Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

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drr1099
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Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by drr1099 »

Between the dual units at home, my rental, and my parents' house, it seems like every year we need a visit from an HVAC guy. That's life, but it feels like we get robbed every time (in addition to a standard 75 dispatch charge, and hourly labor, they want $200 for a $30 igniter, $300 for a $40 capacitor, $400 for a $50 pressure switch, etc). Every time they visit (any of the local big name shops), they offer a maintenance plan, replace my 10 year old units for 7+ grand, etc. I am just curious, is getting one of those maintenance plans the answer (i.e. will they just get their $200/year fee and go easy on you if something does go wrong) or is that for suckers. Do you just find a trusted local guy that is somewhat honest. I tried that, and the guy charged very fair prices (if he showed up, but he would also stand me up 2 out of 3 times). Just curious how the savvy people of this board deal with it. Thanks
MikeG62
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by MikeG62 »

I purchase maintenance plans for my HVAC systems (I have two) from my local electric/gas company. I think it's worthwhile (peace of mind). If there is an issue I schedule a visit (online) and can often get them out the same day (if scheduled early enough). That is important when it comes to HVAC.

Never been charged for any repairs under their warranty contract either.
Last edited by MikeG62 on Wed Aug 26, 2020 8:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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tibbitts
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by tibbitts »

drr1099 wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 7:24 am Between the dual units at home, my rental, and my parents' house, it seems like every year we need a visit from an HVAC guy. That's life, but it feels like we get robbed every time (in addition to a standard 75 dispatch charge, and hourly labor, they want $200 for a $30 igniter, $300 for a $40 capacitor, $400 for a $50 pressure switch, etc). Every time they visit (any of the local big name shops), they offer a maintenance plan, replace my 10 year old units for 7+ grand, etc. I am just curious, is getting one of those maintenance plans the answer (i.e. will they just get their $200/year fee and go easy on you if something does go wrong) or is that for suckers. Do you just find a trusted local guy that is somewhat honest. I tried that, and the guy charged very fair prices (if he showed up, but he would also stand me up 2 out of 3 times). Just curious how the savvy people of this board deal with it. Thanks
I completely disagree with your assessment of "robbed." The prices you mention are pretty much retail prices most places. The technician, truck, some degree of parts stocking, etc. all cost money. Yes, some Bogleheads will say they "have a guy" and he'll come out and replace that capacitor for a $30 including parts. But that's not normal. I have had more than the normal trouble with my hvac (gone through many inside coils due to poor engineering, all but one were replaced under warranty), but even at that service visits have averaged well below one per year for 12 years now. Water heater one in 12 years.

What are the terms of this $200 fee? My hvac contractor does offer a plan but it's only for annual "checkup" visits and I think no extra charge for outside normal hours maybe, I'm not sure, I don't have it. What does "go easy on you" mean?
neilpilot
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by neilpilot »

I'm lucky in that I have 3 HVACs & 2 water heaters, but in a large home with only 2 occupants. I feel comfortable with relatively simple DYI. Most system faults involve logical troubleshooting to identify a single failed part.

Over the past 10 years I've changed a few capacitors, installed new condenser fan motors on 2 AC units, and installed a new igniter on each water heater. I even keep a couple of capacitors on hand, since they can be purchased online for much less than if I need to buy them locally in a hurry (think $7 vs $35).

I have called a local repairman a couple of times, but with my system redundancy I don't need an immediate response and can therefore avoid the higher priced 24-hour emergency response offered by larger and higher priced vendors.
home_body
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by home_body »

I have two HVAC that are about 16 yrs old and water heaters that are about ~4 yrs old. HVAC and water heaters are really low maintenance. You just need to clean the area, make sure the drain hose is properly draining/clean, change out the air filters 4 times a year, and clean the condensers 1-2 times a year. You can get the maintenance plan, it just a peace of mind to have it. I would ask/shop around for a trustworthy HVAC company. Thats pretty much all to it. Good luck!
Tom_T
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by Tom_T »

I'm fine with spending the annual fee for my company's maintenance service. To me it's peace-of-mind insurance. Besides the two annual checkups (which they would charge for if I weren't on the plan), they will come out the same day if there's ever a problem (vs. "we can have someone there on Thursday.") I think of it more as insurance, kind of like Triple-A. And if I'm not home for whatever reason, my wife can feel comfortable having a number to call and getting a quick response.

