Heating & Cooling: The State of our Industry – Buyer Beware

HHC-Logo-2011-300x221As we head into year 2…or 3…or 4…or 5 or whatever of the “Great Recession”, the term “Buyer Beware” has taken on a whole new meaning.  As consumers budgets tighten and as companies become ever desperate for business, customer service and quality are approaching new all-time lows.  The scams you read about in the news are becoming more aggressive and, with consumers looking to save every place they can, vulnerability is at an all-time high.  The heating and cooling industry unfortunatly is historically notorious for poor service and scams.  In fact, in Southern Arizona, the heating and cooling industry has the most complaints with the Better Business Bureau from consumers, with more than used car dealers, pay-day lenders, insurances companies, etc.  Embarassing and sad to say the least.

The following are some red flags to watch for when seeking out a heating and cooling company for repairs, maintenance or estimates on replacement systems.

RED FLAG #1 – THE LOW-BALL PRICE

Ever see those ads that say “$39 Heating Tune-Up!” or “$2,900 A/C System Installed!”?  Sounds great doesn’t it?  Here’s a little perspective…a decent heating and cooling service technician makes at least $18 per hour, add in the costs of fuel to get to the home, the service van, overhead expenses for a basic office, people to answer the phone, schedule calls, process paper and the average HVAC company has, at bare minimum, hourly expenses of $50 per hour.  Do you honeslty think when you call for that $39 special that all you are going to pay is $39?  It’s called a bait and switch.  Low-Ball pricing to get themselves in your home where they can then find costly and always “necessary” repairs.  These companies actually train their technicians to deceive customers so that they can make a profit.  As for the $2,900 installed air conditioning system, this is so far below the cost of even cheap equipment, let alone the cost of the labor to install.  Any whole house A/C system replacement that is properly engineered and sized for your home, and is properly installed by trained installers, is going to cost you more than $5,000, and that is with low-end value level equipment, not the highly efficient equipment you would want.  If you see a price that is much lower than the competion and seems like an amazing deal, it’s either a scam or an unreputatble company you are dealing with.

RED FLAG #2 – THE 400 SQUARE FEET PER TON OF A/C “RULE OF THUMB”

Just about any consumer who has researched buying a new A/C system has read about or had a contractor tell them about the Rule of Thumb for equipment sizing:  “Mr. Johnson, your home is 2000 square feet, at 400 square feet per ton, you need a 5-ton air conditioning unit today.”  This is the most bogus and lazy lie that exists in our industry.  It doesn’t even stand up to the easiest of logical tests.  Say House “A” is 1,000 square feet with 12 feet high ceilings and a ton of large low quiality single pane windows.  Now, house “B” is 1,000 square feet as well, but only has 8 feet high ceilings with a few small quality double pane windows.  House A is absolutely going to need more cooling capacity than House B because of its larger cubic volume and the large heat gain from the windows.  Using the Rule of Thumb, each of these homes would get a 2.5 ton AC system.  Unfortunately, the occupants of House A are going to be miserable because their AC system is too small and can’t keep the home cool in the Summer.  Every reputable heating and cooling company will insist on performing a Manual J Engineering Load Calculation to determine the size of system you need.  This process takes a lot of education and extra time to perform, but is essential for proper sizing.  A system that is not properly sized will not keep a home comfortable, will drive up energy bills and will decrease equipment life.

So, if you hear a contractor tell you about the Rule of Thumb, walk away and walk away fast!

To be continued…

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