Recently, there has been a great deal of conversation among contractors regarding the new concept of selling HVAC equipment on the internet. While the pros and cons of a consumer buying equipment online and finding a local contractor (or having one “selected” for them) are many, that is not the purpose of this article. The point of my discussion today is that, whether we like it or not, consumers are purchasing HVAC related items  online — from thermostats to parts to complete systems. The issue for us as contractors is how we deal with these new developments.

At Welsch Heating & Cooling Co., we have not yet been asked to install a complete system purchased via the internet. However, within a two-week period, we had three inquiries through our website’s “Contact us for Service” page, which brought to our attention that we need to have some policies and procedures in place for handling these circumstances. We have not made all the policies yet, but I want to encourage contractors to be prepared to make decisions regarding how you are going to handle calls such as these. Below are the three inquiries we received — I realize some of these items may have been purchased at a big-box store and not online, but the effect on us is the same.

“I am in the process of installing a zoning system in my home. I am using the Honeywell HZ332 panel, wireless adapter/thermostats, and RRD dampers. I have installed the dampers, panel, and wireless adapter. Now that I am at the point of doing the final wiring of the panel to the actual equipment, I would like to have a professional come out and do the final connections to make sure everything is OK. Could you please provide a quote?”

“I’m trying to install a Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostat. However, it seems the wiring on the furnace end also needs to be altered. I would like someone to come out and finish the job. I have two thermostats.”

“I had an Ecobee4 installed by an electrician. The unit was rebooting every time I tried to change the temperature, and I could not get the furnace to turn on. I called Ecobee customer service, and in the trouble shooting process was told to touch the Rc and W wires. It started the furnace (for the first time this season, by the way), but the smoke detectors went off immediately with a burning smell. The alarms stopped when the wire was disconnected. I am obviously in over my head and in need of professional help as I do not know if I have a thermostat issue, a furnace issue, or both. I have an account with you for regular maintenance. I can make it until Monday with no heat, but I’d appreciate being worked into your regular service schedule. Thank you.”

There’s a lot to consider before accepting the job though.

Perhaps we would make a customer for life if we can make that new gadget work with the current system. However, we will have to make it very clear that our charges will be for time and material because we have no idea of exactly what we are going to encounter when we arrive. If we arrive and find that that the component they purchased is not compatible with their system, will they assume we are just trying to sell them something we normally sell? There is also the possible negative of informing the customer that he burnt up something trying to perform the installation himself.

As a contractor who wants to please every one of our customers, we are hesitant to just say, “No – we won’t touch those items.” On the other hand, these negatives are a major concern to us. But, as you can tell, these are just a few of the issues that have to be considered to establish our policies for consumer-purchased online products. The fact that customers are going to be purchasing more and more products in this manner is just a fact we have to deal with.

It’s important for each of us, as contractors, to give serious consideration as to how we’re going to deal with these issues in the future. The good news is, at the rate things are progressing, you’ll be able to make your decisions at your desk as your latte is delivered to you by a drone.

Publication date: 12/11/2017

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