Mar 26, 2013

Caveat Emptor, or How a $23 Furnace Repair Becomes $925

** 3/27/13 Update - Ripoff Made Right, Scroll Down ** 

Not sure I'd call myself a handyman around the house.
But I am a fairly pragmatic sort of dude.
Or a cheapskate, your pick.

If there's a way to save money, I'll usually take the longer, dusty route to get there.

When I looked into tiling the small entryway and was quoted $400, I showed the contractor the door.  Then took a hard swig of A&E 2% chocolate milk, headed to Lowe's and grabbed a Tile for Idiots book for 12 bucks, two boxes of unglazed Spanish clay, grout, trowel and snips for $90.

A weekend later it was finished, saved $300 and I learned a new skill in the process.




Sometimes I get lazy, don't want to mess with it and hire something out.  Then regret it when the bill arrives.  Such is the case for my furnace that conked out this weekend.

Saturday morning, it was extra chilly when we awoke.  I keep the 'stat in the low 60s all winter, so we're used to it being "refreshing" and "crisp" and "shrinkage."  Perhaps we wear daddy/daughter onesies to ward off the icicles. 


I check the Honeywell, it showed 54 degrees and the furnace was shooting blanks.  Down to the basement to investigate, I watched the furnace cycle:  the fan kicked on, heard the gas blow for a few seconds, but it didn't ignite and the cycle ended. 

Appeared that the ignitor was fried.

The temp outside was 30.  Heating/cooling companies charge the OHS NOS! emergency rate if you call them over the weekend.  I wanted to avoid that money trap.  Figured if we ran a small electric space heater with a fan in front of it, the house should stay in the upper 40s and we could ride it out until Monday. 

"Honey, put on your Snuggie."

We dipped to 49 Sunday night, I piled 5 blankets and a prayer on Pigtails at bedtime.

Called Golden Rule Heating & Cooling Monday morning, they were friendly on the phone and told me to be at the house by 1:30 pm so they could take a look.  I mentioned to the repairman, "I think the ignitor is shot, the fan and gas blow, but no fire." 

He probed the furnace for 10 minutes, said "your ignitor needs replaced," then sat me down at the kitchen table to talk options.  

His chicken scratch on paper pegged Option #1 at $925.  Something about replacing the burner, a thingy ma-do and perhaps a flux capacitor.

I told him "that's crazy talk, the ignitor is toast, how much to replace just that part?"

He scribbled out other options, cleaning packages and other junk for $400 to $600.  "I don't have time to play, please get to the point."  The lowest I could get him down to was $253.




I asked him to leave the trashed part, you know where this is headed.


Curls hates the ratty sweatshirt, it's my favorite



Googled the part number and found it on Amazon for $23.25.  Replacement is simple: power down the furnace, unbolt the old ignitor, swap in the new, power on, test it, done and drink some chocolate milk.

So I paid $268 with tax for a $23 part that was 10 minutes to replace.  Watched him do it so I know how to next time, and ordered a fresh ignitor so it's on hand in case the furnace goes limp again.

These heating companies know folks generally know little about furnaces, are desperate when we have no heat in freezing temps, so they gouge accordingly.  To think that some people probably go along with the $900 sham, older folks and such, makes me hot on the back of the neck.

Tonight, I e-mailed Golden Rule a link to the above part number and asked if they thought attempting to sell a $900 fix for a $23 part fits their motto of "treat others like you want to be treated."  I'll report back their response.

Let me know if you'd like more info on how to troubleshoot and replace the ignitor if you experience a similar situation.  Hopefully, I can help others avoid my mistake and fix it inexpensively on your own.

** 3/27 Update **
I e-mailed the service company, linked to the $23.25 part they replaced and asked why they initially tried to hock a $900 bill.  Told them that BS doesn't mesh well with their "golden rule" mascot. 

A manager called me today at work and said he wanted to make things right.  I recommended his company should always start with the lowest price solution, then move up, rather than firing out of the blocks with a $900 bill and hoping desperate, clueless customers will bite.  He was quiet, then said he'd credit my card $168 to lower the total damage to $100. 

Although I'm happy the company did this, the purpose of my complaint wasn't to try and get my bill lowered, but to call them out on pushing for unnecessary, overpriced repairs when a $23 part plus labor will do.       
*****



-Beard

33 comments:

  1. Makes your blood boil doesn't it? Our stove stopped working the week before Thanksgiving. It had a computer screen with a code on it. The repair guy came out the week after Thanksgiving (so, two weeks without a stove because they were too busy to come before that), turned off the power, turned it back on again to see if that 'reset it' so it would work again (it didn't), then rang the office to find out what the code meant. Gave me the bad news that they wouldn't fix it as 'those replacements never go well' and I would have to do it myself in cahoots with the manufacturer or get a new stove. Thanks for nothing. He was here for all of 10 minutes and basically did NOTHING. I could have switched the power on and off and rung them to ask what the code was. The bill? $95! Not happy. On the plus side, we decided to get a new stove and the guy who installed it ran a new gas line (our previous stove was electric) and rewired behind the stove for only $200.

