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Flat Rate Pricing in Home A/C and Heating Repair

We frequently get questions from homeowners about repair costs for their central heating and AC equipment. In this post, we will give some basic definitions so you can understand cost related terms when you hear them. Basically, there are two pricing models, flat rate pricing or labor (time) and materials. First we will outline some features that all HVAC repair work has in common.

Trip and Diagnostic Fees
Known in the industry as “T & D” fees, among other names, this is the cost for the phone representative or dispatcher to make your appointment and get the repairman and truck to your house or building and diagnose the problem. No matter which pricing model covers the repair work, you are unlikely to get around the T&D fee. With gas at around $4 a gallon, the trip portion of this cost is mostly going up. Depending on the time of year and part of the country you are in, this cost ranges from about $50 up to $100 or more. When you call in to schedule the work, this is the number you will usually be quoted. The second part of the work, once the problem has been diagnosed, usually follows one of two pricing methods:

Labor (time) and Materials
This type of pricing, also known as “parts and labor”, has become less common. With this pricing structure, you “get the news” of the actual cost you will pay upon completion of the work. Under this model, you would be quoted the hourly rate of the repairman or repair crew plus the cost of the parts, refrigerants, and supplies. The most common concern about this model is that it focuses a lot of energy (not always positive energy, either) on how long the repair takes, especially if the repair truck has to go for parts, etc. In theory, the homeowner bears more of the risk or receives the benefit of lower labor cost, depending on whether the repair drags on for hours or goes really quickly. This is a good model to use if you know for sure that the repairman is technically competent, fast, focused, and honest.

Flat Rate Pricing
In the flat rate pricing model, the repairman has a manual that tells them how long it should take to fix the problem that has been diagnosed, usually to a fraction of an hour. He or she takes this standard number in dollars, adds the price of the parts and tax (if applicable for your area), and the total is the flat rate price you get quoted for the whole repair. Whether the repair actually takes less time or more time than the repairman’s book listed, your total cost was known and agreed to ahead of time. This method rewards fast workers and tends to reduce squabbles with customers over repair time. The main challenge: some companies provide pay incentives for volume and speed. These incentives can distract workers from being as thorough as they might be in the labor and materials model. Not finding all the problems leads to what are know in the HVAC industry as callbacks, which are unfortunate for the homeowner and repairman.

Having said all that, the flat rate model tends to be used more often now. You may not have the option for the labor and materials anyway. Under all scenarios, you should now be able to understand price quotes better and ask the repairman if he/she checked the whole system for problems or assumed that the problem they found first is the only one present.