Tuesday, September 13, 2011

At this rate, I may not need heat.

By the title, I mean that the more estimates I've gotten on having electric heat installed, the more frustrated I've become.

When I start thinking about the experience in general, my face starts to flush and I feel overly warm but not in a good way.  Not in the "anticipated gift" sort of way but maybe more in the "I just totaled my car" category.

While my budget would reflect on the "utilities" side that the effects of getting this flustered may be a great way to save on heating bills, my "medical expenses" side would soar due to doctor visits for high blood pressure and stress.

All I want is for the oil-fired furnace to go away and be replaced with an electric one before cold weather approaches.  No spending almost $4/gal for heating oil with probably a 100 gallon minimum purchase; no more black sooty junk blown all over the house; no having the house smell like an old auto repair shop; no worries about carbon monoxide spewing forth as I sleep (yes, I have a detector).

Having previously held an HVAC certification, most of the time I have a good idea what needs to be done to my heat and air.  It's been nine years since my certification but I do remember some things.  I also have a sense for someone feeding me a line when it comes to home repairs. 

Three companies responded to estimate the furnace replacement.  Here's what happened:

Company #1 visited on August 17th.  I had chosen them because they serviced the system for the previous homeowner and did the HVAC inspection prior to my purchasing the home.  This time they didn't send out the servicemen; they sent an estimator.  Older guy, starched shirt, creased khakis; definitely not dressed to go under a house nor get dirty.  And he whistled.  All the time.  I purely detest whistling so this immediately went over huge with me.  I figured I could put up with it since he wouldn't be an installer.  He whisked in and out and quoted a low quality, contractor-grade system and recommended replacing some of the ductwork.  Estimate $5,600

Company #2 came out the next day.  They've done work for friends and a small repair for me on another home and performed a second opinion inspection on the furnace.  I felt the technician was inexperienced and somewhat dishonest.  He overemphasized eye contact when talking, excessively said "ma'am," "believe me," or "you can trust me on that."  Despite that, I called them to potentially take on a costly job based on my friends' positive experiences.  Lucky me:  they sent The Ma'am-er again.  He berated Company #1 at every opportunity, buzz-word/phrased me to death again, and convinced me after only a few minutes that I regretted calling.  He recommended a mid-grade, name brand system and replacing no ductwork.  Estimate:  $5,500

Company #3 came over September 8.  This is a large company.  I'd hesitated to contact a well-advertised business because I figure expenses for billboards, TV ads, etc. are passed on to the customer .  The estimator was knowledgable and asked pertinent questions.  After writing his estimate, he immediately tried to sell me an in-system air cleaning device and some other fancy option (which could be added to my new system at an additional cost, of course), before he even began to discuss the unit replacement.  Then he laid the paperwork in front of me:  almost $10,500.  He said there would be an additional $450 (!!!!!!) to run the electrical line for back-up heat, and I politely marched him right back under the house where we'd already been and showed him it's an existing line and was installed April 2011.  The estimate included all new ductwork and a ten-year warranty on parts, labor and equipment  The other companies' varied from one to three years.  I showed this estimator the other two quotes, one of which was for the same unit he just priced, and he went outside to call his boss to "see what they could do."  He came back in to say they would reduce the warranty terms and use my existing ductwork, making a nominal difference in the bottom line.  Funny, though, when I told him I wouldn't be using their 18.9% financing, he said he had to go back and look at something under the house and returned to say they would have to use all new ducting because new air handlers are about 1' taller than the old.  Therefore, the quote went back to around $9,000 with the reduced warranties.  I didn't realize that the size of an item could change based on the perceived size of my checkbook.  I don't want to say the name of the company, but let's just say there are two brothers who do the advertisements.

I thought it was odd that the companies who said they could use the existing ductwork said nothing about cleaning it nor the potential difference in air handler size.  I haven't shopped for this type of equipment in a long time so I don't know the dimensions, nor if they could vary with manufacturers.

