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A Homeowner's Challenge

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HeatingHelp
HeatingHelp Administrator Posts: 650
edited December 2022 in THE MAIN WALL
imageA Homeowner's Challenge

How can homeowners determine if a contractor or a technician has the knowledge to work on their heating system?

Read the full story here

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  • Stuart Rogers
    Stuart Rogers Member Posts: 49
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    I wouldn't be amazed.

    A few weeks ago, we woke up to no DHW. (25-unit, 1925-era co-op apartment building in Toronto.) Some time earlier I had reported to management that the DHW heater was leaking water onto the floor. Our steam-heat contractor was brought in to diagnose. The report came back that a part had been ordered. The day before "no DHW," the contractor's minion came in and replaced the flow-detector switch. With a 3rd party switch, not the DHW's switch. OK, still should have worked. But we had no DHW! So I went down to the boiler room, Googled the manufacturer and part number, downloaded the installation instructions (all three pages!!) and (A) adjusted the sensitivity so that when the circulation pump was running, the flow switch actually detected the flow) and (B) determined that the minion had not "stacked" the various-length paddles that were to be affected by water flow. So (A) ignorant, ineffective adjustment and (B) ignorant, incomplete part assembly.
  • Constantin
    Constantin Member Posts: 3,796
    edited December 2022
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    This is a two-way street. I'm speaking here as a mere homeowner who happens to work in professional services.

    Yes, consumers should want a qualified, dedicated, knowledgable, etc. contractor, but they also have to be willing to pay handsomely for those services and take an interest themselves. Heating and cooling systems don't exist in a bubble - the consumer can play an important role maintaining them, making the life for the contractor easier, and so on.

    For example, there is no excuse for external condensers being tightly planted with prickly bushes just because the HO doesn't want to see the unit. Ditto covering up the boiler with crap, building a tiny cabinet all around it (limiting access) or not maintaining it (i.e. waiting until the system fails vs. engaging a contractor for annual cleanings, etc).

    Want heat? Well, you gots to pay for it. Be prepared. I have spare pumps, seals, ignitors, ignition rods, etc. on hand since I cannot AND SHOULD NOT rely on my contractor to have this stuff on his/her/their truck. Few, if any, contractors are willing to spend $2k for the Viessmann Vitodens spare parts kit.

    Monitor your system, don't rely on a feeder unless it's a steamer and even then I'd meter the water to see if there are unusual levels of consumption. Blow down and clean out steam systems regularly, check vents, and so on. If a system replacement is on the menu, is the HO willing to pay for a manual-J or measurement of the the radiators?

    Do you have a good diagram of your system so the contractor spends less time trying to figure out how it works and more time on fixing things? For example, my in-laws had their unlabeled doorbell power supply about 40 feet from the door, another 40' from the closest electrical panel, hidden in a closet. The replacement now has a labeled sticker on it for the next guy.

    Does the contractor own a electronic combustion analyzer, know how to use it, and make use of it with most work? Has the person who shows up actually taken the factory training course for whatever is on the menu today? Do they have the right tools / PPE to clean the boiler? Concentrated phosphoric or citric acid is no joke to play around with. Are they going to take the time to do the job right? Are you, the homeowner, OK with paying for several hours of contractor cleanup if the condensing HX has been gunked up through neglect?

    Beyond the boiler, are they going to inspect other parts such as the chimney connection for oil-fired appliances as removing soot is not just a fact of life inside the boiler but everything up to and including the chimney connection to. Has someone looked at the chimney in the last x years?

    To me, the best partnerships are the ones where the HO and contractor take an interest in the respective appliances and work together to maximize life, efficiency, and reliability. And therein can lie the biggest issue, i.e. contractors being unwilling to work with informed customers. Peace.
    Larry WeingartenLong Beach EdMikeAmannSteamBoiler
  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,542
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    I wouldn't be amazed.

    A few weeks ago, we woke up to no DHW. (25-unit, 1925-era co-op apartment building in Toronto.) Some time earlier I had reported to management that the DHW heater was leaking water onto the floor. Our steam-heat contractor was brought in to diagnose. The report came back that a part had been ordered. The day before "no DHW," the contractor's minion came in and replaced the flow-detector switch. With a 3rd party switch, not the DHW's switch. OK, still should have worked. But we had no DHW! So I went down to the boiler room, Googled the manufacturer and part number, downloaded the installation instructions (all three pages!!) and (A) adjusted the sensitivity so that when the circulation pump was running, the flow switch actually detected the flow) and (B) determined that the minion had not "stacked" the various-length paddles that were to be affected by water flow. So (A) ignorant, ineffective adjustment and (B) ignorant, incomplete part assembly.

    I find your use of the term "minion" derogatory. Somehow, I knew who the hero at story's end would be.
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,757
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    I find your use of the term "minion" derogatory. Somehow, I knew who the hero at story's end would be.

