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Ever have one of these jobs?

RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,320
We were called in to look at the hydronic system in a high end home in my area two years ago. The system had one zone for infloor radiant, one for a domestic water heater with an internal coil, and one zone for an air handler on the second floor. It also had six circulators. One for each boiler, one primary circ, and three secondary zone circulators. The home had two cast iron boilers with fuel burners which were six years old. We were told the system never worked right. We repiped the system piping to work properly and checked the boilers and burners. After adjustment and changing the filters on the oil line, they worked great. The customer also said he didnt want to spend too much money. I really wished I had clarified that statement with him. I guess he needed the money to pay for his Land Rover. We tried to use as mush of the old system as possible including all the circulators and and the two six year old boilers.
In the last two years, The following items failed:
Two of the circulators
Two oil burner oil pumps
One burner blower motor
One primary control
I really wished I had done what @Dan Foley does now and just junked the entire system and started new. Now, the customer thinks I ripped him off and he tld me he could have bought a new system for what he spent. I would never had thought a six year old system would have had such problems.
Ray Wohlfarth
Boiler Lessons


  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 3,512
    I've got one right now. Customer got a built-in wine cooler from a buddy, c. 20 years old. Iit went into the 10,000 ft2 addition on his house. Every time I touch it something else springs a leak; I'm waiting on the ok to replace the indoor coil now. A few more replacements and it'll be new.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,261
    edited April 2018
    I've had more than my share of these. Yeah sometimes people suck. But he really wouldn't have been able to completely junk his system, get an entire new system for less.
    Some people seem to be 'whatever it takes' until the problem is solved, then they want to start negotiating after the fact..

    I wouldn't let it bother you much more.

    If you could ask him at what price he would have felt like he got his money's worth and he gave you an honest answer, no one would've taken the job at that price.

    I guess you could've spelled out a T & M situation, with a ceiling on price, or a ceiling on scope. But you and I both know, you really have to get into these nightmares before you can even figure out what needs to be done. And fixing one thing correctly exposes other issues.

    You solved his problem.

    I understand this type of dilemma, as I now (past few years) have started, much to my sadness, utilizing long and very detailed contracts.
    Everything used to be word of mouth, simple written estimate. If there was a problem, point it out, explain, fix, get paid.

    After my last fiasco when getting a lawyer involved was a disaster, well for me, not for them.
    I ended up with 1/3 of what I was owed, and each attorney made more than me. And that dispute was between myself and a guy I knew and did business with for over 25 years.
    Now everyone gets a contract & signs on the dotted line with a contract that details, payment(s), scope of work, price for extras, due dates, etc., and remediation for non payment which include court costs and attorneys fees. This is the most important part because you would think it's automatic. But getting attorney's fees usually can not be included in a filing if it's not on the contract. And that's important because without getting attorney's fees, both sides love to do this back-and-forth with motions, extensions, etc., and the meter is running on your dime. When you get attorney's fees included by contract, the other side tends to knock off the non-sense.
  • Jack
    Jack Member Posts: 1,046
    Demonstrating once again that no good deed goes unpunished! You should point out to him that had he called you six years ago he wouldn't have had these problems. I used to marvel at the folks who would tell me my price was to high. Six months later my wife and I are in a restaurant having dinner and the customer comes over, "Gee, I wish I had bought it from you... Can you come over and fix it?" I think a high percentage of these type jobs go just as your has. They still want it for nothing!
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,642
    I've had more than a few of these rebuilds. Most were in million dollar+ homes where a low bid contractor was originally chosen. My protection was a firm contract with specific exclusions that detailed what was NOT included. Like warranty on existing piping or parts re-used. I reviewed the exclusions before starting the project so there wouldn't be any misunderstanding. There are many systems that were installed poorly in the Seattle area due to the economic explosion and the tendency for GC's (or homeowners) thinking there's value in the lower price. The lack of skillset in the hydronic trades contributes to the problem. The "Foley Method" should certainly be considered.
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 2,983
    I feel ur pain but are there any other then that type when it comes to large homes w $ kitchens and more room then they could possibly need or 99% of the general pop would afford or want.There always some where on those job where a corner can be cut and its always in some thing u don t see like hvac not much the plumbing end but they work there way around it w supplying fixtures and making u waste ur time picking up what they where suppose to supply .Its seems there great at wasting ur time which they seem to think should be for free .It can go both ways where it s a GC or HO .I recently did one and it was a refrell added turbo max ,pump re do all zone valves and install a much needed zone panels neated up all wiring and piping . I straightened out what i could within rea$on .The HO replaced the boiler a few months early and did it on the cheap got a deal on a 350 btu crown to bad he only needed about 200 ,nothing i could do i advised him of it and thats that . But on those jobs i try to be cyrstal clear i know my adversary and i don t want to be there prey .Peace and good luck
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • Mike_Sheppard
    Mike_Sheppard Member Posts: 696
    edited April 2018
    @RayWohlfarth I have a similar-ish one tomorrow I’m going back to but in a commercial building.