Prior to these appointments, I had called another major company in this area but was turned off almost immediately.  I was put on hold for a really long time and transferred two times for a person who could help me, only to reach a voice mail where I left a message.  I speak very clearly and, if anything, get accused of over-enunciating.  For whatever reason on callback, my phone didn't ring but went to voicemail.  When I checked, there was a message:  "Hi, Tracy, this is Anne calling you back about a quote.  You may return the call to my direct line at (phone number)."  First off, my name isn't Tracy.  Thinking she may have left a message on my phone intended for someone else, I called her.  Here's how that went:

Anne:  "This is Anne."
Me:  "Hello, Anne.  I'm returning a call you had placed to someone named Tracy."
Anne:  "Your name isn't Tracy?"
Me, seeing where this was going:  "No it isn't."
Anne:  "Your name isn't 'Tracy Ingram?'"
Me:  "No.  It's (very clearly and slowly stating my name)."

Anne immediately bursts into laughter.  Not the sheepish "oh gosh I'm sorry" giggle but the "OMG I can't breathe this is so funny" loud, gut-busting rude laughter and there was no indication she was going to stop anytime soon to offer a professional apology for her error.  While she was laughing, I responded:  "You know what?  Nevermind.  Disregard the phone call and don't bother calling me back" and I hung up.  I figured if this is the impression I get from two phone calls, chances are they are so big that customer service is not terribly important to them anymore and they don't need my paltry few thousand dollars.

There is another company coming out Friday afternoon, and I plan on calling one more.  Considering the amount of money that may be spent, I don't mind the inconvenience of extra appointments.

$4/gallon heating oil is becoming more attractive by the phone call.  And, I hear that black soot is all the rage this year in home decor.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Frugality is my normality.

After having very quickly used up the last gallon of pink drywall compound, and realizing I'd use about two gallons per room from this point forward, I decided to look for a less-expensive alternative.  (I don't like the word cheap because it implies low quality.)  Shopping online at Home Depot, I found a product made by Sheetrock that's not only bubble-resistant but low dust!  It's formulated so that when sanded, the tiny particles don't remain airborne to settle at will, but tend to bind together so they fall straight to the ground for vacuuming.  This makes for a cleaner dust mask and goggles and a much easier clean-up.  Regular drywall dust is like an ex-husband; you think you've totally gotten rid of it but every now and again you still find an aggravating trace.  If most ex-husbands fell straight to the ground and all traces got vacuumed away, life would be much less complicated.  Maybe the court system should work on that.


The Sheetrock mud is great thus far.  I haven't done any sanding to advise on its magical dust properties but I do like its workability.  The only drawback is having to work very, very quickly after it's spread.  It doesn't like being smoothed over too many times nor bothered after it's set for over a minute or so. The consistency at that point is somewhat akin to white, solid, underarm deodorant:  kind of crumbly and powdery.  If you realize a minor mis-swipe too late, deal with it after the coat has fully dried.

A huge difference between the DAP pink stuff and the new Sheetrock stuff is price.  DAP is $15 per gallon.  Sheetrock is $14 for three and a half gallons.  That's my kind of shopping!

I'm still pleased with the metal inside corners.  They provide such a nice, uniform look for only around $2.80 per 8' section.  No worries with accidentally cutting through paper tape when applying the first coat of mud.  I also won't have to look up years later to see a repaired paper corner that's cracked through again.  It's easy to see why some of the newer and less-experienced drywall contractors are flocking to buy them.  It's also understandable why some of the old-schoolers are scooping them up because someone experienced could absolutely fly through a house by using these things.

I'm almost done now with the living room plaster repair and am so relieved.  It's definitely the worst in both the number and severity of cracks.  A downfall is that all the other rooms have one or two cracks that go totally across the ceiling and those are the ones I hate the most.  A walkboard system would make things quicker and smoother but they are very expensive to buy and almost as bad to rent.  I'm stuck working off a stepladder and can only work in about a two-foot length before getting down to move the ladder forward.

I'll post pictures of the living room repairs after they're sanded.  Sitting back and taking a look at all the blotches reminds me of being little and getting dotted with Calamine lotion after unfortunate poison oak/ivy contact.  You know it looks ugly for now but everything will soon be better.

Here's a picture of the boy last week at Lowe's.  He loves going since there's lots to look at and he gets extra attention from other shoppers.  I always put a blanket in the child seat part of the cart so his butt doesn't squish through the leg holes.  Of all the shopping trips he's ever made, this was the first one where he burrowed down into the blanket and made himself all comfy.  I guess he figured it's just as easy lying down and observing than expending extra energy by sitting.  I told him that people were laughing at him but he didn't seem to care.  He really did look cute.