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    1. Reboot the stove, no pulse, $95 please, thx have a nice day.

      Gas > electric, hope the new one is working well.

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  2. Scoped out their website and I have to say I was slightly amused by something:

    You can get financing through Wells Fargo -- after reading your post, it's no wonder that you'd need financing!

    On a totally different subject, please consider popping by my blog (www.txmom2jami.com) -- we have a dear friend, 18 years old, diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Thanks to your sharing the Give It Forward program for Quincy's new ears, we are using the Give It Forward program to raise money for Kaitlyn's treatment that is not covered by insurance.

    Thanks, Beard!

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    1. Bad news when you gotta 24-mo Wells Fargo an ignitor.

      I sent a small amount to Kaitlyn, we'll pray for her and family tonight.

      Delete
    2. I really appreciate that, Beard --- it's such an encouragement to know that people are praying and helping out in whatever way they can. I know Kaitlyn and her family will really appreciate your donation, and even more so, your prayers. :)

      Delete
    3. Anonymous3/28/2013

      I just sent a donation too, wishing you all the strength in the world!!!

      Delete
    4. Thank you so much! I was chatting with Kaitlyn's mom online this morning and she shared how moved she's been by people's generosity and PRAYERS. Kaitlyn is having a good day -- she struggles with fatigue following the chemo treatments, but has good days in between. So far she has not lost any hair, and we are praying that she won't -- that kind of thing can be hard on an 18 year old girl. We were planning on having her over for chick flicks and snacks, but my daughter woke up with a sore throat -- so we'll have to postpone until we're germ free. Can't take a chance on exposing Kaitlyn's weakened immune system to unnecessary bugs/stress.

      God bless you for your generosity and prayers!

      Delete
  3. Anonymous3/27/2013

    Oh we feel your pain. We have septic tank. Recently had a back up. For you city folk, that means poop coming up the bathtub drain. Could overflow of you don't catch it quick. This always happens at 4:59 on Friday, just in time for after hour rates.

    I was all 'call the guy' and hubby was all 'let me get my headlamp and shovel'. Cursing happened, poop was slashing. So the next day I called the guy. Then hubby called the guy to challenge all charges and fees. Then hubby called the guy and said 'cancel my appointment, crook'. Or something like that.

    Turns out you can buy your own equipment for cheaper than the plumber charges to show up in the driveway. So get a hand snake and put your back into it!

    Thank you men. For being handy, determined, stubborn, and well.... cheap.

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    1. A hand snake, eat an extra bucket of prunes and you'll have that poop under control in no time.

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  4. I am all for my husband (or myself) being handy to save a few bucks... but as a word of caution one thing we do NOT Mess with... major electric work! I do not want my lovely handy man fried! sure he is good at turning off breakers and installing light fixtures or replacing outlets - but re-wiring or anything more complicated/dangerous - I call the pro! Looking fwd to hearing the response from the Golden Rule.....

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    1. Agree, that's why I paid to have most of my kitchen rebuild done by the experts. Between a full electrical rewiring, some structural tweaks to deal with a soffit problem and other sticky things we found late into the project, I don't regret paying for it.

      Delete
  5. Love my ratty sweatshirts! Impressed with the fix. I am intimidated by projects like that.

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    1. At first I thought you said "impressed with the fit," as in you are digging my sweatshirt. This thing is 15 years old and won't die.

      Delete
  6. Anonymous3/27/2013

    Yep, that's a lot of profit. I guess that is how I would like to be treated.

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  7. Last May (I wrote a post about it) our furnace did the same thing. We had one guy come in and he replaced the ignitor, but he only charged $125. It was working fine when he left, but two days later it quit again. Another guy came in and replaced the pressure switch, and he only charged $100. So, you got overcharged. Sorry. Oh, the furnace has been working fine since then, so either both parts actually needed to be replaced or maybe just the pressure switch - I'm not sure.

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    1. Company called me today for a "discussion", ended with them kicking the bill down to $100. While I'm happy they did that, the fact that they even whispered a potential $900 up front is worse than a backed up septic tank without a hand snake in the house.

      Delete
  8. Love my ratty t-shirts and sweatshirts! I'll never give 'em up!

    And Beard, didn't you click on their website's COUPONS link? Shoulda waited until Wednesday... :)

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    1. Yeah, I flashed the Wed. special $50 coupon in my kid's face, she said "Daddy, I can't feel my toes no more."

      Delete
  9. Anonymous3/28/2013

    actually, I love these types of posts about fixing stuff and general home maintenance. There are some of us who move into houses and don't know how or when to change the furnace filter!