I like to do some things myself, but personally, my comfort zone is not to mess around with electric, plumbing, and HVAC. The first two, I'll do some very basic things (e.g. change an outlet, fix a leaky toilet), but beyond that, I'd rather not get involved.
acegolfer
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by acegolfer »

Those are standard prices. You are not being robbed. If you don't want to pay for their labor, then DIY. HVAC regular maintenance is easy. Lots of Youtube videos. The only thing I won't do by myself is freons.
HomeStretch
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by HomeStretch »

$200 a year in HVAC expense (either maintenance contract cost or time-and-materials service charge) is not unreasonable.

If you prefer to buy a maintenance contract, be sure you understand what it does and does not cover. Generally, maintenance contracts are a high margin item for companies so most companies love to sell them to customers. Service techs may receive additional compensation for anything they “sell” to customers like maintenance contracts, system upgrades, etc.

Whenever I have a “big company” tech in to my house, they always try to sell me a maintenance contract. The financial incentives they receive make their advice/recommendations biased and hard to rely on IMO.
tibbitts
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by tibbitts »

HomeStretch wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 9:36 am $200 a year in HVAC expense (either maintenance contract cost or time-and-materials service charge) is not unreasonable.
Nobody knows what the $200 agreement does. It's not a maintenance contract as far as we know. It would be reasonable to pay $200/yr if that was the only charge. My one hvac would have cost over $8k in repairs over the first 10 years if not for the warranty it came with - as it is I've actually paid out about $2500.
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Kenkat
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by Kenkat »

acegolfer wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 9:03 am Those are standard prices. You are not being robbed. If you don't want to pay for their labor, then DIY. HVAC regular maintenance is easy. Lots of Youtube videos. The only thing I won't do by myself is freons.
Sometimes, before work from home became a thing, I would look around my office and all of the good salaries being earned and I would think “how in the world do we possibly sell enough product and make enough revenue to pay all these people?”. And the only answer I come up with is “we must be able to charge a lot more than it seems we should to cover our true costs”.

I have a friend who long ago was starting out as a young attorney. Looking at bill rates, he said “you know, I feel like I am ripping other businesses off - but they do the same in return. We are all ripping each other off. And somehow, it all works.”

So yes, you could do all this work a lot cheaper. But, someone else pays you money (probably a lot to them) to provide some service they either can’t or don’t want to do as well. So how do you want to spend your time? Because what it costs to have someone else do it is simply what it costs.
jharkin
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by jharkin »

Why are your systems breaking down so often?

In the 10 years I lived in my previous house I only had one unplanned service call for our gas fired cast iron boiler... a stuck damper pressure sensor. And once I knew What it was I can do it myself if it happens again. Can’t remember the last time I had to all for ac service, and the central unit at the current house is circa 1995ish... ( when it finally breaks I’ll probably just upgrade to a higher SEER modern condenser)
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lthenderson
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by lthenderson »

drr1099 wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 7:24 am (in addition to a standard 75 dispatch charge, and hourly labor, they want $200 for a $30 igniter, $300 for a $40 capacitor, $400 for a $50 pressure switch, etc).
When I was young and these things happened, I watched over their shoulders to learn what they were checking and doing, paid their fees and did it myself the next time it happened. As the internet and YouTube got better and their is all kinds of diagnostic help videos to be seen, I can't remember the last time I had a person out to fix any of those units. I just do my research, order my $30 igniter and put it in myself. It has probably been decades.
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FIREchief
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by FIREchief »

While I have always been pretty diligent about all forms of preventive maintenance, for some reason I generally neglected my HVAC system (other than quarterly filter changes). I know that the outside condenser coils should be rinsed off several times a year, I just never focused on it. The brand name systems are generally pretty reliable. That said, the only time I remember a capacitor needing to replaced, I don't recall being gouged for it. Maybe $150 total for the visit, diagnosis, part and repair.

We have hard water in my area and houses generally don't have water softeners. For that reason, any time I had a hot water heater replaced, I would pay them to replace the crappy plastic drain valve with a proper hose bib upon installation. I would drain water from the bottom at least twice a year to remove deposits. Not sure if that was necessary, but it made me feel like I was being responsible. Hot water heaters are a commodity. Nothing should require maintenance until the unit starts leaking and needs to be replaced.

Now that I have retired from home ownership, these threads no longer make me nervous. 8-)
I am not a lawyer, accountant or financial advisor. Any advice or suggestions that I may provide shall be considered for entertainment purposes only.
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Watty
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by Watty »

drr1099 wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 7:24 am Just curious how the savvy people of this board deal with it.
I replace my natural gas water heater when it gets to be about 12 years old even if it is not having any problems. That way I can schedule it when it is convenient and I found a plumber that just does water heaters and they have a set price. To me getting a few more years out a water heater is not worth the hassle and risk of damage of waiting for it to have a problem.

