How Much is that “Bargain” HVAC Repair Costing You?

Written by Bruce Davis of Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating
Updated June 15, 2013
How do you know when an HVAC repair has been done correctly? The best insurance the average homeowner has lies in thoroughly researching the company that’s going to work on your AC or furnace.
Photo by Summer Galyan

When it comes to home repairs like HVAC and plumbing work, saving a few dollars on the initial repair can have costly implications down the road.

Unless they're performed correctly by a reputable and experienced company, low-priced repairs or HVAC work can end up costing you money, Davis says. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Yilin W. of Kent, Wash.)

Once upon a service call, I gave a customer a quote for a furnace repair. He balked at the estimated price, telling me another HVAC company had replaced the same heating part four years ago for significantly less.

 To punctuate his story, he showed me the competitor's invoice.

Scanning the invoice, I noticed:

• It was only $44 less than our price.

• The other company also had replaced the inducer motor on his then 2-year-old furnace — for a few hundred dollars more. 

Getting an HVAC repair done right is one of the best ways to save money

I’ve personally never seen an inducer motor fail within two years.

Not only that — I explained to the customer that the reason I had to replace the part again was that it had been installed incorrectly, which shortened its lifespan.

How much is that “bargain” HVAC repair costing you? A repair performed by a reputable and experienced technician is worth the cost, because they’re not going to “find” other problems, and they will install parts correctly, so that those parts will last longer.

A cheaper furnace or AC repair can cost you

Every day, our technicians see installations that appear to have been done correctly. What the homeowner doesn’t know is that the service or part they paid for was actually:

• Noisier.

• More prone to break down.

• A safety hazard.

• Less efficient.

• Unnecessary.

• Or just not working right.

Less scrupulous contractors can get away with this kind of service because often the repairs are ones that you can’t inspect, or the homeowner doesn't have the knowledge to check them. These types of repairs will function for a year — the standard warranty period most contractors offer.

Do you know when an HVAC repair has been done right?

Here’s one example: The proper method to install a line set between the air handler at your furnace and the outdoor unit for your A/C or heat pump includes a procedure called a “triple-vac and nitrogen purge.”

The problem is, the copper pipe line set will look the same on the outside, whether this is done or not. There is no way anyone, including the city inspector, can verify the procedure was performed, once the line set is installed.

However, once heat is applied to braze the joint, the difference is obvious on the inside.

The interior of a system that’s properly purged will look untarnished. If it hasn’t been purged, it will have scaling. That scaling will cause a compressor failure that will cost thousands of dollars to replace down the road.

Shoddy, unverifiable work can occur with plumbing as well. An expansion tank must be properly tuned upon installation — yet it will look the same, whether it’s been tuned or not. This one step, if neglected, can shorten the life of your water heater and expansion tank.

Finding the right HVAC company means saving money

So how do you find a service company that does the job right? One word: Credentials.

Did you call the first name in a Google search? Or did you consult a reliable source of consumer reviews, like Angi?

Once you've identified a potential provider, ask: How are their reviews? How long have they been in business? Are they a factory-authorized dealer? Are their employees drug tested and background checked? Do they have licensed technicians, trained weekly?

Finding a top-notch company you can trust is key to getting the best value for your dollar, but discovery takes time.

It makes good sense to start looking for your "go to" contractor before you're faced with a plumbing or heating crisis. Then you’ll know that you’re calling a reliable professional who will do the job right — and really save you money — every time.

About this Experts Contributor: Bruce Davis is the general manager for Day & Nite Plumbing  & Heating. He’s a second-generation HVAC technician and licensed plumber, and N.A.T.E and EPA refrigerant certified. Based in Lynwood, Wash., Day & Nite Plumbing Heating provides heating and plumbing services in Seattle.

As of June 14, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angi. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angi for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angi.