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When the temperature drops, the last thing anyone wants is for the furnace to stop working. But when it does, you need a reliable contractor — and fast.

Good heating contractors are in high demand during the colder months, so you shouldn't be surprised if you can't get it fixed immediately. Rather than get overheated, you need to research companies before you sign a contract for repairs or replacement.

Better Business Bureau is a great resource for finding trustworthy contractors. Consumers can find hundreds of BBB Business Profiles on HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractors at They also can browse BBB's Accredited Business Directory for heating businesses that have pledged to uphold BBB Standards of Trust.

BBB Business Profiles include a rating from A+ to F and show whether a company has complaints and how the company responded to the complaints. Many contractors also have customer reviews that show how they've delivered service to customers.

Nationally, BBB received nearly 4,000 consumer complaints about HVAC contractors last year. Common complaints include substandard work, contractors who never finished the job, and billed expenses that weren't discussed up front.

Consumers should consider the following when looking for a heating contractor:

Research the company's background and licensing. Visit for a BBB Business Profile and BBB Customer Reviews on any service company you plan to hire. Learn more about its reputation and any history of complaints. Always confirm the company is licensed and insured.

Compare prices and service packages. Get at least three estimates for any heating repair, maintenance or replacement. All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided and the materials to be used.

Review warranty coverage. Find out if the company offers any type of warranty or guarantee. Make certain you understand the terms and conditions of the coverage. Also, be sure to check the warranty on your current furnace to determine whether any repairs or replacements may be covered.

Ask about energy efficiency. Many new furnaces are manufactured to be more energy-efficient than others. Look for the ENERGY STAR label to find out more about products that may cost a little more up front, but save you in energy costs over time. Some models may even be eligible for a tax credit. Ask your HVAC contractor to verify tax credit eligibility and provide the Manufacturer Certification Statement for the equipment you plan to purchase.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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