ROCKY RIPPLE, Ind. -- Steamy summer weather is the busiest time of year for air conditioning companies, but you can end up paying a lot more money than you need to if you’re not careful.
Homeowner Rachel Wuthrich of Rocky Ripple told Call 6 Investigates she came close to unnecessarily spending thousands of dollars.
Wuthrich contacted a repairman she found online after her family’s air conditioner stopped working right before her daughter’s birthday at-home party.
“Only the fan was blowing and the house wasn’t getting any cooler,” said Wuthrich.
But the company told her she needed a new A/C unit, even though it was only seven years old.
“It would apparently cost thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Wuthrich. “I was freaking out."
Skeptical, Wuthrich contacted some other companies for additional estimates.
Homesense Heating and Cooling responded to Wuthrich’s home and found the family did not need a new air conditioning unit.
"The series of recommendations didn't add up to me,” said Homesense owner Brian Schutt. “I said ‘let's call time out on this, let's get a fresh set of eyes in here to validate that recommendation before you go spend 3 or 4,000 dollars.’"
Schutt said most air conditioners should last 12 to 15 years, so consider it a red flag if a company wants to replace your entire unit much sooner.
“Typically you’re going to have small parts fail before the big parts fail and they’re designed that way,” said Schutt. “There are customers that are going to make quick decisions. There are companies that are built around a quick profit that are happy to let them make those decisions."
Wuthrich ended up going with a different company and got her air conditioner fixed.
“We ended up paying $401.95, much better than paying thousands of dollars,” said Wuthrich.
Wuthrich now keeps her house at a cool 71 degrees.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to anyone looking to get their air conditioner fixed:
1. Do Your Homework. Before calling an air conditioning contractor, look up its maintenance history and see if your system is covered by an existing warranty.
2. Ask for Recommendations. Ask friends, family members, and neighbors who have recently hired an air conditioning contractor for suggestions.
3. Track Record. Before you hire check out the contractor at bbb.org. It's fast, easy and free. Also search the contractor online adding the word "Complaint", "Reviews" or "Scam" after their name for different search results.
4. Verify License. Make sure the company has a current and active state license.
5. Qualifications. Ask if the contractor is associated with a trade organization. Members often have greater experience and are expected to uphold to a strict code of ethics. Quality HVAC manufacturers only want trustworthy contractors installing their products. Find out if the contractor has been approved as an authorized dealer.
6. Insurance. Verify the company has personal and property damage liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance by getting certificates of insurance with you listed as the certificate holder.
7. Request References. Ask the A/C contractor for a list of references you may contact. Ask the references about the services that were performed and their overall experience with the contractor. Ask if the contractor stuck to the estimated budget and completion date for the project. Find out if the references were completely satisfied with the job that was performed.
9. Cost Comparisons. Get at least three written estimates to compare the cost of the different contractors. Expect the contractors to pay a visit to your home to evaluate your current system. A reputable contractor should examine your system and size the heating and cooling system based on the size of your home, level of insulation, and windows. Make sure the contractors create an itemized estimate so you can compare cost, efficiency, and warranties between the bids. Don’t always assume the lowest bid is the best, it may be less efficient and result in higher energy costs.
10. Permits. The contractor should obtain all required permits for the job and post it on the front of the property. Request all final inspections to be completed prior to final payment.
11. Get Everything in Writing. Once you have decided on an A/C contractor, get all the details in writing. Make sure the contract includes: the contractor’s information, system model numbers, exact costs, estimated start and completion date, and details of the work being done. Ask if there is a warranty, if so make sure to include it in the contract. Be sure to read the fine print carefully and their license number is on the contract.
12. Deposits and Payment. Do not pay large payments up front. Pay by check or credit card for added protection. If paying by check, make it out to the name of the business. Paying by credit card provides some recourse should the job not be completed as stated in the contract. Make sure your contractor provides you with releases of liens from his subcontractors and suppliers with each payment and a Contractor’s Affidavit at the completion of the job. This assures that everyone involved with this job has been paid.
13. Criminal History. Check out anyone you allow onto your property to see if they have a criminal history. Ask the company: Do the A/C techs undergo a background check? Are they trained and certified? Will they be wearing name tags and uniforms on the job? Are company vehicles clearly marked?
While most AC contractors are reputable and fair, some have been known to dupe unsuspecting homeowners into buying equipment or authorizing services they don’t need. In some cases, unscrupulous contractors may try to frighten home owners with warnings that their systems are leaking dangerous gas or pose some sort of other hazard, requiring immediate action. Be Wary of an Air Conditioning Contractor that:
- Offers a Discount to act now.
- Ask you to obtain the permit or says a permit is not required.
- Has no printed materials, letterhead, bid forms, etc.
- Is doing door-to-door solicitations.
- Cannot provide you with a license number.
- Offers an unusually low price… at first.
- Only accepts cash payments or ask you to write check directly to the individual.
- Ask for large payment upfront.
- Pressures you for an immediate decision.