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.

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