you know that they have plenty of experience and training for the job.