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Corrosion is a Business Killer: Afraid to Put in a New System

May 30, 2011
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Mike Murphy

“Any brand of equipment installed will most likely be trouble, coils will fail, motors will fail, and you will probably have to wait on parts that should be in stock by our supplier. Service calls, travel time, and refrigerant used to keep the system going, until parts come in, will have to be the owner’s responsibility. Any brand!”

Rick Wollitz, of Heat & Air, Inc. in Kingsland, Ga., wrote to The NEWS after reading an editorial opinion about coils and formicary corrosion, to tell us that he had begun to add the above language to all of his quotes.

In his words, “I realize putting this on my quotes is a business killer; the option I have been living with is also a business killer. I am, in some cases, waiting up to two months for two-stage compressors, variable-speed blower motors, and coils. That actually happened to me on the same eight-year-old system, with tenants in the home, all within six months. One foreign brand told me the evaporator coils for two-year-old systems are discontinued. Try explaining that to a customer.

“I am now of the mind to install the simplest, least efficient equipment, as those parts are common and kept in stock. Is that good for the customer; my profit margin? Is that helping lower our dependence on foreign oil?”

Well, Rick, no. But, let me ask: Could you be bringing some of these equipment and component failures on yourself, because of your installation practices?

“I have for the last several years put in mostly variable-speed air handlers and two-stage condensers using R-410A. I use good installation practices including load calculations; I use micron gauges and other diagnostic tools, and proper charging methods - all the things that used to guarantee a good installation that you could be confident in, not fearful. Now, I am afraid to install a new system.”

Rick, how does this make you feel? What do your customers think about all of this?

“Let me get my emotions out of the way - I am angry, I feel helpless, and I, as the professional, have no answer for my customers. Simply put, any brand I can install for them will fail. That makes me the junk man and who wants to buy from the junk man. My other option is to keep quiet (dishonest), install the equipment and take a chance that I will be spending a good deal of time - for free - trying to take care of the customer, with no answer as to why the equipment I installed is so much trouble. They put their trust in me and it’s my fault. All I can do is stand there; take the chewing with no answer to the problem.”

Could it be that your installations are in particular conditions that contribute to the formicary corrosion?

“I still find 30-year-old original coils that never have leaked. I have one unit that I service that was used for 20 years in a home and was later installed in a beauty shop; currently the space is a seafood market. It’s still not leaking; that kind of performance would be unheard of today. Today’s coil failures are blamed on operating environments. What is the difference between that 30-year old coil and the new ones?”

What do you think about some of the preventive measures being implemented to help prevent formicary corrosion?

“I cannot recall a [formicary] leak developing in a u-bend; the leaks are in the finned portion of the coil.”

Is this just an isolated event? Is it just happening to you?

“Two new construction contractors in Camden County about 10 years ago went through replacing hundreds of evaporator coils. One recently told me of installing 70 new systems and replacing 70 coils. He was waiting three to four weeks to get replacement coils all the while using his time and refrigerant to keep them going. That’s a business killer.”

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

Rick Wollitz is just one of many contractors that have responded to the issue of formicary corrosion - an issue that is well-known to have existed for decades, but one that does seem to be on the rise in recent years. It appears that progress being made toward a solution may be too slow. A contractor can go out of business trying to stay afloat waiting for the right answer to surface.

Wollitz brings up another good point: Parts availability is crucial to a contractor’s success, whether that be a replacement coil, a motor, or a capacitor. Just-in-time manufacturing and current inventory practices are placing too much burden on contractors to fill the space between an equipment failure and customer satisfaction.

Publication date: 05/30/2011
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