Time for the Consumerist?
February 13, 2010 6:50 AM   Subscribe

My furnace has not functioned correctly since November 28th, and I am wondering just how badly my home warranty company is jerking me around. Need advice as to how to deal with them to get the furnace fixed or replaced. Additionally, if anyone knows something about furnaces that can help me understand what is going on, I'd appreciate that too, because I suspect that knowing the magic words may help me get this taken care of.

Lots of background info about the particular problems:

This is about an electric heat pump system in North Carolina. The unit is located outside. The first problem was a very loud, screechy sound. Repair Company #1 tried replacing the motor two times, with no luck. It wasn't the motor. So then the home warranty people switched providers. Company #2 replaced the fan. After having no heat for three weeks (it worked, but was screechy, so I didn't use it), the problem was finally "resolved" on December 18th. I had to bitch and complain loads and loads, escalating as high as I could get in order to get them to hurry the process up. The day they finally "fixed" it, I had left for the holidays. The weather here has been abnormally cold all winter, and I was worried that my pipes would freeze. They didn't, thankfully.

Upon returning from my vacation, the furnace had developed a new problem. Now the condenser coil was icing over on the outside, sometimes just a little, in stripes, and other times completely iced over. This began happening while I was away, according to my kind neighbor, who noticed it.

I called back within a few days of my return in January, and Company #2 came out to check this new problem out. They topped off the freon and said it (the defrost board, I believe) was working, despite there having been ice on the outside of the unit.

The unit continued to be iced over, to the point where it was causing significant strain to the unit. Last week I called again to get them to come out and try to fix it. The technician from Company #2 was able to make it out on Monday the 8th. It seems he chipped the ice off, and then tested all sorts of things*, but found nothing wrong. I really don't understand how that can be.

I checked every day this week, and this morning it's frozen over again. I am about to call the warranty company, and I need some ammo. I'm worried that all this farting around will damage (or already has damaged) the unit. I want them to fix it! Now!

What could be the problem here? What arguments can I make to the home warranty company that it's time to replace the unit, since they haven't fixed it? What damage might they be causing by not fixing it? Will this problem affect my AC in the summer? It's the same unit.

I have been documenting the entire process, fwiw. Thanks.

*I can list all those things if it will help you answer this.
posted by Stewriffic to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Response by poster: I forgot to say that the fix on December 18th that ended up making the screech go away was to replace the fan in the unit outside.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:54 AM on February 13, 2010

You know, one of the local news channels did a segment on a home warranty company that wasn't fixing someone's furnace properly (of course I thought of you). I only saw an ad for it so don't know what the deal was (sorry) but maybe some searching on the local news sites will turn something up?
posted by leesh at 7:22 AM on February 13, 2010

Check with the CBS affiliate WVLT in Knoxville for a segment they ran on this issue. I think it was Don Dare or some similar name as a consumer advocate. Their phone number is 1 865 450 8888.
posted by Old Geezer at 9:48 AM on February 13, 2010

Response by poster: I called them today and they have someone coming by tomorrow. The customer service person was nice, said she'd been looking through the history and thanked me for being patient, since this was taking so long. She said that if the technician recommended replacement that was something to consider next. I have a feeling, however, that there's a major disincentive for these places they contract with. At this point I don't believe them and suspect their niceness is just to make me back off. GRAR.

What can I do to not get ripped off?

I'll check out the consumer advocate things in the news.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:39 AM on February 13, 2010

I had my A/C unit replaced a number of years ago. Not the furnace. It began to ice over. The tech discovered that my thermostat inside the house (where you control what temp you want) had been installed incorrectly. Note that the thermostat was NOT replaced at the same time as the A/C unit. It was a newer programmable thermostat.

That's all I know about that. But I mention it in case no one has ever looked in that direction on your installation.
posted by wwartorff at 1:09 PM on February 13, 2010

Have you thought about calling an HVAC company on your own and paying them for an estimate? Perhaps an independent company not paid for by your warranty company would give you a more objective answer. Compared to the cost of replacing the entire system, a hundred bucks or so for an estimate might be money well spent.
posted by fogovonslack at 7:58 PM on February 13, 2010

Response by poster: Maybe some progress. The most recent technician to come out decreed that the defrost board and defrost sensor needed replacing. The warranty company was very responsive, strangely, and upgraded the situation to priority. In theory the fix will happen by Wednesday.
posted by Stewriffic at 10:58 AM on February 15, 2010

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