Red Tagged Furnace? Know Your Rights
Fall is here and temperatures are starting to fall, which means it’s a good time for people to be thinking about their furnaces. In 2016, Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota convened an industry group comprised of BBB staffers and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors. From those series of meetings, with helpful input and feedback from industry professionals from Minnesota and North Dakota, a series of tips were created to help consumers find qualified contractors when they need maintenance, repairs or are shopping for a new furnace.
“The average person really only knows just how much they depend on their furnace in the wintertime,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “These tips will help shed light on the industry, best practices, and all of the things people should consider when choosing a heating contractor.”
Before hiring an HVAC company, consumers should also familiarize themselves with their furnace. What make and model is it? How old is it? When is the last time it was serviced? From there, research company backgrounds at bbb.org. Once your list is narrowed down, ask the following questions before making a hiring decision:
- Is there an estimate or service fee? Be aware if there is a call for service, there might be a service charge included in the total fee.
- Ask questions regarding your current system: How does it work? What is best for my home or business?
- Are the technicians working on commission? Commissioned staff may recommend more costly service or repairs than are actually needed.
If you’re having or suspect you have furnace issues, mention them prior to the service visit. It’s also a good idea to ask if the person coming to your home is an estimator or a technician. Estimators are often technicians with years of experience.
Industry experts say it’s always important to get multiple bids for jobs, but caution is advised when evaluating those estimates, as different size furnaces may be offered or other services could be included. Always be on the lookout for high pressure sales tactics.
In addition, BBB’s industry group felt it was important that consumers be advised about situations where HVAC technicians inform you there’s an emergency with your furnace. Technicians are responsible to shut down – or ‘red tag’ furnaces – if they feel the homeowner’s safety is at risk. Businesses can be liable if they find an unsafe furnace operating in a home and choose to do nothing about it. However, techs should discuss with the client how the problem should be handled. Often, the business may suggest repairing or replacing the unit. Just the same, consumers should not be pushed into a decision if they are not comfortable with options a company has discussed or proposed. Space heaters or a fireplace can be used if you have to wait for a second opinion. Despite popular belief, using heaters will likely prevent pipes from freezing overnight while getting a second opinion.
People seeking HVAC service should also be aware that:
- Consumers have the right to cancel a contract signed at their home within three business days.
- Many warranties require annual maintenance to keep the warranty in effect, so be aware if your warranty has this requirement. Also, be clear on what is covered under warranty and what is not. If damages are discovered after the work is completed, contact the business ASAP. Reputable HVAC businesses will work to resolve any issues.
- An HVAC unit is a system; sometimes multiple issues may exist. Though the technician may have fixed the first issue, subsequent problems may arise and be more complex than previously thought.
- Furnaces have an average lifespan of 15-20 years. If your system approaches or passes this lifespan, you may be in need of a replacement.
- Your new furnace and/or air conditioning unit may have a tax credit or a rebate available. Check with your tech or tax preparer for more information.
- Before signing the contract, you should ask if the business is licensed, bonded and insured. In Minnesota, license and bonding information can be found through the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (http://www.doli.state.mn.us). In North Dakota, visit www.sos.nd.gov. A business does not need licensing to do some aspects of HVAC work; however, they may need licensing for portions of the job such as electrical work, or they may also subcontract such work out to another business. You should know who the subcontractor is and how they will be paid.
The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.