I don't often get a chance to speak with homeowners about the service they get from HVAC contractors, except for the times that I ride along with service techs. So when I spoke with a homeowner the other day about an equipment installation gone awry, I learned some interesting things. And I asked some ofThe News'Contractor Consultants for their opinion of the installation in question.

I did this for my own knowledge, as I am not mechanically inclined and often install my furnace filters backwards. (Yes, embarrassing.)

Because the homeowner's story of installation woe captured my interest, I had to find out what was wrong, which is why I turned to The News' consultants. At the same time, I wanted to see if this homeowner was just blowing smoke my way or if the homeowner did have a legitimate beef.

Setting The Stage

The homeowner gave me a detailed description of the work that was done by a local contractor in her area. She had obtained several written estimates for a new furnace and condensing unit, including one that was particularly low. The low bidder was an experienced, licensed contractor - or so his advertising stated.

Her first mistake was not checking out the background of the winning bidder and preferring to base her decision on price rather than reputation. A red flag should have gone up when she saw how low the bid was - or the fact it came in at the last minute. But I'm not going to discuss her buying wisdom. That topic can be debated somewhere else.

She said after the contractor completed the installation (which she documented with photos), she noticed that her home was not cooling down. The two-story home remained uncomfortably warm on the first floor and even warmer on the second floor. She was so unhappy with the installation and the contractor's refusal to acknowledge the problem that she went to the Internet and looked up the contact information for the equipment manufacturer.

The manufacturer sent out a field representative to inspect the installation. The rep found 15 major problems with the work, including improperly installed flexible ductwork, improperly sealed ductwork, wiring that was unsafely connected, and a condensate drain line that was drilled through the basement wall to the outside of the home, dripping water down the grade.

The equipment manufacturer ordered the contractor to correct each mistake or he would not be allowed to sell or install the company's equipment. In the end, the tactic worked. The contractor came back out (at his own expense) and corrected the mistakes - mistakes that never should have occurred in the first place.

Contractor Feedback

A couple ofThe News'Contractor Consultants replied to my request for comments after they were e-mailed the installation photos taken by the homeowner. It was not - and is not - my intention to crucify any contractor in this column, so I did not mention the location of the installation or the name of the installing contractor.

Ann Kahn, of Kahn Mechanical Contractors, Dallas, replied, "Is this for real? Is the flex duct actually running through the kitchen, under the window, down the wall, on the floor? Aside from that and the loopy, sloppy flex duct in the attic, the thermostat wire into the condenser isn't sleeved. Tell me this is a joke and didn't really happen."

Meanwhile, Hank Bloom, of Environmental Conditioning Systems, Mentor, Ohio, had this to say:

"Everything about this install seems wrong. It is obvious that this contractor has no clue - open return, no filter, all flex duct. None of this meets any code."

One lousy install gave this trade a black eye in this consumer's estimation. In this case, it's a good thing the manufacturer made it right.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-786-1390 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 09/06/2004