Whatever a homeowner's heating needs this fall to prepare for winter — from furnace cleaning to repair or replacement — he or she should make sure to hire a licensed professional from a reputable company. Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) Director Steven H. Hilfinger offers some important tips to help people avoid paying for needless heating repairs and equipment.
"Especially at this time of year, we see more activity from furnace ‘scam artists' cleaning out customers' wallets by using scare tactics to try and sell expensive repairs or replacement that consumers don't need," said Hilfinger. "Make sure you hire a licensed mechanical contractor who is reputable, competent and fair — one you know and trust, or are referred to."
Hilfinger said that because many homeowners have no idea about what heating-related work involves and the fact that costs can range from under a hundred to several thousands of dollars, many consumers, especially senior citizens, can be taken advantage of by falling victim to fraudulent practices.
Before choosing a heating contractor, the department's Bureau of Construction Codes says to consider the following tips:
- Maintain your furnace by cleaning air returns with a household vacuum cleaner. Check the filter once a month and replace it if necessary to maintain efficiency and prolong the life of the furnace.
- Get your furnace thoroughly cleaned by a reputable, licensed, local mechanical contractor at least every two years. Beware of duct cleaning scams.
- Check the warranty on your system to see whether any repairs or replacements are covered. Remember that many heating systems come with long-term warranties.
- Hire a heating contractor who:
- is insured for liability and property damage
- offers warranties that cover equipment, materials and labor
- offers maintenance and service after installation and after warranties have expired
- provides local customer references
- Ask to see the Michigan mechanical contractor's license and write down the contractor's name and license number listed on it. Confirm the contractor is insured.
- Verify that the license is valid and issued for the proper classifications for the type of work being performed. To check on a license, visit the bureau's website at http://www.michigan.gov/bcclicense or call the Bureau of Construction Codes Mechanical Division at (517) 241-9325.
- Get at least three written estimates for the work especially if a furnace replacement is recommended. Make sure all bids give a full description of the services and materials to be used. If you do sign a contract for work, make sure it stipulates that final payment is not due until the mandatory inspection is approved by the mechanical code enforcing agency.
- Compare more than just cost. Check the size and rated efficiency of the equipment each contractor recommends and ask why they are recommending a particular sized system. Check the warranty offered and make certain you understand it.
- Don't do business with door-to-door salespeople and don't fall for telephone solicitations that offer "low-cost" or "free" furnace cleaning. Once inside, the worker may tell the homeowner their heating system has serious problems that require immediate attention. Get a written description of the suggested work and seek additional opinions from other licensed mechanical contractors.
- Beware of scare tactics leading you to believe your existing furnace is dangerous. Don't sign a contract just because the worker says you face possible illness or death if the furnace isn't replaced immediately. If told your furnace threatens your health, ask for a written copy of the technician's test results and call your local utility company to come and inspect your system.
- Don't hire someone who comes to your door with a Shop-Vac type of vacuum offering to clean your heating ducts. It will not do the job. A proper cleaning requires a high volume vacuum system and maybe even a steam process.
For more information about LARA, visit www.michigan.gov/lara
Source: Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs