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When is it ok to let the equipment die?

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RayWohlfarth
RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,481
For most of my career, I prided myself on resurrecting equipment other contractors have passed off as not worthy of repairs. As I am looking at the twilight of my career, I am beginning to rethink my philosophy about that. I'm a slow learner. It seems like the market has changed dramatically since I was an apprentice several decades ago. Now, it appears like every time I repair an older piece of equipment and something else malfunctions later, even a few years later, the owner is angry and feels like I should have replaced the unit. “You just worked on that unit.” I hear often. I now include the estimated life expectancy of the equipment with any repair quote.
Just curious if you are seeing this in the market.
Ray Wohlfarth
Boiler Lessons
Rich_49

Comments

  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,677
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    For most of my career, I prided myself on resurrecting equipment other contractors have passed off as not worthy of repairs. As I am looking at the twilight of my career, I am beginning to rethink my philosophy about that. I'm a slow learner. It seems like the market has changed dramatically since I was an apprentice several decades ago. Now, it appears like every time I repair an older piece of equipment and something else malfunctions later, even a few years later, the owner is angry and feels like I should have replaced the unit. “You just worked on that unit.” I hear often. I now include the estimated life expectancy of the equipment with any repair quote.
    Just curious if you are seeing this in the market.

    I don't have much experience with HVAC equipment, but I have experienced this with my own stuff and it's been painful. For example, a $800 pressure washer my wife convinced me to fix that I was going to pull the engine off and junk the machine. It went from a $60 easy fix, to a $400 nightmare fairly quick because it turned out to be one thing after another and "well, I burned this much already I can't quit now". I did win, but it cost me in the end.

    I would assume boilers and furnaces can be very similar. You fix one thing, and the next thing takes a dump and it has nothing to do with you, but the customer doesn't know that so in the end you cost them more money, and now look bad too.

    I would like to say, it's never ok to let equipment die, but at the same time you have a good point. Your name is on that repair and there's a 99% chance the customer is going to believe your repair stunk if something else fails. But that's always going to be the case, isn't it? You changed a thermostat for them and now the blower motor's bearings are shot, so that is obviously from your new thermostat.

    I don't know the answer, but am interested to see what everyone says. Maybe there truly is no correct answer?

    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,506
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    There's no answer, but you're trying to do the right thing. I try to always convey the overall condition, without trying to predict life expectancy. Most people usually don't want to spend money for new equipment, even when they have to.

    Think of the work truck as an analogy. It's paid off.It needs a new trans, but everything else is 'fine'. Trans is cheaper than a new truck and payments, so put in trans. Well it's a van and now it needs a new front end. Everything else is fine, got a new trans, might as well do it. Crap! Radiator. Blah, blah, blah, might as well do it...everything else is new. Now you need a new engine. Hmmmm. If I get rid of the van now, I'll get practically nothing for it, even though I did 'all this work'. But if I put a new engine in, the truck will be 'like new'. I should've traded it in when the trans started acting up....Put in the engine.

    I think the main goal for me is to just try to educate the customer. If newer equipment is going to reduce operating cost, fuel cost, more comfort, etc., try to convey that to them.

    I do know every time a scorched air person comes over to my house in the winter and 'feels' the radiant heat, they're converts...without money...but at least they can appreciate the comfort.
    steve
    ChrisJwarno
  • FranklinD
    FranklinD Member Posts: 399
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    It's an almost daily thing in the auto repair business, especially if the shop is large enough/has enough volume.

    "You did an oil change and now the radio is broken", "I just had the tires rotated here last week and I got a flat", and so on, up to the bigger and more expensive jobs.

    As is said by almost every tech in any kind of repair business, "Now you own it!" The life expectancy estimates directly on the quotes is a good way to get ahead of the situation, provided you make the customer fully aware of it...I wouldn't be shocked to find that many people never read the full text of a quote, invoice, etc...just the number at the bottom.

    There are many completely reasonable customers out there...and just as many nuts (if not more...at the least, they tend to be far more vocal - and litigious).

    I guess I'm with ChrisJ on this one...I don't see a clear-cut answer. I know there isn't one in my line of work beyond the advent of the "99 Point Inspection". Many people think dealers came up with them for the sole purpose of making more sales - and they probably did - but the dealer I worked for used them mainly for liability protection. Explain each item, why it's bad or dangerous or whatever, and make them sign it. Saved us from quite a few major headaches.
    Ford Master Technician, "Tinkerer of Terror"
    Police & Fire Equipment Lead Mechanic, NW WI
    Lover of Old Homes & Gravity Hot Water Systems
    ChrisJ
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 3,626
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    Huh. Lots of time I see the opposite. "You just replaced the blower motor on that 20 year old Trane air handler. What do you mean it needs a new coil, drain pan, and reheat coil now!?!"
    ChrisJ
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,542
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    There certainly are a lot of different schools of thought on this issue. For me, I decide, when something breaks and based on age, use, reliability history, number of other potential failure points (components) if I want to repair it or replace it. Then I decide if I want to tackle it myself or just pay to make it someone else's problem. If I decide on new, I rely on any warranty that comes with it. If I repair, I live with the fact that while one component is new, the rest of it is still as old as it is. If it's a major expense on a unit/system that is near what the industry says is the average life expectancy, I probably replace. Minor repair, I go with the flow and repair it. In any case, I know I made the decision and the buck stops with me.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,142
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    Offer two or 3 options. Repair old, no warranty implied.
    Replace with like equipment.
    Run a load calc and size modern high efficient equipment to them heat emitters.

    Get it in writing, people tend to forget you told them the repair on old equipment is just that a repair, no warranty.

