Today’s post covers how to know the difference between a real discount on heating and A/C service or products, vs. the “teaser rate” that is designed to get an appointment for one service, but then to aggressively upsell other services , some of which may be of questionable value to you. These are in addition to rebates and tax credits. First, let’s set the stage so you can compare the two.
All heating and air-conditioning companies experience seasonal variations in the demand for their services
Due to swings in demand for their services, they have to maintain infrastructure (with fixed costs) to cover seasonal spikes during the first few weeks of hot and cold weather every year, and also for sustained periods of unusually hot or cold weather. Why? These are the times when more furnaces, heat pumps and A/C systems will either fail, or when shortcomings will get noticed by owners. Because of these factors, most heating and AC companies offer annual maintenance plans to their customers. An annual maintenance plan is a good example of “win-win”for three reasons: 1-they help the owner by helping avoid major preventable repairs, and also can help their heating and AC run more efficiently, safely or both. 2– maintenance plans help HVAC companies level out the work flow for their technicians during the spring and fall, when emergency repair demand is lower, and 3– the once or twice per year visit gives owners a chance to get to know the service company and vice-versa. When it comes time to replace your system, the relationship and history become an advantage for both you and your local service company.
For the reasons above, during their times of lower demand, good companies will offer real specials such as a central AC tune up, or furnace safety check for a low fixed price. The reason I called this a “real” special: the price they offer may be below their actual cost of the technician, fuel, and equipment to deliver that service to you. They offset the loss on the transaction by offering you their maintenance plan, by identifying legitimate repairs that are needed (and not covered by the basic tune up or safety check, or potentially useful (depending you your situation) accessories such as advanced air filtration for pollen, humidifiers or dehumidifiers. Reputable companies won’t sell services you don’t need or want, or hard sell you in any fashion. If fact, their owners often struggle to get their service technicians to even mention all the additional products or services the company offers.
Less ethical companies use teaser rates to get into your location and systematically “upsell” you
In contrast to the useful scenarios describe above, you should learn to recognize and avoid companies who offer teaser rates, but plan to vigorously “upsell” you once at your location. One example of a offer or service used by this type of operation is duct cleaning. I’ll start by saying there clearly are some legitimate service companies who offer duct cleaning. And there are other legitimate heating and AC service companies who avoid it. For ducts located in the ceiling (as opposed to those in the floor, where dirt and other foreign objects can naturally fall), unless the system has a break in it, has a moisture problem, or has been run without a filter, you might not need duct cleaning at all. Why? Because the system is sealed. And, if you do have a break in your system or a moisture problem, you will also need to fix the problems in the equipment, not just clean the ducts. Anyway, the types of companies to avoid are those that: a- use fear, pressure and other types of intimidation b– don’t have the license, training or experience to diagnose problems and repair heating and AC equipment. If you are intersted in this topic, you can read more on our duct cleaning page.
Reality check for heating and AC repair
When repairs or similar services are involved, service companies often break down the transaction into two parts: 1- the cost for the technician to drive to your location and diagnose the problem, and 2– the cost to actually perform the work. When you see a low priced offer– one that looks too good to be true — ask yourself why a company would offer it. Can a service company really afford to have a skilled technician drive to your location and inspect your furnace or heat pump system for a total of $29? Can they afford to give free estimates on all repairs? Of course not. Knowing that service companies cannot operate at a loss, if a special offer looks too good to be true, just assume they will make it up somehow. The main thing you need to do is make sure they make up the difference with something useful and of good value to you.
Two more pieces of advice. Only consider companies that are licensed, insured, do background checks before hiring, and provide ongoing training and certifications. Using a service company that cuts corners on infrastructure to offer artifically low prices can bite you badly. Also find out how long they have been in business under the same name and at the same physical location.