In the summer of 2011, AARP member Christine Klinger of Reynoldsville, Pa., wanted to make sure her family's furnace would be ready for winter. That touched off a two-year struggle to stay warm.
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The trouble started with the initial service call. Joe Manners from Jack's Heating told Christine and her husband, Clifford, that their 20-year-old furnace needed to be replaced, so the couple pulled $2,880 from savings to install a new Rheem system that Manners recommended—and it never worked properly. Over the next year, at least four of Manners' attempted fixes failed to solve the problems.
Another repair firm said it would take $300 to fix the unit but cautioned that it was oversized for the house, meaning it would operate inefficiently and be prone to failure. The best solution, the other firm said, would be to tear out the unit and install another one. That was money the Klingers, who are now retired, felt they shouldn't have to pay.
After two years of chilly winters and out of options, Christine reached out to On Your Side, and we reached out to Manners. While he agreed that the furnace didn't work right, he disagreed with the need to replace it. We confirmed the diagnosis with an experienced Rheem installer — that a new furnace was the only real remedy.
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We placed a call to the manufacturer, Rheem Manufacturing Co., the giant heating and cooling company based in Atlanta. The Klingers' problems weren't Rheem's fault, but after our prodding, the company contacted the Klingers and offered to replace the unit and cover all installation costs — one of the finest examples of corporate compassion we've encountered.
Consumer advocate Ron Burley writes the On Your Side column for AARP and is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For. Got a complaint? Tell your consumer woes to Ron at aarp.org/ronburley.
- Separate the adviser from the provider. Have problems diagnosed by an independent expert, then get several bids.
- Check documents. Ask to see bonding certificates and insurance papers. Confirm the company's record with national associations.
- Get references. Talk to other homeowners who have used the company. Don't just ask for references; make sure you actually call them. A little bad news is OK, just as long as things worked out in the end.
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