    Consider the liability of working on some of the older equipment with minimal safeties and obsolete controls. If something bad goes wrong...

    At the least document the combustion anaylsis.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    SWEI
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,524
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    I think what has changed is the cost of labor has gone up faster than the equipment cost. It's not worth fixing now. Years ago it was.
    CLamb
  • delta T
    delta T Member Posts: 884
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    In theory there is a line somewhere...but I don't know where that line is. Two examples:

    Small apartment building heated by a 1930's or 1940's cast iron boiler, maintenance schedule has been the same for the last 30 years. If something breaks it will be fixed, usually by a 'buddy'. Well finally one of the pump relays died, and it was beyond the scope of what the 'buddy' could do. We go in check all the stuff we usually do when we do anything with a boiler (combustion, relief valve, venting, etc...) and find that it looks like the burners have not been cleaned for at least 25-30 years, flame is sooty and is starting to soot the boiler up, relief valve was a watts 100XL :s , expansion tank way too small and completely failed, pumps (one per zone 4 total) are way oversized, gas valve is too small for the input on the boiler, and since they were really easy to get out I sized an orifice and they are 5 drill sizes BIGGER than what the rating tag called for (and we are at 5500'!!), and oh yeah, one of the pump relays doesn't work. Explain all the issues and give a quote for the work which was not cheap. Less than a new boiler, but certainly not cheap. Explain also that we MUST fix the glaring safety issues. If we do not, the boiler will soot up very soon and will be expensive to fix, or poison someone, or explode. Customer agrees and we do the work. Just talked to her the other day and she wanted to thank us for the good work and to let us know that her gas bill dropped by 1/3! Definitely worth it to fix up the old equipment. This boiler is a beast and if it is maintained the block will last for a long time.

    And the contrary. Old Ideal Steam boiler, everything has been working fine, customer just wants an assessment and a tune up. Maintenance has been pretty regular for the past 20 or years that he has owned the house, mostly done by him, but he had a copy of LAOSH and actually did a pretty good job, keeping up with changing the traps and vents, flushing the LWCO, etc. I go through, everything looks good, except that the vaporstat is not working correctly, differential was wildly different that what the gauge was showing, and would be different on each cycle. I point this out and we decide to change the vaporstat. pull the old one off, pigtail is pretty full of crud and nastiness, as it the connection on the vaporstat, so we replace the pigtail. Well if the vaporstat is like this, I wonder what the high limit pressuretrol is like....same, okay replace that too. Put a combustion analyzer on and the CO is at 1200 ppm. Check manifold pressure, try to adjust to correct combustion, reg is shot. replace it with a combo gas valve, new pilot assembly. Dial in combustion and finally.....nothing else could go wrong right? fire it up, everything working great test LWCO, all checks out, rads are heating up, vents are working, all good. Get an angry message one month later about how we broke his boiler because "that new gas valve you put in failed while I was out of town and the boiler froze and cracked." I go back out there and sure as hell this beautiful boiler is gonzo. I start tracing out some wiring to figure out what happened, and of all the things to go wrong, his old round honeywell thermostat (with the mercury switch in it) broke. solder connection came apart when he turned the thermostat down to 62 while he was going to be gone. When I was doing the initial work I came so close to saying that a new digital thermostat has a CPH setting that will make your boiler happier, wifi connectivity so you can monitor while out of town etc....but I didn't given all of the other stuff, didn't want to seem like I was trying to sell him stuff he didn't need. Fortunately he was pretty cool about it once I found the problem, and agreed that there was no reason to suspect that there was anything wrong with it while I was there, and he had us replace the boiler.

    I think some of it is pure luck, some of it is experience (relief valve dripping...well you will most likely need a new feeder, backflow preventer, relief valve, air vent, and expansion tank at the very least, not just a new relief and expansion tank), and some of it is pure math (repairs likely to cost 40% of cost of new boiler...well what if stuff goes wrong, now up to 60% of new, and replacement starts to make more sense.

    Don't think there is a good answer, and I think that every situation is a little different.
    SWEI
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,478
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    I used to modify and rebuild 1960-70's stereo equipment and always explained when working on 30+ year old gear you almost always find surprises. Sometimes you can do it for $125 sometimes it costs over $300.

    I also highlighted the fact I guaranteed the parts and labor I installed but nothing else.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,546
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    I just think it depends on the complexity of the equipment, and owner expectations. Old stuff seems to be more manageable. Where newer things will never compare in simplicity, and longevity to the old stuff. When speaking in general about all types of products.

    When you think about the cost of the equipment for heating /cooling, and repair costs with parts, and labor. It does not take long to reach original equipment cost. It's the Achilles of high efficiency boilers with yearly maintenance costs compared to lower efficiency equipment.
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,478
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    That's exactly right, the older and the more complex the equipment the more it can cost to repair.

    A few years ago I bought a Hafler 120 amp on spec because it had a problem that i thought I could fix pretty cheaply. I was right it cost $0.05 for a signal diode that had failed. While I was in there I replaced about $25 of small caps that I know don't age well. The amp was now ready to work for another 30 years.

    Two months later I bought a Hafler 220 amp to refurbish, When I got bit I found it had a problem so I hit up the seller for $50 which I though would be enough to repair it. I got it working with a handful of caps and decided to to see how far I could go. By the time I was done I had replaced the 10,000 filter caps with 22,000 filter caps, replaced all the wiring (shortening signal paths as I went) and installed 2 new driver boards. My cost for parts on this project was $440 on top of what I paid.

    Both of these amps were very similar except for the power handling ability. It was money well spent because this is one sweet sounding amplifier. Very few of my customers would have been willing to go this far.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge