Joanna Turpin

Blessed are those who spend years in school and on the job in order to proudly take on the mantle of HVAC contractor, for they are the ones who shall have to deal with all nut cases in the world. I know of what I speak, for I recently referred my own beloved contractor to install a new heat pump for a relative who hasn’t always had a firm grip on reality.

I made the referral grudgingly, knowing that this could possibly not end well. However, I knew my contractor would do a terrific job, and I didn’t want to hear this relative gripe about the potentially substandard service provided by “that nice man who put a flyer in the front door” (and had a poor rating at the BBB).

This relative of mine - I’ll call her “Maude” - wanted a new heat pump, as she worried about the reliability of her 15-year-old unit. My contractor took a look at her existing equipment and made a recommendation to replace it with a new 15 SEER variable-speed heat pump. Maude was suitably impressed with my contractor and hired him to do the replacement. And that’s when the trouble started.

She became like Haley Joel Osment’s character in “The Sixth Sense.” In hushed tones at family gatherings, she would say, “I hear weird noises coming from the air conditioner.” When pressed on what those “weird noises” were, she would just shake her head and say, “It’s not all the time. Just sometimes. There’s a whooshing sound.” Even though no one else could hear anything, I encouraged her to contact the contractor to make sure the heat pump was running properly.


A NATE-certified technician was dispatched to take a look at Maude’s system, and after 90 minutes, he could not find anything wrong. Nor could he hear any weird noises. He changed her filter and told her she might want to consider having her ducts cleaned by a different company (which she did), and Maude was happy for a while. Then she started to hear things again, so the company’s service manager came to take a look, and after 2 ½ hours, he, too, could not detect any strange noises or find anything wrong. He did explain to her that a new system will make different noises than an old one, and it may just be a question of getting used to those new sounds.

Maude seemed to be content with that explanation for a while, but then she started complaining of noises again. The service manager was dispatched for yet another visit, and after three hours inspecting and testing the equipment and ductwork, he still could not find anything wrong. He did notice her refrigerator was making a loud noise periodically, and since it is located directly next to the return in the hallway, he suggested that might be the noise she was hearing.

She didn’t agree with that, so we went and visited her house again, just to be sure we couldn’t hear anything. After spending five hours there with the unit running, we heard nothing. Maude seemed to agree that everything was working perfectly, so we figured the problem was solved.

Apparently that wasn’t the case, because my contractor called me out of the blue recently and asked why Maude reported him to the Registrar of Contractors for a poor installation. As my contractor said, “I’m a little shocked that she wouldn’t just ask to speak with a manager or someone before filing a complaint on us. I’m not sure what to do as I’ve had the best of the best out there and they all concur … there is no noise when they are there, and the system is running beautifully.”

Unfortunately, passive-aggressive customers like Maude are a pain in the neck to deal with, as they are a serious drain on resources and a potential liability for word-of-mouth referrals. At what point do you let these never-satisfied customers go? We’d love to hear your stories of nightmare customers and how you finally resolved the situation or encouraged them to find a different contractor (e-mail me at

As for Maude, she’s reconsidering her complaint to the Registrar of Contractors, and my contractor (bless his heart) is determined to do whatever he can to address her concerns. And I swear on a stack of Bibles that I will never again refer my trusted contractor to any of my other nutty relatives.

Publication date:09/28/2009