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    1. If I can help even one person save money, I'm a happy camper.

      Delete
  10. Step 1: Find family/friends who works in the heating business. My BF's father is an oil technician, installs them and performs maintenance. He recommended we get a yearly service plan as it's cheaper to maintain then to do emergency fixes. Their rate is at least $90/hr+ but I would bet Iowa rates are cheaper. Seems like it should have been closer to $150 to replace the part and an hour or so of service, add in their upsells on the part, $268 doesn't seem thaaat bad. His blood would boil too to hear people getting taken advantage of because he always tries the cheapest/best option, especially with how expensive oil is these days. If you have a normal company, it's usually worth it to pay a little extra but get trustworthy service (same as with your mechanic) and have someone on call.

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    1. The trouble is when the furnace blows up, the house is 49 degrees and I'm at work with little time to monkey on the phone, you tend to just Google a well known business and pull the trigger. Not a lot of time to call friends, call around, etc. It was my fault for not being ready and having the part on hand and checking around with a few companies first. I'll be ready next time!

      Delete
  11. Anonymous3/28/2013

    Your blog is awesome. I always get a chuckle out of it, and am encouraged that there are some likeminded souls out there yet. Thanks for speaking out for all of us in Middle America who try every day, as best we can, to hold on to our values and integrity. Many blessings to you, your daughter, and all your loved ones!

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    1. Thanks the encouragement!

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  12. Also on the list of scams, I went to upgrade my cell phone minutes and the only option was $40 more than I currently pay, literally there was nowhere else to click. Went searching around the website for 10 minutes only to find a cheaper $20 option hidden in there. :( Boo to expensive upgrades!

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    1. I still use an old cruddy flip phone from the mid-2000s, simply because it is $30 a month and I refuse to lock into a 2-year contract paying $75 a month for a new phone.

      Delete
  13. Hi Beard,
    I have been trying to think about how to reply to your blog and explain the cost of doing business. I understand that it seems expensive for a $23 part but then I also realize how much it cost to run a business in today's economy and labor far out ways parts in any service type business. With that said I setup Golden Rule in a way that we come out to your home diagnose the problem and give you a price up-front no hidden fees no unexpected cost. Also I believe in Options starting with a complete rebuild down to a budget option. Why because our industry normally just comes out fixes the problem and then give you a bill and hopes you agree to it. I understand that many people have buyers remorse after they purchase items and the problem is fixed, that's why when you called we tried to lesson the pain with a refund. Hopefully you can respect our side of it. Its tough running a small business!!

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    1. I can tell you care about customers being happy, thank you for reducing my bill and commenting on B&P.

      Thinking perhaps I'm all wet on how much it should cost to replace an ignitor, I just got off the phone with five of your competitors in Des Moines to see how they stack up. Here's the damage:

      Bell Brothers ~ $75 service call + 160 part = $235
      Lozier ~ $69 service call + $150 part = $219
      City Wide ~ $85 service call and hour labor + $65 part = $150
      Schaal ~ Vague, gave a range of $100 - $400
      Service Legends ~ Phone lady wouldn't quote any prices, said she'd need to send out a serviceman before talking cost (fail)

      So your bill is a bit higher than Bell and Lozier, significantly higher than City Wide, Schaal and Service Legends are full of mystique. My fault for not shopping around first. The trouble is on a Monday morning with no heat for 2 days and the house is 49 degrees and I'm busy at work with little time for research, I went the quick route and Googled a well known company.

      As I said on the phone and in the above post, the bigger problem here is Option #1 = $925. Here are my recommendations:

      - Always start with the simplest, LEAST expensive solution first. I noticed the order of your words above are reverse of how they should be: "Also I believe in Options starting with a complete rebuild down to a budget option."
      - Be clear on the bill and separate out cost of parts and labor.
      - Your rates are high, City Wide is $100 cheaper, which is a significant amount.
      - The $925 thing should have never happened. I nearly asked the serviceman to please leave when he dropped that bomb. I wonder how many unsuspecting customers go along with that crap? I can purchase a new furnace for $1,100 (not including labor). Pretty easy to find the numbers with a 30 second Google search.

      That is how I want to be treated.

      -Beard

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  14. Hi Beard - I read this post on Wednesday and Thursday morning, my furnace produced the very same problem - only went down to a chilly 58, but the cats were concerned. It was good to know what to expect - so thank you for the timely tip!

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  15. Thanks for the information. I wouldn't recommend installing or doing a heater repair, or repairing any home appliance that could be really dangerous if malfunctioning. I once caused a small gas leak trying to repair my hot water heater.

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    1. True, certain repairs I won't mess with. The furnace ignitor is simple to swap out, I've got an extra part for next time and will change it myself if it conks.

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  16. I'm happy that my furnace repair in Salt Lake City went more smoothly than this. That cost is just ridiculous.

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Thanks for the note, check back for my response!