    Well it sounds like he did the work and the thinking, so is it undeserved?
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    Robert O'Brien
  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,542
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    I find your use of the term "minion" derogatory. Somehow, I knew who the hero at story's end would be.
    Well it sounds like he did the work and the thinking, so is it undeserved?
    There’s three sides to every story, one of them is the truth.  When you demean others and inflate yourself, the conclusion is obvious 
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • SlowYourRoll
    SlowYourRoll Member Posts: 187
    edited December 2022
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    homeowner here, going through this exact process right now. first off, I have to say that it seems like the company I'm working with is trying to make good on the contract.

    they sent two reps out for the estimate. everything went pretty much according to the process Dan outlined in the getting a good contractor section of We Got Steam Heat. They sized the boiler according to the radiators, They would have been willing to do threaded steel for the supply piping, but sold me on ProPress copper since the rubber gasket arrangement overcomes the torque issue with soldered copper joints. They agreed to do everything according to the install manual. when i asked about post-install cleaning they pointed out there's a whole checklist their guy goes through, and he's very "anal" about it. They agreed to do a skim port. and the most important thing, we got in the contract that they would do everything according to the manufacturers install specifications.

    well you can see the ongoing results in my thread over in the steam heat section. most notably the Hartford loop horizontal run that's supposed to be a close nipple in the install instructions, their first one was about 2ft long, I pointed out exactly what the problem was, I explained it so simply and clearly that there should not have been any confusion, their second try got that horizontal run down to maybe a little under 2 feet long. I'm not on site, so I'm basing that on pictures. additionally, they had left the worksite within an hour or so of finishing the install, so the definitely didn't skim. I should probably have seen that one coming, because the installer mentioned that he was not familiar with skim ports.

    like I said before, I do have a good feeling that they want to honor their contract. I get the sense they had no idea their installer was not competent and was probably lying whenever he filled out that checklist, assuming the checklist is the one from the install manual, i.e. the checkout procedure. on top of everything else they probably had no idea how wasteful that guy was with pro-press fittings. you should check out the pics in my thread, they use about six fittings too many on the Hartford loop, not counting the fittings they had to cut out from their first attempt at a Hartford loop. so they might not even save money cutting corners...they're wasting hundreds on unnecessary fittings on the job.

    so thanks Dan and everybody else here. my experience is this: even a company that says and does all the right things prior to starting work can still be woefully incompetent, and basically fraudulent if the installer is checking off things on a checklist and signing his name for tasks he didn't complete. All the advice Dan gives is great, but the golden advice that will pay for the book several times over is to get everything into the contract.
    MikeAmannPC7060
  • Constantin
    Constantin Member Posts: 3,796
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    No contract can ever capture every contingency you'll ever encounter. Someone I know well used to measure his aircraft leasing contracts in feet of binders, with the record leasing deal consuming 6 feet of shelf space.

    The main issue being that contractors can simply walk away, declare bankruptcy, or otherwise stop performing. Then what?

    Another issue is game theory around single-round transactions (which maximize benefit to cheating for participants) vs. recurring transactions (which more or less minimize them). Hence the huge benefit of finding a great GC for your home project as his/her/their business is a constant source of income to their subs and hence a huge incentive to do the job right. From sub POV, it's also beneficial as the GC will protect them from nutty HOs.

    Thankfully, when I have run into issues with my contractors, they all got resolved with a single phone call - not something explicitly covered by their contract but rather the standard that the contractor held themselves to and customer goodwill (i.e. don't install a slip fitting with just 2% on one pipe and 98% on the other, leading to a leak 5 months later).

    But once again, it's a partnership between the customer and the contractor. The dance between contractors and customers is not that different vs. finding a good life partner. The stakes are usually somewhat lower but there are plenty of opportunities for headaches.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,828
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    ike I said before, I do have a good feeling that they want to honor their contract. I get the sense they had no idea their installer was not competent and was probably lying whenever he filled out that checklist, assuming the checklist is the one from the install manual

    It is hard to answer correctly when you dont understand the question. A lot of companies like to use their own checklist because it is missing some expensive parts of the manufacturers checklist too.

    SlowYourRoll
  • SlowYourRoll
    SlowYourRoll Member Posts: 187
    edited December 2022
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    mattmia2 said:



    It is hard to answer correctly when you dont understand the question. A lot of companies like to use their own checklist because it is missing some expensive parts of the manufacturers checklist too.

    i definitely should've asked to see the checklist first. i got it into our contract that they'd follow the instruction manual so the contract holds them to following the cleaning procedure in the checkout checklist from the contract, but yeah i should have checked their checklist beforehand.

    that being said, based on the timeline it doesn't look like they did any cleaning whatsoever, so i'm guessing even custom checklists include a cleaning step.
  • FStephenMasek
    FStephenMasek Member Posts: 88
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    Many, far too many, companies think that the way to make more money is to hire numerous low paid "field staff" or "trainees." Such workers are not nearly as efficient or effective as senior, experienced personnel. Training people is OK, but only side-by side with experienced people until they are ready to be on their own. Having two9or more) people at a project/job site is often best for efficiency, safety, and quality. "Minion" was probably not the best word, but it did convey the thought that it was not a senior / experienced person.
    Author of Illustrated Practical Asbestos: For Consultants, Contractors, Property Managers & Regulators
  • SlowYourRoll
    SlowYourRoll Member Posts: 187
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    Well I followed to the best of my ability all of the guidance from the getting a contractor section of We Got Steam Heat and it still might not be enough...

    fortunately my divorce attorney offered to help me resolve the issue. otherwise I'd just have to take my chances filing complaints through the state Board of HVAC and the Better Business Bureau.
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,828
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    You have to keep in mind that you can't force someone to do something they don't know how to do.
    SlowYourRoll