Tag Archives: AC

CPSC with General Electric & Sharp Recall GE Air Conditioning and Heating Units

Today, in an air conditioning & heating news alert, we received the following AC heater recall notification. Side note: we get AC heating alerts daily in digest form by using Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts), and find this free service to be very useful. Now, back to the recall: it’s on the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) website. This is a voluntary recall of more than 90,000 units from the two companies who manufactured and distributed them. The recall was written in a format that is easy to read, so, we’ll include the text from it here (minus a bit of formatting), and also put a link at the bottom to their website.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2011

Release #11-247

Firm’s Recall Hotline: (866) 918-8771

CPSC Recall Hotline: (800) 638-2772

CPSC Media Contact: (301) 504-7908

General Electric, Sharp Recalls GE Air Conditioning and Heating Units Due to Fire Hazard

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the firm named below, today announced a voluntary recall of the following consumer product. Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed. It is illegal to resell or attempt to resell a recalled consumer product.

Name of Product: GE Zoneline Air Conditioners and Heaters

Units: About 90,600

Distributor: GE Appliances and Lighting, of Louisville, Ky.

Manufacturer: Sharp Corp., of Osaka, Japan

Hazard: An electrical component in the heating system can fail, posing a fire hazard to consumers.Incidents/Injuries: General Electric and Sharp have received four reports of incidents involving smoke and/or fire with the air conditioning and heating units. In two of the reported incidents, fire extended beyond the air conditioning and heating unit, resulting in property damage. No injuries have been reported.

Description: This recall involves GE Packaged Terminal Air Conditioners (PTAC) and packaged terminal heat pumps manufactured between January 2010 and March 2011, and are most often used in apartment buildings and commercial space. The GE logo is affixed to the control panel door. Serial and model are printed on the rating plate. Consumers will need to remove the front panel to locate the model and serial information.

The following models and serials are included in this recall:

Brand       Model Number (Begins with)      Serial Number (Begins with)

GE               AZ41, AZ61                                       AT, DT, FT, GT, HT, LT, MT, RT, ST, TT, VT and ZT AV, DV and FV

Sold by: General Electric authorized representatives and HVAC distributors nationwide from March 2010 through March 2011 for between $1,000 and $1,200.

Manufactured in: China

Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using the air conditioning and heating units in the heat mode and contact General Electric to schedule a free repair.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact General Electric toll-free at (866) 918-8771 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s website at www.geappliances.com/products/recall

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is still interested in receiving incident or injury reports that are either directly related to this product recall or involve a different hazard with the same product. Please tell us about your experience with the product on www.saferproducts.gov.

CPSC is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $900 billion annually. CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard. CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products – such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals – contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

Under federal law, it is illegal to attempt to sell or resell this or any other recalled product.

To report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, go online to: www.saferproducts.gov, call CPSC’s Hotline at (800) 638-2772 or teletypewriter at (800) 638-8270 for the hearing impaired. Consumers can obtain this news release and product safety information at www.cpsc.gov. To join a free e-mail subscription list, please go to https://www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx.

 

Link to CPSC Website for this recall On the CPSC website, there is an image of the recalled unit. It is a package type or combination AC heating unit.

 

More Problems With Extended Warranties On Home AC Heating Systems

Sometimes a confluence of events inspires me to write a blog post.  Today’s post — which is about problems with extended warranties on AC, heating and related equipment and services — has three contributing sources that all came together recently.

  • Last week, I’ve read a lot of chatter on some HVAC forums about HVAC contractors who are having problems getting third warranty providers to honor (pay for) warranty work needed by homeowners under their extended warranty policy.  The scope of the problem seems fairly serious.
  • Yesterday, I visited the home of a friend, a mechanical engineer who is meticulous about writing specs for work done at his home.  He recently bought a new AC heating system that came with a 10 year parts and labor warranty: 5 years parts and labor from the manufacturer, and “the company who installed it arranged for an additional 5 years parts and labor as part of the package”.
  • Then driving home, I listened to one of my favorite syndicated radio shows, the Clark Howard Show. He generally discourages listeners from buying many types extended warranties. Clark’s advice (and I’ll paraphrase here) is to not buy an extended warranty (which is a type of insurance policy) unless the consequences of not buying it could turn into a major financial problem.

Before going further, and as this topic relates to heating and AC systems, I would make a distinction between an extended warranty offered by the equipment manufacturer and ones offered by third parties.

