I have been a business consultant since the 1980s, and am currently teaching wannabe entrepreneurs some of the intricacies of starting up a business and making a success of it. My personal practice was pretty much closed when Lea got sick, but I have continued teaching weekly sessions over the internet as a career consultant for DBM, and enjoy it a great deal.

In my years in business I have always attempted to provide outstanding service to my clients, and thought most people felt the same way. Certainly, all those I knew had the same standards for high quality. However, I have had a realistic view about business practices, and what I call “Yeah, buts,” in certain industries. And, of course, we have all heard about shoddy practices of businesses that have been in the news, and courts, in recent years.

I had been very fortunate, I guess, to avoid having a personal exposure to fraudulent business practices over the years. However, all that ended while we were in Hawaii this past winter during Lea’s recovery from her hip surgery last Thanksgiving. As you may recall, we had moved from our 2 ½ story Victorian home in Atlanta, Indiana, after returning from Hartford Hospital, to a small single story house in Noblesville, which is much closer to medical services for Lea.

We were truly blessed by moving in next door to a wonderful family that volunteered to look after our house while we took the trip to Hawaii. We had planned to be on the island for about three months, but it got extended to five months because of Lea’s fall. Meanwhile, Central Indiana experienced a very cold and snowy winter. Our neighbor shoveled our walks and driveway to make it look like we were home, and inspected the house regularly.

On one such inspection of the interior, the father, I’ll call him Thomas, found that several circuit breakers were shut off, and much of the kitchen was without power. Long story made short, he eventually determined that the compressor in our heat pump had failed, apparently arced over, and shorted the breakers. He called me in Hawaii to advise me of the problem.

We had purchased a home warranty along with purchase of the house, so on February 4, 2007 I notified the home warranty company by telephone that the heat pump had failed, and that the home was being heated by use of the emergency back up heater coil system. February 8, the home warranty company had me contact the vendor of their choice in Noblesville to investigate the problem. The home warranty company stated that there would be a $75.00 deductible fee due at the time of the service call.

I was not able to be present for the inspection, so I asked Thomas, my next door neighbor, to give access to my home to the HVAC vendor and to pay the deductible for me. I put a check in the mail to reimburse him right away, realizing that it would take three or four days to reach him.

After verifying that the heat pump compressor had failed and needed to be replaced, the HVAC vendor stated that there would be an additional fee of $150.00 for a Freon Recovery Permit from the City of Noblesville, a compressor recycling fee, and a new compressor pad of a type that would meet City code requirements. Thomas paid the fee and I sent him a check to reimburse him.

On February 19, the insurance company’s representative contacted me by telephone and stated that the cost of replacing the compressor was almost the same as replacing the entire outdoor unit, and that, if I would pay an additional $245, the insurance company would authorize installation of a complete, new, outdoor unit, which would benefit me by giving me a new warranty, while replacement of the compressor, only, would not. I agreed to the recommended upgrade, and submitted the additional $245 via check.

After installation of the new outdoor unit, in snow up to the installer’s knees, Thomas noticed that the unit was making an unusually loud, irritating noise, as though it wasn’t getting lubrication. He called the HVAC vendor to check the unit. When their serviceman arrived, more coolant was added to the system to help the compressor run more efficiently.

Thomas called the HVAC vendor a second time to resolve the continuing noise problem, but was told that the line set would have to be replaced, because it was undersized for the new outdoor unit, and was causing the compressor to work too hard. He told Thomas the repair would cost an additional $300. Thomas called to let me know of this new complication.

I called the HVAC vendor from Hawaii March 8 to inquire about this, and was told that the new compressor required a larger size coolant line than was currently installed. He told me it would cost $600 to install the line set! He also stated that he had talked to the home warranty company, and they said they would not cover any of the cost to upgrade the copper line.

I called the home warranty company offices Friday, March 9, and left a voice message for the representative to whom I had spoken earlier, inquiring why they felt they could refuse the cost of updating the line set, when it was their recommendation to replace the outdoor unit. I stated that I felt the upgrade they recommended should include any and all costs to make the entire installation work properly.  Shortly thereafter we received a terse stating that replacement of the copper line was not covered under terms of the home warranty.

After returning to the house as soon as Lea was released by her surgeon, in early spring, we found that the unit was unable to cool the home sufficiently, and was not able to bring the temperature down to a comfortable level in a reasonable amount of time during spring weather. I didn’t even want to think about what it would be like in the summer! The outdoor unit was also very noisy, particularly when running at night when sounds echo off neighboring walls, as though it was straining at full capacity.

This was totally unacceptable! The repair made by the HVAC vendor was insufficient, incomplete, and unprofessional. I lay awake one night with the fan blowing on us trying to get some rest. The noise of the heat pump was so loud we couldn’t even open the windows for some fresh air. Finally, in the middle of the night, I arose, brewed a cup of hot tea, and sat down to write them a formal Demand Letter stating that I felt they were responsible to correct the situation, and that I should not be required to pay any more additional fees.

I reminded them that the home warranty coverage was purchased so that an equipment failure of this type would be fully covered, and that if their vendor failed to accurately diagnose the entire problem, and present a proper solution, that was an issue to be resolved between them without additional cost to me.

I demanded that my heating/air conditioning system be properly updated, upgraded, and repaired as required to make it operate properly and efficiently, and that the repairs be made without any additional cost to me. I advised that I was prepared to take them to Small Claims Court and gave them a deadline to reply.
 
I faxed the letter to them that morning. Realizing that they may not even take notice of the letter I also filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in Wisconsin, where the warranty company is based. The very next day the BBB contacted the business by fax to notify them of the complaint. The day after that the local HVAC vendor was on the phone making an appointment to install a copper line set without charge to me. He was not happy, to say the least.

He arrived mid-morning the following Monday, and had both hands full when he rang the doorbell. He stood there flushed, a few steps back from the front door, unsmiling. He did not offer a handshake nor utter a greeting. He simply said he needed the garage door opened so he could access the utility room where the copper line connected into the indoor unit. He then immediately turned away.

About ten minutes later he came into the living area from the utility room, without knocking, even more flushed than before. Lea and my mother were sitting nearby, and both were started by him. I heard them talking from my office, and went to see what was going on, and he said that he was going to have to go get some supplies and some additional help to do the work. He told me to come look at what the problem was.

I accompanied him to where the outdoor unit sits on the side of the house, and he pointed out that the copper line had been run up through the wall before the siding and sheet rock had been installed. There was no way he could install the new line that way, he was probably going to have to go up the side of the wall, through the eave and across the attic to reach the utility room. He seemed even more flushed than before.

He left shortly thereafter, and returned about an hour later, after I was involved in teaching a class for DBM. He came into the living area again without knocking, and had Lea sign a statement that we would not hold them liable for any damage incurred to the siding, attic, or any other surface of the home when the line set was installed. He told Lea that he wanted me to sign it as well, but I had already made up my mind that I would not sign anything that included “any” damage. Fortunately, he never did ask me to sign it.

He and his helper worked through the afternoon and into the evening. It took him all day to replace the line set, and required an additional pair of hands to get the job done. Lea and I were having dinner together when he entered the living area from the utility room, again without knocking, and was waving a paper in the air at me, and saying loudly, “Look what it cost me to do this, all because you called the Better Business Bureau!” He scooted decorations aside on the top a nearby curio cabinet, put the paper down, and said I needed to sign it.

He continued, “And, all this after I came out here on two Saturdays (when Thomas called him) to get things working! I didn’t charge you anything for that! Now, all this is out of my pocket, because you made that call!” He was very agitated. I was actually concerned that he might take a swing at me! He could barely control himself, he was so angry!

It became clear at that point that the home warranty company was forcing him to do the work without compensation. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they told him any future referrals were in jeopardy if he didn’t resolve the problem. I wasn’t about to upset him any further, and simply told him that I was sorry his home warranty company didn’t take better care of him.

He brought to mind another belligerent young man Lea and I know whom I have prayed for over the last few years. He is widely disliked because of his poor attitude and lack of respect for others, and doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he seems to gloat in the fact that so many people “hate” him, as he puts it. It works a great hardship on him, his business, and his family. Only the Lord will be able to save him from himself. I hope he finds Him soon, for his own sake, and that of his young family.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder at the misplaced anger of the HAVC vendor who was so furious with me he could have “spit nails,” as my mother says. To his credit, he held his tongue, but I could tell it took some real self control to do it. Perhaps some day he will understand our side of the situation, but, I’m not going to hold my breath.

On the other hand, one also has to wonder about the professionalism of a HVAC vendor that originally quoted $300 to do the work, then later quoted it at $600 to me, and then handed me a “no charge” invoice for $2,200 for the work after he had performed the installation! Didn’t he inspect the system when he made the first estimates? Is he not a very good estimator, or just a slippery eel that got caught? With thanks to the Better Business Bureau for help in resolving this problem, perhaps we’ll never have to know.

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