We found local heating techs overcharging for unnecessary parts

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DENVER -- You’re supposed to have your furnace checked before you fire it up for the first time. But are heating companies charging a fair price or blowing a lot of hot air—trying to sell you something you don‘t need?

FOX31 Denver’s investigative team set up a dozen hidden cameras in a Denver home to put local heating companies to the test.

First, we asked Done Plumbing, Heating and Air, a company that passed our test in a similar investigation in February 2012, to inspect the home’s 19-year-old furnace.

"It’s working like it should," said certified heating technician Justin Salvador.  "I don’t see any issues." He also tested to see if carbon monoxide -- an odorless and colorless gas that can be deadly -- was leaking from the furnace.

Salvador said he detected zero carbon monoxide.

LINK: Furnace care 101

We then called six metro-area plumbing and heating companies and made appointments to have our furnace inspected.

The first two technicians from Atlas Heating and Air and Mai Plumbing said our furnace was showing signs of age, needed a non-essential fan, but otherwise was running well.

Both technicians said no repairs were needed and that the furnace should be cleaned. Their tests also found no trace of carbon monoxide.

The third technician, from 24 Hour Heating and Cooling, suggested cleaning the furnace and replacing a non-essential fan at an estimated cost of $256.

It was the other technicians that surprised us with their results.

A technician from AAA Service told us that we had a problem that was far more serious. The technician said we had a gas leak and “there is no question in my mind that (the gas valve) gets replaced.” The price he quoted was $692.

We wanted to ask AAA Service why their technician diagnosed our furnace with a gas leak, but AAA’s general manager refused our request for an on-camera interview.

They sent this statement instead: “Our technician detected a very small leak and advised the home owner of his findings … The technician told me that he did not push the issue as the leak was very minor and did not pose a current problem, but may in the future.”

A technician from Applewood Plumbing, Heating and Electric produced a long list of other parts that he claimed needed to be replaced, including: a $343 igniter, a $272 limit switch and a $990 blower motor -- for a total of more than $1,605.

Applewood also refused to speak with Hemmat on camera and instead sent this statement:  “During the inspection, the technician discovered that the 19-year-old furnace contained a variety of issues that were a cause for concern, which he recommended multiple courses of action, from minor repair to replacement.”

We thought we had heard it all, until we met Billy Wright from Plumbline.

He claimed our furnace is not only beyond repair, but it was dangerous.

“That’s carbon monoxide,” Wright told the home owner.  Wright said the furnace was emitting so much carbon monoxide that he had to shut it down.

“I’m condemning this furnace and basically saying it’s not safe to operate anymore,” Wright said.

The Plumbline technician also told our homeowner that carbon monoxide was coming from a cracked heat exchanger and that she needed a new furnace, ranging in price from $4,070 to $6,700.

When Wright left, our homeowner was so scared, she called the Denver Fire Department.

A hazardous materials team not only checked the home for carbon monoxide –they also tested the homeowners blood for exposure to the deadly gas—and found none.

The next day, Done Plumbing Heating and Air Conditioning returned to re-inspect our furnace.  The technician confirmed the furnace was not leaking natural gas, and the igniter, primary limit switch and blower motor were all in good working condition.

He also checked again for carbon monoxide, and found, “absolutely nothing.”

We thought maybe Wright made a mistake, so we called Plumbline Services again and scheduled another appointment. Once again Wright held up a carbon monoxide detector to a furnace vent and in less than 2 minutes, he said it detected the poisonous gas.

“I have a carbon monoxide detector just like yours and it says we have no carbon monoxide in this house.  Are you ripping people off?,” I asked.

Wright simply said, “I cannot speak to you.”

FOX31 Denver made repeated requests for an interview with Plumbline’s president, Jeff Belk.

Instead of an interview, Belk sent this statement:  “The meter he was using was a sealed meter that is not capable of being manipulated.  We stand behind our technician and his test procedure and the method he used.  We subsequently have confirmed through the manufacturer of this device that his testing procedure was performed accurately.”

Still, our hidden cameras captured all the other technicians testing for carbon monoxide, even the ones who tried to charge us for unnecessary repairs, and found none.

I asked Wright, “We had five other companies tell us there is no carbon monoxide in this house. Why does your carbon monoxide (detector) say there is?”

Neither Wright nor his company will explain that.

As a result of this hidden camera investigation, Plumbine’s president said they have changed their policy on carbon monoxide testing.

If one of their technicians detects carbon monoxide, the company will require a second test which will be performed by a manager.

18 comments

  • Nils harsvick

    The problem with the residential hvac market is greed most “flat rate” companies say that it saves you money , I strongly disagree these places have a built in hourly rate of $200.00-$300.00 + per hour plus the parts mark up . I have no problem companies making money but when they are ripping consumers off that is wrong . A furnace and ac install should not be $ $12,000-$14,000 for low end equipment

  • dooter

    12-14k for a furnace & AC combo? Holy hell thats expensive! AAA Service is the worst, especially in an emergency situation. Would never use & the fact they are on Martinos refferal list with how many complaints they have against them speaks volumes as the BS that is Martino’s list

  • Doug Smith

    Applewood has changed their name several times because they continue to rip off the consumer year after year. I would not expect anything less from them. And they are on Tom Martinos list. A little bit of EXTRA money and anyone can become a credited business. What a joke.

  • satinroze

    I scheduled a “$99.00 cleaning and check-up” for my furnace a couple of winters ago and had EXACTLY the SAME experience with Applewood right down to the price but mine was 1,700 plus AND they wanted me to sign up for their maintenance plan which was a couple hundred more! I did get the free carbon monoxide alert they advertised as a ” bonus”! Then they wouldn’t stop calling or emailing me. I finally had to tell them STOP so now I get junk mail from them!

  • nils

    If people were more educated about these big advertising companies that have flat rate pricing they would not call then
    m

  • sara

    not all companies are thieves. I really think that next time you get a tech not in uniform to do the first inspection and final that way there is nothing in it for that company because how do you know they are being honest because their price is lower. unless you know what you are looking at they can also rip you off. I know one of the techs and I know for a fact he is not a thief. The whole story was not shown. why do you cut out what actually was said. I know that a diagnostic is not that quick. last time you did this several of the companies are the same why not get some new ones like cooper heating, smith and willis heating,  rogers &sons.

  • Dave

    The three companies who were shown to be selling instead of serving are members of a service group called NEXTAR. When dealing with NEXTAR companies, be aware of the upsale. I think Fox31 should “test” the local NEXTAR companies and see how many of them fail.

  • dan

    That “non essential” fan is actually supposed to be bringing air across that motor to cool it while it is running because it is pushing extremely hot flue gas through it while it is running. I wouldn’t exactly trust Done to fix your heater. You hire a plumber to fix your heating and air conditioning equipment and you’ll be sorry. Hire a company that actually specializes in HVAC equipment.

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