The most important factor is getting the equipment correctly sized and installed. Next, let’s talk about maintenance. Regular maintenance such as timely filter changes and yearly servicing, will cause AC and heating equipment to need fewer repairs, last longer and waste less energy.  In the overall budgeting, we rank scheduled maintenance ahead….way ahead… of an extended warranty.

Now, we’ll add our knowledge about the AC and heating industry to Clark’s general advice.  By the time you factor in any deductibles and the time required to haggle with them, a (possible) future expense you could incur from not buying extended warranty on a AC and heating system would not likely be a major issue for most homeowners.  For extended warranties, you either pay cash up front, or it is somehow “built in” to the package price (along with interest you are paying). Either way, you are paying for something you may not need or be able to use later.

Summary

  • The overall value of extended warranties in AC and heating equipment is questionable…clearly, a buyer beware situation.
  • For your budget priorities, we recommend that you get top quality work on the sizing and installation of the new equipment. Then, focus on filter changes and a yearly maintenance plan as higher priority than an extended warranty.
  • If you are going to buy an extended warranty, find out which company actually underwrites the policy. Look for one with the manufacturer behind it.

Additional Resources
Link to Clark Howard’s website and video about extended warranties.

 

Can You Trust Online Recommedations Or Compaints About AC Companies?

I recently had a first hand, local experience that reminded me that we cannot trust the integrity of many online recommendations or complaints for AC and heating.  Especially if the comments are anonymous.  The two primary reasons for this are straightforward:

1-Less than ethical A/C and heating service companies (or agencies working for them…) sometimes hire writers to write good stuff about themselves online and, even worse, fabricate rants and complaints about competing HVAC contractors.

Service companies do this for two main reasons: a– to make their website found more easily for searches related to their business.  b– to influence potential customers who are doing online research. Of course, these two are connected.

2-Real customers are more inclined to rant when they are unhappy than they are to write a good online recommendation when the work goes well. This is only natural….since they are paying for the work, it is normal to expect that the repair or replacement of their system will go without many problems.

So, how do you know which local company to call when you need to repair or replace your air conditioner?

Here are a few tips that will help you make your own “composite profile” that is more reliable than online rants and raves.

  1. Don’t wait until your AC system quits to have it serviced.   Research and interview several companies for a short list. Use the criteria below to choose one, and get on their scheduled maintenance plan for the spring and fall. In addition to helping prevent emergency AC or heating repairs and replacements, you will avoid the peak demand times and get preferential service.
  2. Ask your neighbors. If several of them recommend the same company, that’s a good sign
  3. Check Better Business Bureau Online
  4. Ask a few direct questions:
  • Number of years in business under the same name and ownership.
  • Who owns them: equipment manufacturer, franchise, service corporation, independent company, etc.
  • Association memberships, such as ACCA
  • Training and Certifications
  • Experience
  • Do they perform background checks for the technicians who will come to your home or business?

Please write comments about your experiences, so others can learn from them.

Should You Buy A Private Label Air Conditioning and Heating System?

If you are getting bids on having a new AC and heating system installed, you might be offered a private label system. Like other private label products you may be familiar with, instead of having the manufacturer’s name on the equipment, it is branded with the company that is selling and installing it.

The main reasons HVAC contractors will offer a private label system are straightforward:

  1. Because the quality of the installation matters considerably more than which brand of equipment is being installed,  independent HVAC contractors are now putting more emphasis on “selling themselves” rather than the brand of equipment.
  2. Customers are less likely to compare it to the equipment in competing bids
  3. Since there is less brand advertising and perhaps less markup between them and the factory, the contractor who installs the equipment likely has room to make more profit margin in their cost on the equipment than on branded units. Or they can lower the price to you and make the same profit as on branded units.
  4. You (or the next owner) are more likely to call them for maintenance, repairs or replacement.

HVAC Industry insiders often refer to the equipment as “boxes”

The inference here, of course, is that the ac and heating equipment, heat pumps, etc.  are a commodity. To the extent that they are made from mechanical parts built by factories (some of them the same ones…) from all over the world, I agree with this assessment.

In some of the industry forums, I often read about confusion over who currently makes the equipment for certain well-known HVAC brands vs. who used to make them or whose parts they used.  Brands and factories get relocated overseas, change ownership, or get split up to the point that some industry insiders are not sure who even currently owns some brands.