    It’s the athletic center for a popular college in DC. They have 4 Raypak high efficiency boilers and two Raypak high efficiency water heaters. When I first went to the job a couple years ago, they wanted me to figure out the boiler problems. One water heater hadn’t run for months, one boiler hadn’t run for 3 years, and two hadn’t run for over a year. They were scraping by with one boiler.

    They all had to be cleaned, burners replaced. Bad gas valve, blower motor etc. two weeks and a lot of money later they were all up and running. Two years go by, no maintenance done. Someone had pulled all the air filters out, bypassed some low water cut offs, etc. Back in the same situation. Going back again tomorrow to begin redoing just about everything. At this point they likely could have bought new boilers.
    Never stop learning.
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 5,919
    edited April 2018
    Think about it. When contractors of our stature face the same wall of ignorance & stupidity from the general public, the problem has deep roots
    What I have learned after 33 in the biz is that almost. Every time we try to do the right thing and "work with what they have" and save THEM $$$, we pay the price.

    As the other guys said, tight contracts, very clear wording AND constant verbal reminders as the job processes and as the pointed out issues rear their ugly heads. I know an excellent father & son tile team who did all my bathrooms and I have worked in their home. These guys taught me that although it is sometimes uncomfortable and may come across flippant or brash, you must remind the client of what you told them from the first meeting, how you are their to help THEM, and any time you are to throwing them a freebie. They are pleasant, but take NO CRAP. They will walk. It ain't easy Mad Dog
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 3,512
    Every time I see "existing to remain", I know that the owners feel they deserve new equipment but don't think they should have to pay for it.
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,320
    Thank you everyone for your empathy and comments.
    @ratio I feel your pain
    @STEVEusaPA Anytime lawyers get involved they suck all the money from everyone.
    @Jack Someone said that how those people got all that money.
    @Paul Pollets Crazy things happen. I would never in my life think we would have that many problems with a 6 year old boiler/burner. Im thinking its hard to recover from the abuse.
    @clammy LOL Know your adversary
    @Mike_Sheppard I need to get a crystal ball
    @Mad Dog So true. Everytime I try to save my customer money, it costs me $
    Thanks again all

    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
  • Canucker
    Canucker Member Posts: 721
    Just playing the devil's advocate, but how often does it happen that they chose the cheap route because the guy/girl you're bidding against is telling them what you scoped isn't necessary and they don't know enough to see that your bid is the proper and best application of their money? They might be giving all the opinions they get equal weight because to their eyes you're all "experts" when in fact only your bid was from the actual expert. I'm curious, as I see similar problems from my engineering department where I work. Not all the engineers I've worked with are the same, even though they hold the same paperwork.
    You can have it good, fast or cheap. Pick two
  • the_donut
    the_donut Member Posts: 374
    Deferred maintenance always leads to higher lifetime cost. I remember a certain executive at a grocery store I worked at decided the corporation could save $1,000,000 a year by not servicing the refrigeration units. Two years later our redundant system failed. One compressor blew and sent debris down the line, clogged suction and blew second compressor. We Saran-wrapped each open cooler and covered in cardboard. Lost about $60,000 in meat.
  • DZoro
    DZoro Member Posts: 1,048
    I feel all of your pains. All too often, same scenario's.
    Where the he** is that crystal ball when you need it.
    Life would be sooo much easier :).

