This is a rather lengthy two part question, but I think it's appropriate discussion for this kind of board as it's a place for professionals to speak their mind without worrying about offending the customer and for customers like me to check whether or not we have appropriate expectations.
First, some background as to why I'm asking: I recently had a problem with my dual fuel heat pump / gas system. The outside unit (fan and compressor) was running without the inside fan running. I switched it over to "supplemental heat" and called a local company to check it out. A tech showed up on the appointment date and I explained again what was happening. It appeared to be an intermittent problem and didn't do it when he tried kicking the HP on. He stated that there was a loose wire on the Carrier Optimizer HP control (inside) and cycled it a couple of times and left. He was on sight about 15 minutes total. I was charged the full service call. About a week later it did it again and I called them back. The same guy showed up with another tech with him and again, checked the wires inside at the optimizer unit and cycled it a few times. He said it was probably some bad relays within the unit and it would probably be intermittent. He stated that the blower unit may just be getting old and not kicking in at that speed, so he set the fan speed higher to cover that possibility. He suggested I replace the Optimizer unit by having a newer programmable thermostat installed and remove the optimizer unit as the new thermostat would take it's place.
About a week after that, I found the HP lines icing up near the exchanger inside. This appeared to be happening during heating mode. I switched it over to "supplemental heat" and called a different company. This time a guy showed up and I explained the previous problem and this one. He cycled it on and went outside and listened to the unit and felt the lines. He took the cover off the outside unit and cycled it a few times from there and found that the reversing valve was sticking, both in cooling mode and half way at times. He went ahead and put the gauges on it and checked the line pressures. He then addressed the intermittent problem by examining the Optimizer unit and taking the thermostat off of the bas and examining the contacts. He used an eraser to clean the contacts and stated that the optimizer was probably not at fault, but that it was probably dirty contacts on the thermostat base. He seemed very thorough and went over my options for addressing the reversing valve (risky repair or replace the HP and inside coils) and he also examined the furnace and stated that it appeared to be in very good shape and I could probably leave it in place without much risk. He made some measurements of the exchanger sheet metal at the inside furnace and gave the info to his boss for a bid. I contacted them and went by and got the bid. I was a little disappointed that the owner didn't talk to me prior to drawing up a bid and the bid itself just listed the lowest priced Lennox unit (R-22) and an inside exchanger and a total price for the job. Nothing was broken down in the bid as to cost of the HP and labor.
As far as the first and second service call by the first contractor. I am going to pay the bill in full as I am not one to operate by threatening to withhold money. There's no legal ground to do so anyway, so it's a weak bargaining position and just makes people angry. But I do feel that I need to express the thoughts as above when I send my payment, along with the information that I will be getting bids on a new system and based on the above, I don't feel confident in getting one from his company.
So all of the above leads to a couple of questions:
Question One: Is there a "standard" as far as service calls go that one should expect? IE: Checking all of the components of a system (thermostat/control unit/blower/HP) prior to rendering a diagnosis?
I feel that there should be some sort of "internal" standard by any company that wants to project a professional image. Besides that, it's beneficial both in the short and long term to be thorough. I used to work in construction and service of pools and hot tubs, and I did service calls a lot. I found that, even though, upon first inspection, it looked like an obvious thing, it was worth my time to check everything in the system out. Many times the simple or obvious thing may be connected to something else, that has no immediate symptom, that could be more expensive, or catastrophic down the road a short way.
Question Two: Is there a standard as far as bidding on systems such as this? Shouldn't the bid show cost for the HP and labor? Should options be discussed higher and lower than the target amount and such as R-22 versus R410a? What about measurements as far as the system goes. Shouldn't some kind of calculations (such as the load calculations I've seen discussed here) be done? Granted, I'm sure I expressed to the tech when discussing a new system, that I had limited resources and it's not a very big house, (1200 Sq Ft) but how do I know the system it's replacing (2.5 T Carrier HP) was adequately sized?
I do plan on discussing the bid with the manager and having him draw it up with better pricing and also for the option of the higher priced units. (Countrywide Mortgage came through with a HE loan or Line of Credit, so I have a little more leeway for what I get. Of course I'll also have more debt!)
I know that was hideously long, but any discussion on any of the points is appreciated, and worthwhile.
load calc should have been done, upgrade options are normally given. in over 30 yrs we have never broken down prices as far as equip and labor, only one price for total package.
1) I wouldn't personally pay the service calls because the problem wasn't fixed, as evidenced by your invoice from the second company.This is JMO. The standard is to diagnose the problem and fix it, as opposed to changing all the parts till you get it right.
2) The bid should be a total cost of the project, and what's included in the bid.Just what work will be performed. Nothing broken out or itemized.
If everything was always done "by the book"....the book would never change.
Welcome to free enterprize. Here in America one can do as little as they think they can get by with and hope no one finds out, or if they do find out blame their business failure on the weather, economy, not having good help, not having enough help.....
That's also the reason that some companies charge more / pay their technicians more; better service.
My pet peeve is that in most locations it is too easy to start an "HVAC business"; too few required qualifications. The consumer then is stuck with trying to find someone qualified and caring enough to do their job right.
Well, I'd at least call the owner/manager of the first company and relay my concerns. I even tell new customers with similiar stories to do that because I'd want at least one chance to make it good if it was my customer calling a second company. If you don't get any satisfaction, then you should do what you think best, and no, it is not customary to break down the prices. Does McDonald's break down the prices of a Big Mac? If you do decide to replace the system, get three quotes and compare them to each other to make sure everyone is quoting basically the same efficiencies and work. Hopefully, price isn't the only determining factory, but if one company is way high or way low, ask them to explain why. You might learn something.
As for the first company, I'd make them wait a while for payment, until you get their attention. Many times, if you call the service manager, they'll knock a little off the bill to try and satisfy you.
As for the bid, no one I know is gonna break down the HP price from the labor. The reason is simple - once you see it, you're going to inevitably say "Well, if the HP is only this much, why is the labor so high?" and/or "I know the HP costs about $XX and you're marking it up too high". Besides which, what difference would it make?
Good? Bad? I'm the guy with the gun.