I replaced both my furnace and AC about 8 years ago and it came with a parts and labor warranty that will last 10 years as long as I have them do the annual service. When I was getting quotes the length of the warranty varied a lot but this was also one of the lowest prices. It was clear that company was not very busy and they really wanted the work.

I live in an area where having good AC is very important so I may go on and replace the AC when it is about 15 years old if I am still in this house then, but I probably will have moved by then.

I have never lived in a house long enough that I needed to replace the furnace or AC twice so unless I am likely to move in the next few years it makes little difference to me if I replace something this year or three years from now. By replacing them sooner than later I also get some energy savings since a new one is almost always more energy efficient.

With HVAC systems I have found that you can get MUCH better quotes when you get them in September which in my area is between the heating and cooling season so HVAC companies may have very little other work to do. When the people came out to give quotes it was also clear that I was just looking at replacing them preemptively so they knew that I was under no pressure to buy a new system if it was not a good deal. I was in no hurry so I was able to get around 6 quotes and they varied a lot for very similar systems.

One thing I should mention is that with the pandemic there may be some disruptions in the supply chain. I know someone that was getting a house ready to sell and they asked their regular HVAC person for a quote an AC system. The house was in a temperate area and did not have any AC system, but it would have helped to to sell if they added one. Their HVAC company was not able to give a quote because they were not sure that they could get all the equipment that was needed. They ended up selling the house without the new AC system. I ran into a similar supply chain issue when I was buying a new washing machine early this summer. Many stores were out of many models so I had to shop more on availability than price.
Normchad
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by Normchad »

Honestly, I don’t pay for maintenance on any of those things.

And I have a theory about HVAC maintenance. It’s been my anecdotal observation that people who get annual HVAC maintenance suffer a lot of HVAC breakdowns. I have no idea why. A cynical, person would think some sort of sabotage is going on.

For this reason, I never let anybody touch my HVAC system. And in 28 years of home ownership, I haven’t had any AC breakdowns. I replaced my last units just due to old age, but they were still working at the time.

What maintenance, honestly, do they need? Change your filters. Make sure you don’t have plants growing up in and around the outside units. Hose them off once in a while.

As for the hot water heater, I don’t maintain that either. I changed the anode once. That wasn’t fun. So I decided to never do,it again, and replace the unit when it dies. $1000 ever 10-15 years seems like a good deal to me.....
av111
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by av111 »

Re hose the AC units, doesn't rain take care of that?

Anyone has experience with a good home warranty company? Few years back they were asking for 400 a year and 60 per call. So if you had one hvac call and one plumbing issue, you covered the cost
AV111
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FIREchief
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by FIREchief »

av111 wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 7:47 pm Anyone has experience with a good home warranty company? Few years back they were asking for 400 a year and 60 per call. So if you had one hvac call and one plumbing issue, you covered the cost
I've read horror stories. Sure, for $60 somebody will come out. They'll do something and proclaim "fixed!" Or, maybe they'll say that they have to order a part and it may take 6 - 8 weeks. After repeating about three times, being down $180, and still having problems; the homeowner will just give up and call a real repairman. Think AC failures in 100 degree heat.

When I sold my last home ("last" in more ways than one :P ) the buyer requested a one year home warranty as part of the purchase contract. We agreed. Later on, they wanted the fly-by-night HVAC contractor to have an opportunity to "certify" my current system as being in good working order so as to maximize warranty coverage. After reading reviews, I told my Realtor that I didn't want that "contractor" setting foot on my property. As a gesture of good faith, I paid my long term HVAC contractor about $60 for a service call to confirm all was performing according to specifications. That put an end to it (thankfully).
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neilpilot
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by neilpilot »

av111 wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 7:47 pm Re hose the AC units, doesn't rain take care of that?

Anyone has experience with a good home warranty company? Few years back they were asking for 400 a year and 60 per call. So if you had one hvac call and one plumbing issue, you covered the cost
I think that "a good home warranty company" is an oxymoron. OTOH I'm surprised there are homeowners who have hot water heaters.
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sergeant
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by sergeant »

neilpilot wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 8:00 pm
av111 wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 7:47 pm Re hose the AC units, doesn't rain take care of that?