    And then someone actually sends a small thank you note with their check, and you feel all gitty. Just isn't the same but sometimes that's all we have to look forward to.
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,320
    @Canucker On line or out of town experts are the best right? LOL
    @the_donut They saved money tho right?
    @DZoro That is a nice feeling.
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
  • the_donut
    the_donut Member Posts: 374
    After 3 weeks of service calls on one store? Even If 1 in 10 had same issue, I can only imagine the bill after 1200 stores.
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,654
    Had one of those last fall, guy was heating an entryway and 2 car garage (in-floor) as well as DHW with a 200,000 BTU outdoor wood boiler and couldn't keep up putting wood in it as the floors were ~125 degrees. Literally impossible to stand on. Some clown had everything run in series with no mixing valve or thermostat, sending all OWB water through the floors 24/7. I made the floor closed loop with a plate HX and added a mixer and Alpha1 pump, and wired 2 new thermostats for the existing two ZV for the floors, flushed all 3 loops well and filled with 33% propylene glycol. Yes, this guy had installed ZV but no stats. The Alpha would not keep the garage over 40 degrees and the entryway hung about 60, display on the Alpha reading 0-1 GPM set on manual speed 3. Replaced with a 15-58 for free, works great. Fast forward a week, one of the Honeywell ZV is stuck open. Swapped it out with a new one, move ahead another week and the other ZV is stuck shut, burned the motor up. Threw both ZV in the trash and repiped for a second 15-58, works perfect. Few weeks go by, another no-heat call. PL-36 on the boiler is locked up (and 20+ years old). Swapped out for a new 26-99 and finally everything works, his wood consumption is halved, and he's happy. Bet he was wishing he'd have never called in the first place! I know it was nothing I did that was wrong, just happened to fall into place that everything happened to fail in succession. I was over there about 10 times over a couple months and am many hours upside down in this thing but at least it works now. Suppose the boiler is going to rust through now from 20 years of 80 degree return temps and that'll be my fault too
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,834
    @RayWohlfarth said " We were told the system never worked right. We repiped the system piping to work properly and checked the boilers and burners. After adjustment and changing the filters on the oil line, they worked great."

    I wouldn't feel bad about it at all.
    1. You fixed a system that never worked
    2. He didn't want to spend much money (that's not your fault)

    You didn't give him a "new system" you fixed his old system which no one else could do, but he feels like your responsible for the "warrenty" on his old system.

    It's the old "you touch it you own it"

    Cut him loose if he is unreasonable.
  • lchmb
    lchmb Member Posts: 2,997
    and if you had put in new, he would have said you ripped him off then and if something broke he would say you sold him junk...you'll never make them all happy...;)
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 5,919
    I have also learned to be VERY careful when they
    "Check in " with you along the way:
    "Hey! How's it going? Running in to ANY problems?" All they really wanna hear is that its going swell and you've made a big deal out of nothing.

    I'm very cautious with my words here because most will ram those words back at you later if you DO run in to problems. These problem jobs we take on have a unique psychology all their own with the momentum of the battle shifting back and forth several times until
    Total victory is achieved. If you don't have time in the ring or don't know how to handle being on the ropes, the whole job can go South.

    Stand your ground, do what you know to be right, follow your gut. Mad Dog
    DZoroPaul Pollets
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,320
    @GroundUp Like we need some extra practice. LOL
    @EBEBRATT-Ed I suggested he find another company. Life is way too short for this.
    @lchmb Exactly Thanks
    @Mad Dog Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought a 6 year old boiler would have so many parts fail. I know we only replaced the things which were defective.
    Thanks you sirs
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 5,919
    The have a heating prophet and they don't know it. Tsk tsk. Someday they will know. Mad dog
  • Tinman
    Tinman Member Posts: 2,806
    I feel your pain, Ray. There is nothing worse than being married to a nightmare job. I go to great lengths to avoid them but they still happen occasionally. Invariably, it's because somebody believes I can turn water into wine. I can't and I let them know that upfront. :D
    Steve Minnich
  • RayWohlfarth
    RayWohlfarth Member Posts: 1,320
    @Mad Dog Thank you so much sir
    @Stephen Minnich Thanks I will not be inviting you to any weddings if you can do the water to wine thing LOL
    Ray Wohlfarth
    Boiler Lessons