Sometimes, as a trade magazine editor focused on the comfort conditioning industry, I get asked for advice by people who are in the market for a new furnace or air conditioning system. I've always found it interesting that people want MY advice on this stuff — after all, I'm not a contractor. I just play one on the written pages of this magazine.

Still they come to me for advice. Such was the case a few weeks ago, when two neighbors decided to replace their 30-year-old comfort systems and take advantage of the stimulus dollars and rebates available to them.

Of course, being knowledgeable enough to be dangerous, I explained to them how important it was to find a good contractor with a solid reputation, who invests in his or her business, people, and technology. I talked about memberships in trade associations and the importance of having field personnel who are well-trained, well-equipped, and certified.

As their eyes began to glaze over, I felt I needed to really pour it on to make sure they understood.

I told them what to look for in a contractor, where to go online to find certified contractors (NATE is one of my neighbor's son's name, so he perked up at the mention of that), and the importance of why contractors measure spaces, ask questions, and take notes to best determine the size and type of systems and accessories needed.

Then I gave them the names of three contracting firms to call.

In the end, they shopped price. Both of them.

Here's what happened:

Of the three contractors who came out, one (the lowest-priced one) offered a like-for-like swap of old equipment for new, tossed in a free chimney liner, and offered to sell accessories such as humidifiers and electronic air cleaners. He wrote it down in a proposal for each of them and left.

One did a walk-through of both houses, asked about hot and cold spots, and recommended one sized system for one house, a different sized system for the other. He wrote up a proposal for each neighbor (which was only slightly higher than the first proposal) and left it with them to consider.

The third came into their houses, put on booties, and walked through asking many questions about comfort and pets, hot and cold spots, room use, and so on. He measured each room carefully. He sat down with each neighbor and talked to them about equipment, options, payment plans. He explained how his company invests in the best training, certification, and tools.

His price was nearly one-and-a-half times the others.

So my neighbors went with contractor number two. “Why didn't you use the more professional guy?” I asked.

“He took too much of our time,” they said. “He didn't provide us with a proposal. His equipment sizes were close to the other guys. And his price was off the charts.”

I was astounded.

But there is a lesson here. In today's society, time is as much an issue as money. It seems that balancing the two is more important than ever.

My neighbors clearly thought contractor number two offered the most balanced deal that took the best advantage of government dollars and rebates without consuming too much of their time. Sold!

The first contractor clearly thought that slamming in a similar system to what already existed was in his own best interest. Wrong!

The third contractor clearly thought paying attention to details (except for the dropped ball on a written proposal) and being completely professional would win the customer over. Wrong!

Clearly follow through and balance were key in this scenario.

Ancient Romans, who ascribed human traits to gemstones, imbued the September gemstone — the sapphire — with the trait of clear thinking.

September is also the time of the harvest. Isn't it time for you to harvest some clear thinking and balance? HVACRWeek is a gem of a show where you can take refresher courses in these and many more areas that can improve business skills and sharpen your thinking.

So the question is: Should we invite my neighbors to attend?