A private label air conditioner and heater system can be a good buy if:

  1. You are convinced that the company and their technicians who will install it offer an acceptable overall value. Among other things, this includes: accuracy in sizing the equipment and quality of its installation, efficiency, features, benefits, customer service and more.  You can read more about that here on how to buy.
  2. You get documentation on what company or companies the warranty is through, and are comfortable that they will be around for the life of the equipment, and will make good on any defects or mistakes.
  3. If a third party is involved in the warranty (someone other than the actual manufacturer, such as Goodman, or the local company who is installing the equipment, then read this blog post before buying.
  4. You get written verification that your private label equipment qualifies for federal or other rebates. Note: the model number on private label equipment is often the same as for other models made by the factory that builds it.

Let us know if you have any experiences in this area so others can learn.

Same As Cash SAC Financing For Air Conditioning Systems

If you are considering buying a new air conditioning and heating system or heat pump, and are not able to pay for it with cash, check or credit card, then you will likely run across a financing offer called “same as cash financing”.  It is usually preceded by a number of days or months (example: “90 days Same As Cash”) and is also abbreviated SAC.

Having had an eye-opening experience myself with a computer purchase and this topic, research for this blog reinforced my beliefs in this area.  I’ll also include a list of questions to ask about SAC offers, along with a financing alternative you may not have thought of or been told about.

Read the “same as cash” SAC documents and ask questions

The first thing to know about SAC: there are usually strict requirements to avoid changes in the “no interest”. For some offers, if you are late on any payments or fail to pay the entire balance on or before the due date,  the whole loan can be recalculated back to the first day it began, and at some unbelievably high interest rates or with fees. If that happens, what started out seeming like “interest free money” for your AC purchase can turn on you to become something you would regret.  Now…on to the checklist….

As a checklist while you are reading SAC financing details, look for the following:

  1. How many payments must you miss or be late on before the SAC offer turns to a loan with interest?
  2. If interest were to get added, what would the interest rate be in APR?
  3. If the rate escalates, is it recalculated back to the first or the day your loan became late?
  4. What date or system determines when your payment was received? (In other words, how many days could pass between the date your payment is delivered at one part of their payment center and the date your payment is actually credited to your account?)
  5. Is there any credit insurance /debt cancellation insurance required or automatically included?
  6. If present in the contract, can you opt out of it? (This type of insurance usually costs a lot, relative to the size of the loan).

While reading in some HVAC industry publications, I found references to credit unions, and this is a topic we have written about before. If you project into the future and believe you may not be able to pay off the entire SAC loan, you should consider a fixed rate home improvement loan from your local credit union.  You can search online or look up credit unions in your area at NCUA – Credit Union Directory

In the past few years, there are more credit unions that have membership criteria other than employment for a specific company or entity.  One way to describe these is “community chartered credit unions”.   Practically speaking, it is probably easier to just ask what the membership requirements for your credit unions are.

If you have related experiences, please send them so other readers can benefit.

Even the Best Air Conditioners Break Sometimes – And When They Do…

Most days of each month, I read an HVAC industry online news group. In those, I read that even the most established brands of AC and heating equipment sometimes have defects, recalls, service bulletins, and so on.  This is in spite of how well they are assembled at the factory or installed at your location.

Here’s our take on the situation:  when your system needs repair, which it likely will at some point, have yourself set to get it going again with minimal inconvenience, discomfort, and cost.  To prepare for the day when your system goes on the blink, below are a few practical questions to consider when you are deciding which local HVAC contractor to install it and brand or model of equipment to buy (in that order of importance).

– How long has the contractor been in business under the same name, location and ownership?

– What training, certification, and experience do their technicians have?

– What is the relationship of the contractor to the brand(s) of AC and heating equipment they sell: Owned by them?  Exclusive dealer?  Independent dealer?

– How many service trucks and technicians do they have?

– Does the local contractor have 24-7 service?

– Do they charge extra for service after hours, weekends or holidays?

– What is the parts and labor warranty from the manufacturer? From the installer?

– If you sign up for a yearly maintenance plan, do you get preferential appointment times, pricing, or both on repair work?

– Do they have a good rating with minimal unresolved issues at the Better Business Bureau – BBB?

– When you search online for their company name, are the online comments generally positive?

