Cold weather can put a strain on your furnace and you could unexpectedly find yourself in need of an emergency heating contractor for repairs or a replacement system. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers to be cautious about misleading heating contractors who may use high pressure scare tactics to convince homeowners to purchase expensive and sometimes unnecessary repairs and parts.
“The heating and air conditioning industry still remains high on BBB’s top ten list of most inquired and complained about industries in Western PA; in fact, these numbers increased in 2012 from the previous year,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “Though the majority of heating contractors are reputable, competent and fair, there are still unethical companies who continue to target unsuspecting consumers in an emergency situation.”
Before choosing a heating contractor, consider the following BBB tips:
- Start your search with BBB to see if the contractor you are considering has a business review on file at www.bbb.org. Check out their BBB rating, complaint activity and other relevant information to help you make an informed decision. Search the Accredited Business Directory to find companies that have met and agreed to uphold BBB’s strict Code of Business Practices.
- Solicit at least two or three bids. Make sure bids for extensive repair or replacement of systems are in writing and include a full description of services to be provided. The company should give you ideas suited for energy efficiency and the proper size unit to heat your home. Energy Star qualified products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Act and offer long-term energy savings. Visit Energy Star’s website to find a furnace that is Energy Star qualified.
- Read the contract thoroughly and understand it before signing. Request and keep a copy for your records. Many companies have a policy of charging a trip fee, to offset gasoline prices and then charge for the actual service. In addition, some contractors may charge a diagnostic fee, costing hundreds of dollars before doing any actual work. BBB suggests that you inquire about these fees prior to contracting with a company, as every company’s fees will vary. Ask if the contractor charges a trip fee and if so, what it is. Inquire about diagnostic fees and what you can expect to pay for them as well as service rates and whether they are charged on a flat or hourly rate. Request information regarding overtime rates and when they come into effect.
- Request that a contractor shows you proof of a current insurance certificate covering workmen’s compensation, property damage and personal liability.
- If you end up having to replace your heating system, never pay for the job in its entirety or with cash. The PA Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act states for any sale of over $1,000, the contractor cannot accept a deposit of more than one-third of the price or one-third of the price plus the cost of special order materials. Never make a final payment or sign an affidavit of release until the job has been completed, any subcontractors have been paid and you are satisfied the work has been done to your specifications.
- Do not allow a contractor to use a sense of urgency in their selling methods. PA law allows consumers a 3 day right of cancellation unless the situation is indeed an emergency which requires you to waive the right of rescission by signing an emergency waiver. Some dishonest contractors may use high pressure tactics, such as telling you that your system is leaking dangerous gases that could explode or poison those inside the house, or recommend repairs and replacements that are not actually needed to convince you to waive this right. Take the time to get a second opinion.
- If a heating contractor claims your furnace is dangerous or “Red Tags” it, the local utility company will come out to your home and verify the findings. If possible, all three parties should be present at the inspection – the utility representative, the contractor and the homeowner.
Find out if a service contract is available providing you with an annual furnace inspection and maintenance. Check your owner’s manual for details on routine maintenance you can perform. When scheduling a furnace inspection, ask that a test for Carbon Monoxide be performed. Carbon Monoxide in a home can be deadly, so consider installing a detector to monitor levels.
When facing issues with your heating system, the most important initial step is to not panic. Be sure to check the warranty on your current system to see whether any repairs or replacements are covered to avoid spending unnecessary money and always get a second opinion before authorizing major work. For more helpful tips and information from your BBB regarding hiring a heating contractor, visit www.bbb.org or call 877-267-5222.
About the BBB System
BBB is an unbiased organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews and BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 114 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about the BBB System.