Snatched from the Jaws of a Tune-Up

You’re gonna need a bigger check.

Fall was just days away when I was called to check a furnace that had been paid a visit by Equinoctial Air. When I arrived, I removed the furnace’s covers and saw what you see in the first and second pictures below. What looks like partial disassembly is, in fact, nearly complete disassembly. The blower, heat exchanger, burner tray and so on were all sitting loosely in the furnace cabinet. Under the guise of performing a tune-up, Equinoctial Air had completely gutted the furnace.

Equinoctial’s explanation for this sad state of affairs? Per their report pictured below: “Found cracked heat exchanger and also noticed bad blower motor and gas valve.” The repairs were going to cost $3,713. A new furnace was quoted for $4,385. If their diagnosis had been accurate and their quotes fair, getting a new furnace would have been the obvious choice. Of course nothing about this situation was accurate or fair. We’ll get to their diagnosis in a moment. Let’s break down their quote for repairs first:

  • Wholesale cost of the gas valve? 90 dollars
  • Wholesale cost of the blower motor? 65 dollars
  • Wholesale cost of an in-warranty heat exchanger? 0 dollars
  • Charging $3,700 for six hours of work and three cheap parts? PRICELESS

An inflated repair price is one thing, but there was an even bigger problem: Not one part of their diagnosis was true. I pulled the heat exchanger out and inspected it (third picture). The rusty things you see on top are just baffles. The light grey and dark grey metal is the heat exchanger. The dark spots certainly look bad, as though the metal has been damaged. However, those spots are normal. Aluminized steel naturally turns dark. I know it. Wiki knows it. Equinoctial should know it.

After doing the visual inspection I put the furnace back together. As you can see in this video, the furnace fired up without a problem. Not only is the heat exchanger fine, the supposedly bad blower motor and gas valve are also humming along nicely.

Click the first picture to open the gallery and see the descriptions.

I get reports of this “gut the furnace and scare the homeowner tactic” with ever increasing frequency, all perpetrated by highly rated and supposedly reputable companies. You could say there’s money in the water and the feeding frenzy is upon us.

A little shaking… a little tenderizing… and down your wallet goes.

Click here for an update.

Two years have passed since the original post. In that time I’ve talked with many homeowners who’ve experienced the furnace flaying frame-up described above. Most I spoke with told the repairman to put the furnace back together and then called me for a second opinion.

The owner of the furnace pictured below did the same after Heroic Heating gutted her furnace. But in this case the repairman couldn’t put it back together properly. He blamed the original installers for his mistake and recommended a new furnace. The pictures below tell the rest of this fishy story.

Click the first picture to open the gallery and see the descriptions.

After the homeowner presented them with three reports that essentially said “Heroic is full of it.”, Heroic relented. They pulled the furnace out, assembled it correctly, reinstalled it and replaced a couple of parts all for free. It’s an unusually good ending, but this homeowner is unusually tenacious.