So, this past week, we had an issue at Casa De ATFMB. The snow came down in full force, and the furnace decided to die. The day before, it was squeaking. My brother asked me to pick up Zoom Spout – an oil you can use to lubricate a blower motor inside of a furnace. None of the big box DIY stores had any, though. I figured I’d try some other places the following day, but, alas, the furnace stopped.
My brother called me not long after I got to work to give me the bad news. He also wanted me to order the motor online so he could install it. Normally, I would be onboard. He worked in HVAC for something like 17 years doing this exact kind of work. I trust him to diagnose the problem and his ability to install the part – a blower motor. However, it was friggin cold, and ordering a motor online would mean waiting a few days with no heat while the snow was pounding us. My mom, for example, would freeze and not be able to handle it. All of which I pointed out to him. He wanted to know if we could buy one locally. We probably could, but without either of us having an account at a wholesaler, or a contractors license, we might have issues*.
We agreed to call a service company.
Now, I’ve used Time Plumbing and Heating before. They’ve been ok. Not great, just ok. I called them and they said someone could be out between noon and 3 pm. I would have to pay a $35 trip charge and a $75 diagnostic fee.
I explained who I was (worked in HVAC for 13ish years) and who my brother was (17 years as a technician) and that he had diagnosed the problem as a blower motor. I said I had no problems paying their diagnostic fee, but to please have a replacement blower motor for a Janitrol GMP075-3 on the truck so is the tech agreed with us, we wouldn’t have to wait for them to go get a replacement part. They said ok.
A phone call a couple minutes later and the guy said he was on his way. I spoke with my boss and headed home to meet the guy, taking my work home with me. The guy was nice enough Didn’t know anything about us saying it was the blower motor, so we had a conversation about it. He said he doesn’t doubt us, but can’t take our word for it and has to do his own diagnosis, which I completely understood. He then proceeded to try and diagnose the problem. For hours. He wasn’t used to Janitrol furnaces. He was trying to test the motor, and failing. He was checking various things, nothing was showing him what he wanted to see. He questioned if the main circuit board might not be out. I told him I hoped not since it had been replaced once already (2013). He keeps poking around. His phone rings, it’s his boss who needs something off the guy’s truck. I can hear the boss talking (he was loud) and telling the guy to test the main board – that’s usually the problem. So not the tech is obsessed with checking the board. He had the motor halfway pulled out of the body, but is now focused on the board. He can’t get it to give him the numbers he wants to see on his meter. He tries over and over and over. I actually start to worry that he is going to actually damage the board just trying to test it.
About the time I thought that, he was able to verify the board was good, and decided the motor was bad and needed to be replaced.
I asked him how much it would cost, he said he needed to go get something from his truck.
We went upstairs. I thought he was going to get the motor. Instead, he came back with a spiral bound, laminated book. We sat down at the kitchen table. While he was outside, I did a quick google search on the motor. I could get one for $180 online. He flipped through his book, found the page he wanted and said, “We’re right here,” and drew his finger from left to right, landing on a price.
I won’t repeat what I said to him here. Suffice to say, it was unkind. And rude.
I told him he had to do better. I pointed out that the motor, at cost, was around $75. Marked up to $200, probably, which meant he was wanting to charge me roughly $800 in labor. And that was completely unacceptable. He had to do better.
The guy was shocked. Very shocked.
Suddenly, he was paying attention to the fact of who I and my brother are, and what we know having been in the industry for so long. He was honest with me, said he doesn’t set the prices – which I totally believe – and that most people don’t even blink at the prices. They just pay. I also believe that’s true. But, I am not most people. I know better. I’m not going to pay such an outrageous price. It’s price gouging.
I told him, again, he had to do better. He said he would have to call his boss. I said, “Please do.”
While he stepped outside to do that, my brother called our uncle. Who was in the HVAC business for a lot longer than either of us. He’s local now, though out of the wholesale side – he still has his feet in with a couple properties he owns and has wholesale accounts for, and can buy parts. He said he could get a replacement motor and have it over here in a day and suggested we setup space heaters for the night.
The tech returned with his counter offer: $600.
I might have gone for it for the convenicne , except – he didn’t have the part on his truck. That made the decision for me. I could get the part for around $200, my brother, uncle (and probably my cousin) could install it. I’d save $400. No brainer.
I thanked the tech for his time, paid his trip and diagnostic fee, and headed out to buy a couple space heaters (I already had 1, but I wanted 1 for both bedrooms, and the living room where my brother sleeps).
While I was out, my uncle and cousin (I was right!) showed up. Along with my brother, they took the motor out of the furnace and oiled the bearings, which got it working for the night (so I didn’t need the space heaters after all). The next day, it died again, but they came over with the replacement and installed it. Furnace fixed.
The moral of the story? Well, there might be a couple. First, always get a second opinion. And look stuff up online – you never know what you might be able to get for a much better price just by doing a little Google search. And third, always have an uncle or an aunt or a brother or a sister or a cousin out there with connections… They’re awfully handy.
*Having worked for a wholesaler for 13 years, I can share with you the secret sauce. Most of them don’t want to sell to the average person – make a retail sale. Why? Because the repair companies don’t like it. They see it as the wholesaler competing against them, and they will switch to other wholesalers if they find one is selling to the general public. They will often set a price for retail 150-200% above the repair company price – or more – to discourage retail purchases.