On this last point, online testimonials or rants, be aware of what we call the “wild west” effect. By that, we mean that, far too often, we see and hear about companies writing good stuff about themselves or even bad stuff about their competitors.  And some real customers who take the time to write are not always objective.

Not to worry. If you use most of the points above and ask your neighbors who they use, you’ll get a reliable composite of the companies you are considering.

Wise AC and Heating System Buyers Know: It’s Not About the Box

Today, while reading in an interview in a HVACr trade journal, I read a quote that summed up an important point:

It’s not about the box, it IS about the whole house

In this case, the “box” is the new AC and heating equipment you are thinking about having installed. And the whole house (actually the part HVAC insiders call “the envelope”) interacts with the outside elements to determine how comfortable you are inside, how hard your AC and heating equipment has to work, and how much you pay (or save) each month in utility bills.

Here’s a real life example from a reader who sent an email to us recently.

This fellow lives in the northeast U.S., and was quite surprised when his local AC contractor discouraged him from buying the top of the line, most efficient system. Rather, the contractor advised him go for the 16 SEER A/C unit, and to take the extra $2,000 the most efficient AC was going to cost and use that to add insulation to his attic and seal up leaky walls and electrical outlets.  Although the summer cooling needs of this northeastern state are lower than central Texas where we are, the same principle applies everywhere:

For each home or building and its climate, there is an optimum mix of heating or cooling efficiency attributes and energy efficiency improvements that could be done to the “envelope” that interacts with the outside air.

Since you only buy an new AC and heating system every decade or so, you don’t have to know everything about this topic. Your best bet is to be aware of the big picture and ask the right questions. This way you will find a local contractor who uses best practices (training, certifications, experience & business practices) and takes the “whole house” approach.

Let us hear from you if you have experiences to share along these lines

Extended Warranties for Home Air-Conditioning and Heating Systems

Frequently, we learn lessons from other industries that apply well to home heating and AC.  The other day, I had to visit my independent auto mechanic shop. While in his waiting area, I overhead him tell another customer that he “never recommends his customers to buy third-party extended warranties on their car or truck”.  He went on to say that that third party warranty companies were diligent at selling warranties /repair insurance and collecting premiums, and not-so-good at being around later or paying out for claims.  In case the term is new to you, ‘third party” simply means a company not involved otherwise in the transaction.

While monitoring HVAC industry forums and news, what I have read seems to generally support my mechanic’s overall assessment on extended warranties offered by third parties.

First, let’s be clear on the difference in the types of warranties that you can buy for your home heater or air conditioner system. The following parties typically offer warranties on heating and A/C equipment, either when it is first installed or sometimes later. :

  • Manufacturer of the equipment
  • Local dealer or independent contractor who installed the equipment
  • A third party insurance or warranty company,  who is not the manufacturer or installing contractor.

Extended warranties will usually provide different terms for (or ways to dictate coverage of) the following:

  • Main Components  (compressors, condensers, heat exchangers, etc)
  • Parts (other than the above)
  • Labor to diagnose and fix any warranty claims (this can be a higher amount than parts)
  • An amount of time the warranty covers
  • Deductible (amount that must be paid by you later before warranty starts paying)
  • “Ordinary wear & tear”, abuse or neglect vs. a failure or repair covered by the warranty
  • Which repair company is required to do the work for you to be eligible for payment
  • Does the warranty pay for the repair directly, or do you have to pay for it and apply for reimbursement

Summary:

  • Higher efficiency or more sophisticated heating, cooling, heat pump or indoor air quality equipment increases your likelihood of needing /using  an extended warranty.
  • A yearly maintenance plan is something most owners should have but do not
  • If you only have budget for one of the two, go for a yearly maintenance plan over an extended warranty
  • Always be clear on what the manufacturer’s warranty covers and exactly what any extended warranty actually gains you above what you already have from the manufacturer or installer
  • If you have the discipline, you could take the money you were going to pay an extended warranty, deductibles, and excluded items and instead, put it in a savings account. You can use those funds to pay for your own maintenance and repairs later.
  • Regular maintenance will help prevent the need for repairs from neglect
  • If you decide to go with an extended warranty, those from a large manufacturer are usually a better bet than the other two categories.  Sometimes dealers are owned by the manufacturer. It helps you to know if they are or are not.

If you have experience related to this, whether you agree with the comments above or can offer something to the contrary, please post your comments.