Anyone has experience with a good home warranty company? Few years back they were asking for 400 a year and 60 per call. So if you had one hvac call and one plumbing issue, you covered the cost
I think that "a good home warranty company" is an oxymoron. OTOH I'm surprised there are homeowners who have hot water heaters.
Yea, I have a cold water heater myself.
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sergeant
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by sergeant »

duplicate
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Lee_WSP
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by Lee_WSP »

The maintenance plan doesn't cover repair costs for only $200 a year.
ncbill
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by ncbill »

What can you do yourself?

A relative has kept their electric water heater going for decades by draining it once/year, unscrewing the drain valve (you can buy a replacement brass valve if yours is plastic) and then using a wet/dry vacuum via that opening to remove any sediment accumulated at the bottom.

They also remove & check the anode rod at that time.

Over the decades they've had to replace the heating elements once or twice as well.

Ignitors, capacitors...keep replacements on hand even if you don't feel comfortable DIY replacement...but buy only US-made capacitors.
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susa
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by susa »

ncbill wrote: .. draining it once/year, unscrewing the drain valve (you can buy a replacement brass valve if yours is plastic) and then using a wet/dry vacuum via that opening to remove any sediment accumulated at the bottom.
This is so simple, even an old granny can do without help. The wet/dry vacuum can be skipped by shutting off power to water heater (or if gas heater by pilot light setting) and flushing the sediment from bottom drain with cold water (ie. turn on water supply and have a garden hose connected to drain valve opening at bottom). A borescope confirms this method works well.

Anode replacement is also good but average person will not check & replace this.
Silverado
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by Silverado »

av111 wrote: Wed Aug 26, 2020 7:47 pm Re hose the AC units, doesn't rain take care of that?
Rain ( unless in last night’s hurricane) won’t clean the fins. Need a horizontal spray, preferably inside out. Take a look at the fins, especially the on the side facing the house. They get pretty dirty and this impacts efficiency, though it is arguable what that means for the whole system.
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by susa »

drr1099 wrote: Between the dual units at home, my rental, and my parents' house, it seems like every year we need a visit from an HVAC guy.
Condenser and Evaporator coils are simple and easy DIY to clean. Replacing filters is not enough, coils need clean air to operate efficiently. All our systems are mini-splits which we installed ourselves (simple flaring nut preparation, vacuum pump to evacuate air and moisture, release 410A mixture already present in system). Minisplits use washable filters but still need monthly vacuuming and quarterly coil washing.

A great cleaning product https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07MYMC7YH/

DC inverter units are the way to go, we have not had alternating current (VAC) electric units for over 15 years now, all our motors, compressors in all our homes are direct current inverters (pool pumps, refrigerators, heatpumps). This also allows for an easy, low maintenance power backup via a less than 5kW inverter generator to run full house power during emergencies.
mgensler
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by mgensler »

Most of the HVAC furnaces and condensers are sealed systems these days. Change the filters, clean the condenser coils with coil cleaner, change the humidifier pads, pour bleach in the condensate lines, and check the flame on the burner. We do it ourselves and the material costs are between $30 - $60 per system. Filters are changed 2x per year and everything else is done annually. It's takes about 1 hour to do everything per house. We have three units on one location that are 11 years old and two units that are in another location that are four years old. We've not had to repair anything on the units.
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susa
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by susa »

Vinegar is definitely the easier of the two to rinse out of the drain line. Bleach should not be used for drain lines that are made of PVC or ABS plastic. ... Using vinegar for preventative maintenance throughout the year will keep not only keep your drain clean and clear, but it also will not damage your line.
boglerdude
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by boglerdude »

Ask for a local HVAC guy on nextdoor.com
Chip
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Re: Maintenance and Repair of HVAC, Water Heaters, etc

Post by Chip »

susa wrote: Thu Aug 27, 2020 10:48 am Vinegar is definitely the easier of the two to rinse out of the drain line. Bleach should not be used for drain lines that are made of PVC or ABS plastic. ... Using vinegar for preventative maintenance throughout the year will keep not only keep your drain clean and clear, but it also will not damage your line.
I question your assertion about bleach damaging PVC. I have seen websites that claim bleach damages PVC, but there is no supporting information provided. In my opinion it is internet nonsense.

Here is information from a manufacturer of PVC pipe showing PVC resistance to a wide variety of chemicals, including a bleach solution more than twice as strong as regular household bleach, at room temperature and 140°F.

https://www.cantexinc.com/Portals/0/Doc ... 114043-517
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