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Colder weather has arrived in the Pikes Peak region and many Colorado Springs area homeowners are having their furnaces serviced and inspected for the coming winter season. While having your home’s heating system serviced and inspected annually is highly recommended, homeowners need to be aware of some common heating repair scams.  While most local heating repair companies are reputable, there are a few that use unethical practices in order to create revenue for their business.

In this article we are going to examine some common heating repair scams and how to avoid being taken to the cleaners.

First of all, if you have established a trusted working relationship with a local HVAC company, we recommend keeping that relationship intact. Do not veer away from them because you found a coupon from a competitor offering a free or “cheap” offer ($39 tuneup special) to come out and inspect your furnace or air conditioning unit. This common “bait and switch” tactic is frequently used to get a technician into your home. A professional HVAC company cannot and will not stay in business very long performing $39 tuneups and inspections. The only way they can justify this type of “cheap” offer is by training their technicians the art of upselling.

Avoid companies that pay their technicians on a straight   commission basis rather than hourly pay. In other words, the bigger the repair ticket the tech writes, the bigger his paycheck will be. This practice is used by some companies as a way to motivate their techs into upselling to create more revenue for the company, and may lead (and often does) to recommendations or “needed” repairs that are not necessary. If one looks closely enough one can uncover common heating repair scams.

How do you find out whether the technician is paid? Simply ask. Bring it up in friendly conversation. You might just casually ask “So hey Joe, how do you like working for XYZ Heating?  I bet you get paid well. How much do you make an hour?”  Most techs will be happy to share this information with you. If the answer is something like “well I don’t have a set hourly wage” or “I get paid on commission”……beware!  Common heating repair scams are more common with companies that pay their repair techs a straight commission and not by the hour.

YOU HAVE A CRACKED HEAT EXCHANGER!

This is the news all homeowners dread hearing. And it is one of the most common heating repair scams of all time. You call someone out to service or repair your furnace, and you are informed that the heat exchanger is cracked, that it is leaking deadly carbon monoxide or that it will potentially leak carbon monoxide into your home, and that it must be replaced immediately or you and your family could die! You are asked or you feel pressured into making a hasty decision. You’re offered a “right now” discount to have your furnace replaced.

This scare tactic and high pressure scam has been used for decades. So how do you know if it’s fact or fiction? Although a cracked heat exchanger is certainly an issue that is potentially critical, it doesn’t necessarily mean the furnace is or will leak CO into the home. In fact, in many cases, especially with newer modern furnaces, it wont. Here’s an interesting article on cracked heat exchanger myths worth reading.

Ok, so the technician says your heat exchanger is cracked and leaking carbon monoxide. Fine. Show me! Ask them to show you the crack, and if it’s been stated there is a carbon monoxide leak, ask to be shown proof of that as well. Any reputable heating technician will have a carbon monoxide detector (such as the Bacharach Monoxor Plus).  If the furnace is leaking carbon monoxide, ask them to show you where. Avoid this common heating repair scam by being proactive and insisting on seeing the proof.

Carbon monoxide detector
The accurate Bacharach CO detector

Older furnaces can leak carbon monoxide due to a plugged or sooted up heat exchanger and this issue can sometimes be corrected with a thorough cleaning of the furnace. Or CO may be back drafting from the flue due to improper venting or a plugged or partially plugged vent.  Or lack of combustion air that can result in back drafting of the flue gases. In other words, it’s not   always the furnace itself that is causing carbon monoxide to leak into the home, although the furnace is what is likely producing the CO.

Don’t be satisfied with a verbal statement. Ask for and get it in writing   noting exactly what is wrong with the furnace, and what is required (with cost) to remedy the situation. And if you feel at all uncomfortable with the diagnosis and recommended repairs, get a second opinion from another company.

THIS REPAIR IS EXPENSIVE. YOU’RE BETTER OFF REPLACING THE FURNACE.

This could be another common heating repair scam. However, sometimes this is true and does makes complete sense. If you have an old furnace and it needs a new blower motor that will cost four or five hundred to replace, does it make economical sense to repair it?  The new motor will likely only have a 1 year warranty, yet you’ll still have an old furnace that’s inefficient and prone to more future breakdowns. It’s like repairing an old car that has become a cash vacuum. Sometimes it does make sense to invest in a new model. A professional HVAC company will advise you on what makes the most sense.

But a common heating repair scam may go something like this. “Mrs Jones, I can repair your furnace. However, it’s going to cost you $1,500 for me to replace this motor and the circuit board that is malfunctioning, and the other minor parts that need to be replaced.  And your furnace is already 12 years old. It makes more sense for you to have us install a new furnace, and if you sign here today we can take $1000 off the price and install it for only $2,995”

If the quoted price of a suggested repair leaves you in shock, there’s probably a reason! Again, get a second opinion. There’s nothing wrong with writing a check for the service call and telling the tech “thanks for your advice. Let me think about it first and I’ll get back to you.” Beware of the “right now” discounts.  Often this is just a tactic to create a sense of urgency in your mind to commit to an emotional decision, even more so if it is extremely cold outside and you have no heat in the home.

ANNUAL MAINTENANCE CAN AVOID COMMON HEATING REPAIR SCAMS

Once you’ve found a reputable HVAC company that you trust, ask them about getting you on an annual maintenance service plan. Having your furnace (and air conditioner if your home is so equipped) serviced and cleaned yearly will not only add years to the life of the equipment and ensure it’s operating at peak efficiency, you will avoid the pitfalls of the fly-by-night unethical heating (and AC) repair scams. Avoiding common heating repair scams (and AC scams) is not as difficult as it may seem.

Annual service plans include preventative maintenance of your home’s heating (and cooling) equipment, which can prevent minor problems from becoming major problems, can lead to the detection of potential issues before they become problematicand will offer you the peace of mind in knowing that your home’s HVAC system is operating safely and is being well taken care of.

  • Mike Machado
  • Owner Basset Heating & AC, Inc.
  • *Mike Machado has been in the HVAC service industry for over 35 years and has vast experience in residential heating and air conditioning systems. He loves working in the industry and sharing his experience with and offering advice to homeowners, realtors and newcomers into the HVAC service industry. You may contact him via email at mikemachado@bassetheating.com