With the winter heating season on the horizon, Kennewick homeowners are taking steps to prepare their HVAC systems. Unfortunately, some less-than-honest contractors use the changing season as an opportunity to earn a little extra easy money. Here are five HVAC scams in the Tri-Cities area that you should be aware of, and what to do if you’re confronted with one.
“Honestly, it would be cheaper to replace the whole thing…”
The most common major HVAC problems you may see involve a cracked heat exchanger, or a bad motor or compressor. On the heating side of the system, a cracked heat exchanger is a major problem, and it must be addressed before you can use the unit safely. In its broken state, a bad heat exchanger can allow deadly carbon monoxide gas into your living space.
A heat exchanger is the heart of a forced-air heating system. It simply has to work properly. So, when someone tells you that your heat exchanger is cracked, it’s time to sit up and listen. Heat exchangers can be replaced. The repair can be expensive. The decision to replace a system instead of just the broken part will depend on the age of the furnace, it’s efficiency and the cost of a new system.
The tough part about a diagnosis like this is that it’s most often made by the guy who is going to benefit financially from your decision. If you have time – that is, you’re not trying to make this decision when it’s -4°F outside – contact a qualified home inspector to render a neutral assessment of your HVAC system. To avoid being in this position, have your furnace inspected, maintained and cleaned at the end of each heating season by a trusted professional. That way, you’re not making a rushed decision about a major expense when you’re trying to stay warm!
“If big is good, bigger must be better.”
Your house is a finite space. Your heating system should be big enough to heat your space, but it shouldn’t be bigger than it needs to be, unless you have imminent expansion plans. The right-sized heating equipment will save money on installation and operation. Remember, you won’t get “better” heat from a bigger heating unit – just a bigger heating bill. If a HVAC contractor recommends a unit that’s designed to heat significantly more space than what you’ve got, look for a new contractor!
“Fake repairs with fake parts”
Homeowners are always vulnerable to this scam. A technician finds a “problem” and offers to change out the faulty part. As a consumer, you’re entitled to keep the broken part. If your technician doesn’t offer to let you inspect or retain the allegedly faulty part, that’s a red flag. Further, the technician should be able to show you the bad and good parts, side-by-side. You should see obvious signs of wear or damage on the suspect part. He or she should also be able to tell you why he believes the part is bad. Bad parts cause symptoms, and if your system isn’t experiencing any symptoms, make the technician prove to you that the repair is necessary. If the tech can’t do that, stop the repair and call a different, licensed professional or an independent home inspector to evaluate your situation.
“Saving the customer money by using used parts”
A reputable licensed HVAC professional doesn’t keep a stash of used parts on the truck as a money-saving service to his clients. Used parts are used. Parts may be minimally used or they may be well used, but at the end of the day, they’re used. As a consumer, you have the right to expect new parts for your HVAC system, and a technician isn’t doing you any favors by installing a used part.
“Unbelievably low prices!”
It pays to shop around. Unfortunately, heating and cooling systems aren’t like the goods you buy in stores. You can’t pick up your furnace and bring it into the shop for repairs. It needs to be serviced where it is. Heating and cooling companies have some costs associated with doing business on your turf, and not every team is the same.
When you shop for a furnace, consider the total cost of ownership. A certain brand may be less expensive to buy, but more expensive to service. It may be tough to find a certified service professional for your brand in your area, or they may be on every street corner. Some shops may have one or two certified techs on staff and a bevy of techs that aren’t certified, but simply “know what they’re doing.” Other shops may insist that all their techs be certified on the systems they sell and service.
Do Your Research.
It pays to do a little research on both your furnace and the maintenance plan for it! Take the time to research technicians, their licensure and their reputation. Also take the time to figure out whether you can save money by signing up for a service plan with a local certified dealer. You’ll know ahead of time what it costs to arrange a service call, and what kind of expenses you’re looking at if you need to do repairs. Waiting until you need emergency service to do price comparisons is not a good way to save money or get a quality repair.
If you’re considering a major repair or replacement for your heating and cooling system, a major appliance or other home system, you can arrange an inspection with Home Inspections Plus. We’ll provide a thorough, unbiased assessment of any system, or evaluate the quality of a repair. We’ll also create complete documentation for our findings. Give us a call at (509) 792-3138 to arrange a visit.