The basis is the targets and pay structure employed by some companies in the business. In this area, HVAC is a seasonal business. When it’s 75 degrees outside, your HVAC system is barely having to do anything to keep your house at 72. There are going to be a lot less real problems to fix, but certain companies still have high quotas to meet and pay most of their staff hefty commissions. So what’s going to happen? Enterprising people in the field are going to find ways to hit their goals. It’s as simple as that.
Our advice is to avoid some of the biggest companies in the business. This is where we’ve seen the biggest abuse of trust, if not straight out scamming of customers. We know about one company in particular that is well aware of it, and we’ve heard from past employees that they actually teach their people tricks to abuse customer trust, then they use additional tactics to hide their bad reviews.
Now that you understand the “why” you can look at the “how.” The problem with scams is they often seem very realistic. How do you differentiate good advice from something made up to take advantage of you? It can be very difficult and while it may seem like money that is wasted, getting a second opinion is often money well spent. Knowing who to trust to get the second opinion, can be a little more difficult. Read reviews carefully and look for examples for the companies either earn accolades for saving customers money, or the opposite where there is evidence from customers who feel like they have been ripped off.
There are many more scams than those below, but these are certainly common examples that we have actually seen employed first hand.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
When your furnace’s heat exchanger actually gets cracked, it is a very serious problem, as any technician will tell you — But it isn’t as common as you might think. If you hear this diagnosis during a service call, try not to focus on your technician’s scary images of fire, carbon monoxide, and safety issues for your home and family. While it is important to take any warnings seriously and make sure your family is safe, you also need to make sure you aren’t being ripped off.
The replacement of a heat exchanger on split systems is a very time-consuming process. You have to virtually take the whole furnace apart. For this reason, the labor alone is usually over $1,000 an combined with the part cost, $1,500 or more is not uncommon. The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to get a second opinion. Our company usually identifies a dozen or so misdiagnosed heat exchangers per year. Unfortunately this happens more during times of the year when business slows down.
Freon/R22 Being Phased Out
It’s true, the EPA has mandated that no new “virgin” “HCFC 22” can be manufactured or imported after 2020 due to its effect on the environment. HVAC companies are using this to scare customers into believing somehow they will have to pay a fortune to fix their systems after 2020. First of all, if your system is leaking refrigerant you should either fix or replace it, regardless of the cost of R22. So far we haven’t seen the run on the bank of R22 that everyone predicted. Equipment is getting phased out fast and there are lots of suppliers stockpiling the R22. The bottom line: there is truth to the idea that R22 is being phased out, but it’s no time to panic. You should still make a decision to fix or replace your system based on the merits and timing that fits your needs. Not undue pressure and scare tactics about R22.
Blown up or melted parts
Unfortunately we’ve seen this a time or two as well. When doing an estimate for a new system a customer casually mentions that the last technician said the system was in such bad shape he’d never seen anything like it. The technician said the capacitor had “exploded” and he was taking it back to show the other guys in the company. We simply replaced the missing capacitor and the customer has told us the unit has continued to operate with no problems since that time.
On older systems, compressor failure can certainly occur. As the compressor wears out it becomes harder and harder to start. Eventually they often become shorted — where the windings that create a magnetic field lose their insulation and either short together or short to ground. This definitely means the end of your compressor, but like other major repairs it’s important to completely understand what’s happening and often to get a second opinion.
That’s a relatively short list, but there are an almost unlimited number of variations. Our best advice when dealing with HVAC repairs is to take your time and don’t get rushed into making a quick decision. Check your reviews carefully and never hesitate to get a second opinion.