Dual Fuel Heat Pumps: Comfort and Efficiency

Even though the worst part of winter is behind us in many parts of the country, we are still getting a lot of questions about dual fuel heat pumps. The main reason: our site focuses on how to buy a new AC and heating system, and all these components are often replaced at the same time. Now that the weather is warmer (and before the first wave of heat arrives) those who have waited to get their system replaced are now looking for ways to lower their utility bills or get tax a credit on higher efficiency HVAC equipment.

Let’s start with a definition: Dual Fuel Heat Pump

A dual fuel heat pump is a heating (A/C can also be combined…) system that relies on electricity and one other source of heat, such as natural gas or heating oil.

Before going further, we should include a bit of history

In the earlier days of heat pumps, they were often used in homes and buildings where a primary fuel such as natural gas, heating oil, or butane was not available. In that case, electricity was the only common option. Most heating was accomplished through the use of a compressor and working fluid (aka Freon or refrigerant). For easier understanding, heat pumps are often described as “an air conditioner or refrigerator in reverse”. That’s easy to understand if you have ever stood behind your refrigerator or outside AC unit. Anyway, in a heat pump the main work of creating heat is powered by electricity. Because they don’t “extract and move” heat very well when the outside temperature drops below a certain point, heat pumps require a secondary or “emergency” source of heat. Before dual -fuel models became available (and still today when electricity is the only energy source), the secondary heat source was resistance or “strip” heating. Nearly everyone has seen this type of heating in the orange glowing part of radiant heaters. The element in these gets hot quickly, but electrical resistance is generally not an efficient way to heat space –they use a lot of electricity for the amount of heat given off.

Because they require the use of a compressor and for other reasons, some might ask

In situations where gas or heating oil is available, why bother with the heat pump…why not just have a high efficiency furnace?

This is a good question, and it makes for lively debate. The quick answer is that, with a dual fuel heat pump, a sensor in the system chooses the mode (electricity powered heat pump OR gas/oil/etc. furnace) that is most efficient for the current temperature, outside conditions and thermostat setting. Here’s an example: in the daytime in cooler or cold season of the year, have you ever been inside your home or office feeling chilly, and walked outside to warmer feeling air? That’s a good example of when a heat pump would likely be more efficient choice than gas. Why burn fuel when you could “move” warmth from the outside with a lower energy equivalent of electricity.

While discussing ways a dual fuel heat pump can be installed, the following scenario was brought up:

Homeowner has a heating system in good condition and high enough efficiency, but their older or inefficient air conditioning unit goes out. If done properly, by a competent installer, a new combo air conditioner/heat pump can be installed and connected with the existing gas or oil furnace to create a dual-fuel option. In our experience, non-standard retrofits such as this require a higher level of skill than the normal installation of equipment that has been designed to work together.

If you want to read more about heat pumps, you can go to the about heat pumps page on this site.

Why Heating A/C and Plumbing Contractors Do Background Checks On Their Technicians

Recently, I had the chance to meet with a long-time veteran of the home heating, A/C and plumbing business in a large western U.S. city.  He said something I knew a little about, but had never heard stated so directly.  He said:

Heating, A/C and plumbing are some of the main vocational training programs that are taught in prisons. That’s one of the reasons our company does background checks and drug addiction screening on all our employees…”

After a prisoner has served his or her sentence, having a productive job can help keep them from returning to prison. This, of course, is a good thing for a civilized society.  At the same time, home or building owners need to know that a technician who will be working in or own their property is both competent in HVAC and trustworthy.

Screening and background checks on employees could prevent a person with violence, molestation, or similar baggage in their past or present (particulary offenses with a high rate of recidivism) from getting a job at your local heating and air conditioning company.

What you can do to find quality heating and A/C service companies

So, in addition to the quick tips you will see on the pages of our website, before you have a contractor repair or replace your heating and AC equipment, ask if and how they screen their employees for undesirable history.

Background checks, like other overhead costs of technical training and certification, bonding, and insurance, can translate into higher bids or costs than companies who do not cover these benefits or protection for their customers. Of course, cost can naturally be divided into initial cost and longer term or unforseen costs. Generally, service companies with good infrastructure have better procedures.  This usually means they are less likely to make mistakes. And if they do make an error or if a defect in equipment presents itself, they have the resources to make things right.