Let me say on the outset, while I'm very upset about this situation, I'm not going to name any names. I'm primarily concerned about getting my issue resolved with as little cost to my family as possible. I'll also say that, while I'm slightly handy, this is not remotely my field if expertise and I always hire folks to do this kind of work when I'm out of my league. In the world of HVAC, I'm way out of my league.
The basics: I live in Portland, OR in the Pacific NW. My home, built in 1926, consists of 2 stories and the basement. I did a big construction project at my house in 2006/07, a large basement remodel, and as part of the remodel we installed a new HVAC system consisting of the following:
- American Standard Heritage 16 Heat Pump
- American Standard Freedom 90 Comfort-R Variable Speed Furnace
- American Standard Accuclean Whole House Air Filtration System
The ducting was also reworked to allow for greater headroom in the basement, which was the room being renovated. This was not a budget build out and the materials used were good throughout as far as I know. The ducting rework was gone over by the architects, the general contractor and, presumably, the HVAC sub-contractor hired by the general, who will remain unnamed. To account for the loss of large ducts, they decided to use multiple smaller pancake (rectangular) ducts that would replicate the same volume of air as the larger ducts that were being replaced.
I think it's worth noting that at the end of my project I was left with no documentation re: the units except for the basic manuals. I had no contact info for the company who did the HVAC install and no offer of any extended parts or service warranty. I don't know whether to ding the contractor or the sub for this, but it left me with very little info about my units and who to turn to with any issues.
To attempt to summarize, the system has never properly worked for any length of time, primarily in summer when we need to maintain cooler temps in the house. The initial obvious failing was that the 2nd story didn't cool at all - low/no air pressure and zero affect on the space. However, after living with it a while it was also apparent that the first floor only cooled moderately well and that the unit's performance was hit and miss. I live in the Pacific NW and hot days here are pretty mild compared to most of the country, so this was surprising having grown up in Alabama with AC units being punished and performing all day. The basement has almost always cooled well, but it's got the shortest run from the ducting, the best insulation and close proximity to the unit, so that was less surprising.
The company who did the install has been onsite several times a year (3-10 times a year, easily) since 2007 trying to make the unit work as spec'd. The system sometimes seems to work for a short stint, but then always fails to maintain any sort of consistent performance – cooling struggles or failure, heating failures, etc... When the tech comes on site, there's always some small discovery of this or that that should hopefully help things, but nothing every makes a huge, lasting improvement and before long I'm on the phone calling them again. The upstairs has never cooled properly, even after the installation of a dedicated thermostat (something not done during the initial work) and finishing/insulating the two remaining unfinished attic spaces, the only remaining factor that could have accounted for an "un-cool-able" space.
It's worth noting that all of these above calls to the company and all of their visits resulted in no bills or service fees, just a constant stream of problems and them coming on-site to try and troubleshoot some more. It's also worth noting that I've never received any documentation of the work being done, so I can't offer you specific details of the unit's history.
Last year between July-Dec. 2010 the heat wouldn’t work and the tech had to force the furnace to stay on, as opposed to the heat pump being utilized when "heavy lifting" wasn't needed. During this episode of troubleshooting, 3 years after its initial install and countless calls for service, the tech finally found a manufacturing defect - a bad welding joint in the "indoor coil" that was evidently causing a leak that he'd never been able to find before. He replaced the part in the heat pump and the unit did a fine job of heating the house the remainder of winter. There was talk at the time of the unit being out of warranty, but they said they'd be able to get the parts taken care of, but not the labor for some reason. However, nothing ever came of that - No bill, no paperwork, no nothing. I was puzzled as to why I should have to pay for service on a part that was evidently defective from the factory and that had been missed during all of the repeated service calls I had made over the years, but I wasn't being offered options. Regardless, no bill ever arrived and my newborn son (now 15 months old) was all I could really focus on during this time period.
Fast forward to the start of spring & summer 2011 and turning the unit on to cool the house for the first time. Nothing. No air pushing out the vents, no unit spinning up outside. Dead like a brick. After a couple of service calls and tech visits, the unit worked on the basement and first floor for approx. 3 days and then stopped again. The outside unit wouldn't spin up at all. Ironically and likely not coincidentally, maybe 1-2 days after this failure, I finally get the bill from the company for the July-Dec. 2010 services for over $XXX in labor for the replacement of the defective part. This bill also had the first formal offer I had seen of a 10 year parts and warranty for the unit (AAYWAR0362). There had been some talk of an extended warranty being offered to me during the July-Dec. 2010 time period, but nothing was ever formally emailed or mailed to me.
I then decided to take a bit of time deciding how to proceed before having them continue to service the unit.
I now have a $XXX bill, a dead HVAC unit and very little certainty of why this system is so completely unable to deal with the most basic of cooling or heating tasks without regular visits throughout the year from a tech. The fixes never seem to stick for very long and if they do, I'm not at all sure what the technician does one season doesn't completely undermine the config for the following season. Is it unreasonable to expect to not have to call this company for over a year with a service issue?
I'll now take a moment to apologize if I seem like I'm ranting. As a consumer, I feel quite helpless here and I'm not sure what I should have done differently through these passing years since the unit’s installation. I'm uncertain if the unit is a lemon, if the tech isn't well suited to service the unit or if something was botched during the installation in such a way that no one would every be able to get it to work properly. I feel it’s important to note, I don't mind paying to appliances serviced. I understand appliances need TLC and I understand that people's time is valuable, but this situation feels unreasonable and has been extremely time consuming and stressful.
Now I’ll pause and note, I drafted the original post above about 2 weeks ago or so to help collect my thoughts and then decided it was best to wait to post it. On July 24th, 2011 I sent the HVAC company an email outlining the situation from my perspective. I let them know I felt re: their services, my family’s frustrations and asked if they thought it was unusual for a unit to perform so poorly. At the end of the email, I asked that they waive the $XXX+ in labor charges for replacing the defective part and said that if they would do so, I’d be happy to immediately purchase the 10-year parts and labor warranty. My hope would be that having the warranty in place would allow me to use a different company that I could feel confident was actually capable of troubleshooting what sounds like a complex issue and/or, a faulty installation. Unfortunately, I’ve lost confidence in this companies ability to problem solve and I’m concerned something was perhaps fundamentally flawed in the installation that isn’t really understood by them or perhaps just not being disclosed. Unfortunately, it's hard to say at this point.
I could really benefit from some perspective about how some of you might have handled the situation and how I might be able to handle it moving forward. I am uncertain what to do and also very skeptical that any real solution can be found by this company. I feel like my next steps are locating a trusted, dependable local company with a proven track record to come out, evaluate and document the system and then hopefully transition my system’s care to them. In the meantime, it’s 80+ degrees outside and my HVAC is still dead, so we’re using window units upstairs…
Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for your time.