The story you are about to read is true. The name has been changed to protect the innocent. Let's just say the following letter was e-mailed to my attention from a lady we shall refer to as "Betty." Betty lives in northern California. That much is true, but that is all that can be disclosed regarding the author of the letter that follows.

The only line that was not included below from this woman's original message was her second sentence, which simply stated: "This is not submitted for publication."

After an exchange of e-mails, the author agreed to allow me to publish her message in this space. I had to promise not to disclose her real name or where she works.

Even without that personal information, it's her message that counts. And, in my book, that message is loud and clear. Since she says it best, her e-mail is included below.

The Letter

"I receive my subscription to The Newsthrough my job, but am commenting on your June 21st column (‘What Do Women Want? Ask Sharon Roberts') from my personal perspective.

"In my professional capacity, I work for [company name and job title withheld]. Because of my job, I have a good working knowledge of HVAC equipment and the industry.

"I live in the home I moved into with my parents in 1969. I am aware of all the remodeling projects that have gone on over the past 35 years, and was directly involved in many of them. In the early 1970s, before building energy efficiency standards, my father (who was a maintenance machinist) was installing dual-pane windows and insulating the ducts when we installed a central A/C and furnace. I know, because I was involved in the day-to-day tasks involved with all these projects, helping him work on all aspects of the installation of the air conditioner.

Are You Listening?

"Several years ago, my husband and I were considering replacing our rooftop package system. (Due to cost considerations and other issues, we're opting for semi-annual maintenance for now.) We called three or four HVAC contractors, and set up appointments with all of them. To gauge their reaction, we informed all of them (after the appointment was set) where I work and what I do. We would receive a call the day before to confirm each appointment.

"Nevertheless, only one contractor showed up, and none of the others gave us a courtesy call to cancel.

"A year later, when we decided not to buy a new unit, we contacted a company who advertised they did annual and semi-annual HVAC maintenance. We were interested in having a contract set up, but the guy who came out worked harder at trying to sell us a new unit than he did at the maintenance that we were really turned off by this company.

"When HVAC folks come out, they are interested in knowing how old our current unit is. I can tell them what date it was installed, because I still have the receipt from July 1988 when my mother had the unit my father had installed replaced. But, these guys only seem to want to talk to my husband, and are surprised that I can even talk SEER, EER, HSPF, cooling capacity, much less that the ‘little lady' understands what these terms mean!

"On a smaller, non-HVAC scale, shopping for replacement appliances is interesting. My husband is quite bright, and understands the mechanics behind a lot of appliances, but defers to me when it comes to talking efficiency with the salesperson. I will usually not identify where I work or what I do, just to see what they say about efficiency. I've had sales personnel misrepresent the data on the Energy Guide labels, say that there are products ‘just as efficient' as Energy Star but are not marked as such, and others who are surprised that energy usage/efficiency of a product is a concern to me.

"A few have known what they're talking about, but most have inadequate knowledge when it comes to energy issues. Some have even argued with me about what certain standards are and how long they've been in effect.

What Do You Think?

"The one time I walked into an appliance showroom and immediately identified myself was when we had to have a new refrigerator, as the previous one had died and I was running a 104 degree fever with the flu.

"I didn't want to waste time. I showed the saleswoman my business card, told her what I was looking for, and she said, pointing, ‘The models you're probably interested in are over there ... let me know if you have any questions.'

"Generally, I've found that the contractors we've called are uncomfortable dealing with a knowledgeable woman. They'll talk to my husband all day, but when he says (to me) ‘What do you think?' and I start questioning efficiency and other points, you can almost see the fear in their eyes!

"I've written too much, but this is a subject that's too close to home for me. My non-work passion has been collecting music (mostly records) for the past 37 years. This hobby is dominated by men, and I've been treated with scorn and/or ignored at record shows when I had my money in hand.

"It's more than a little frustrating!"

Battling The Stereotype

This "northern California Betty" is just one of many frustrated women, trying to get respect from HVACR contractors and HVACR salespeople. I'll be more than happy to hear from you concerning the above subject.

Mark Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax), or markskaer@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 07/26/2004