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Under the Big Top

The circus came to town again. Funny thing about a circus, they seldom change their acts. The players change but the acts remain the same. I am writing about the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Baily HVAC company. Read about the first show a few years ago posted HERE.

This time it all started in January with a scheduled normal service contract check up call on my two electric heat pumps. You know, air conditioning cooling that also heats. In the summer they pump heat from indoors to outdoors and in winter they pump heat from outdoors to indoors.

Since I have been in the HVAC business all my life (so far) I know how they work but most people think it is magic.

In any case the young service person makes his scheduled visit and the first thing out of his mouth before he does any work is tell my wife that these machines are getting pretty old and she ought to get them replaced. I am not home but when my wife calls me about the sales pitch, I knew we had another circus clown in the house.

Both units are only about 5 years old. (one still in the 5 year warranty and one just out.) These things should run ten years and many easily 15. There was a time to change them when designed efficiencies were so poor and when r-22 refrigerant went out of production. My units don’t fit either category.

I told the clown over the phone to just do the service and forget the sales pitch.

At the end of the call he announced (called me) saying the smaller upstairs unit had a leak in the coil and would need to be replaced. I told him give me a price for the leaking coil replacement. I wasn’t going to give an instant approval, after all he already proven he was a clown.

After two weeks I prodded the owners back in the big home tent so finally send me a written quote of just over $1200.00 to replace the coil. I fell out of my chair. We decided to wait (this was January) as the upstairs gets plenty of heat from downstairs. I wanted to wait until I did my taxes to see if we had any refund to help pay the bill.

I also needed time to consider if I wanted to work with a new circus or not.

In April (I was figuring the taxes) the downstairs heat pump stopped pumping! Yipes… I discovered no suction cooling so it was low or out of freon gas.

Different service man (same circus but no clown sales pitch this time) tells me the inside coil is leaking and needs replaced, but the coil is under warranty. Repair cost is about $1200. Hmmm.. Deja Vu?

I told him about the previous quote for the upstairs unit that has the same diagnosis. He didn’t know anything about it. (Maybe they keep service records secret?) I was getting suspicious the original clown may have been moonlighting replacement jobs. I have had employes pull that trick in my HVAC business. That, I figure is now a problem for owners of Barnum or Bailey to solve if true and could explain why the first quote took so long.

I tell him he may as well schedule to repair them both at the same time. I lightly suggest there should be a cost advantage for me since there would only be one trip needed. Little did I know.

It was a week later after running on emergency heat (straight electric) two men and two trucks arrive to change the coils. They had to order the coil I was told and that was why it took so long. They were not prepared to work on the upstairs unit because they said the quote was bad since the amount was the same as the unit with the coil in warranty. I had told the dispatcher and the second service person (potential clown?) several time about the first estimate. I was wondering if they got the units mixed up. We never tried to run the upstairs unit since the maintenance call.

I said I had the printed quote but I had to look for it. Very strange they didn’t have their own copy…

After the two of them poked around for an hour, they came to me and announced the coil they had was damaged in the box and they would have to go back to their office or wholesaler to get another. (Hmmm… special order wasn’t it??) For some reason both men jump into one truck and leave to get the newer, new coil. (This was Saturday.) I think they went sight seeing. (Two men to get one coil? It’s big but still…) I know where they are going, 20 miles away (one way) as the supplier is across the street from my office.

About two hours later they come back with no coil. Am I surprised? I think not. They will have to reschedule when the new coil is in. I hand him the printed (the one mailed to me) estimate for the upstairs replacement. I give them their own copy. He says he will show it to the boss.

The serviceman (still not yet a clown) adds some gas to the downstairs unit and we have heat pump operation (and cooling) until it leaks out again. In reality that might take a year, a leak is usually very small. That should hold us over. Give him a star, no clown status.

Two weeks go by and no word about the reschedule. Hmm.. Take back the star? Gloria gives the co-owner wife a call and gets a lot of sorry and begged forgiveness that the job wasn’t rescheduled. It was good news that they would honor the quote on the upstairs unit.

So two men and two trucks show up again to work on BOTH units this time. One of the men is a new face. All is going well enough until the weather turns to rain and they can’t open the refrigeration system outdoors in the rain. This is a legitimate problem. So they drag up for yet another day.

Same two men and two trucks do return the next day and the job gets wrapped up and both systems are running. I am $2480 poorer. That could buy a lot of KWH and must be added into the cost of operation.

It’s the reason I am in the energy management business.

My projects have saved owners millions in operating costs, can’t seem to do it for myself…

Over all, the circus wasn’t as outrageous as it was the last time. Except for the first service contract sales clown, the rest of the crews were not wearing face paint. There was however, a lot of time lost and for a business, lost time is money. I consider the prices very high but it has to cover the poor control of labor costs. I must have received a deal on the misquote from the upstairs unit.

After the first leak in January, I said I had to make a decision about Ringling brothers, Barnum and Bailey. I decided I have to trust someone as I can no longer do the work myself. I know leaking systems are very easy to fake by letting out a little gas charge or a simple flare fitting leak that just needs tightened. I choose to think that wasn’t the case here. It was strange both units had the same problem at the same time.  For me it was just cause for some wonderment. Especially after a hard sell attempt. But coils do get leaks. I have found them myself.

Except for the drag out scheduling slowness and premium pricing, all seems to have worked out well enough. I think there is too much pressure for the service clown doing maintenance to sell new equipment. His job number one is to maintain and repair. Not every customer and especially a service agreement customer is a candidate for the hard sell equipment upgrade. He may have been a crook, I’ll probably never know.

The Circus did the right thing and honored the first quote. Maybe someday they can earn a ten and I can use their real name.

1 comment to Under the Big Top

  • Shelley

    Wow, what a nightmare. I think you may have found another option for a post-retirement career: HVAC Consultant! Seriously! Imagine if you could help the owners of all those Clown Circus HVAC companies save money on labor problems and the other issues you’ve mentioned!