Any HVAC experts? Am I being scammed?

Background first. I’ve used the same HVAC company for several years. Every year they come out and do an inspection of my system and up until now I’ve been pleased. However, after this year’s inspection, I believe they are trying to scam me. And fyi, my system is about 12 years old and will probably need replacing any time now.

After this inspection, the tech said I have the following problems:

  1. The starter system on the AC is in bad shape and needs replacing. Fair enough. He’s pricing that at $660.
  2. He says that the motor/bearing in the heating/system and going bad and leaking oil. That’s another $1800 to fix. Hmm, that seems a bit high, but maybe.
  3. But this is the kicker and where I think the scam is. He claims the problem with the motor bearings is that the air distribution system (fancy term for duct work) is leaking, causing the motor to strain. He also says that it is dirty because of the leaks, putting additional strain on it. He says that they duct work needs cleaning and sealing, and that this would be another $4,000.

Now, that last point seems unlikely to me. First, I’ve gone on online and there are a number of reasons the duct work might need cleaning but this isn’t one of them. Secondly, they come out here every year and now all of a sudden my duct work needs sealing? Does that make any sense?

So I think I am being scammed about the need for duct work cleaning and resealing. Which also makes me wonder about the price on the other items. I’m thinking about getting another HVAC guy out here to look at things and give me a second opinion.

Any expert opinions out there? Thanks.

Duct work cleaning is a waste of money , how dirty is your air handler filter every month? Change the filter monthly! Does anyone smoke? Do you have pets?

You can really super clean your return vents with a leaf blower, while the system is on. Then go check the filter.

WTF is duct work sealing? If your supply and return lines are in the basement, check the tape and look for leaks, you can reseal most of it yourself with a $15 roll of silver duct tape.

This is the tape I use, its OOS , but someone must carry something similar.

Your air handler might cost $1800, how much is parts/labor ? Do you know if its a single stage or multi stage air handler. If you have even mild technical skill level you could replace that part yourself. Its like at most 6 or 7 wires that slide onto connectors.

What is an an A/C starter, that could be anything. The circuit board? The boost capacitors? The condenser motor?

I’m not an expert, but if they are saying you need to spend over $6000 on a system that might need replacing soon anyway, I’d say you should look into replacing now.

Well, $4,000 would be for the cleaning/sealing of duct work, which would not be replaced by a new HVAC system.

Seems like leaking ductwork (either the return or supply side) would make the blower motor work less hard, but maybe longer?

Not really. Leaky ducts leads to reduced air flow in the lines. Yeah it might run a bit longer but its not gonna kill the system.

I have the fury and heated anger of a thousand suns when it comes to HVAC scamming.

Also before you spend another penny @Grifman get a 2nd estimate.

Depends on what sort of system they went with, certainly. You could replace the ductwork at the same time, or go with a ductless system at that point too.

That’s what I’ve read unless you have a bad smell, or visible signs of mold, or you start having allergic reactions or breathing issues for vulnerable people (asthma, etc.). That might indicated some sort of cleaning being needed.

Apparently, it can be a thing. But yeah, from what I’ve read, a lot of HVAC companies are trying to sell an expensive aerosol treatment, that is much more expensive and not as effective as just going in and doing it by hand - if there are leaks.

But I don’t have any of the signs of leaks - I don’t have expensive power bills, I don’t have uneven heating/cooling, etc.

I think I am being scammed, but I’m not an expert which is why I am asking here.

What issues are you noticing with the cooling system?

None it is still functioning, but he says that there is an issue with the starter system that could cause a fire if it is not fixed, assuming he’s telling the truth. Right now I’m feeling very skeptical about anything they are saying. :(

I’d pay another 80-100 $ and get someone else to come out and service it. See what they say.
Stand there with them as its being cleaned, you want to know what they are seeing, if something is faulty they should point it out to you while you are standing there.

Definitely go to a second, or even third, provided for estimates. Last year we replaced our central air system, as the old one was nigh-on 20 years old and was having a very hard time cooling, even in Vermont, and was grossly inefficient. Also, it used refrigerant that is now unavailable for killing baby seals or something. In any event, for about four grand we got a brand new Trane compressor unit and air handler/condenser (which in our installation sits up in the garage in a really awkward place that is difficult to get to). Even though the duct work was also two decades old, there were no issues with it, nor any appreciable filthiness or anything.

I realize every installation is different, but what they’re telling you smells like day-old halibut.

I have another company, highly rated, coming out this afternoon. They are giving me a FREE second opinion, which I find pretty amazing, figured I’d get charged at least a service call. They must make enough money by offering this service that they can afford to do this. I am looking forward to this, should be interesting.

I haven’t had my AC or furnace even glanced at in 12 years. I replace the filter periodically, probably less often than I should.

You’ve made me wonder if I should get an inspection… nah.

Sounds like nonsense to me. The motor has run for 12 years without being “harmed” by the duct system. Lordkosc gave good advice but be careful blowing down stream - you could block the A/C coil, better to just shove your vaccum hose down each of the vents and suck out the dust. Duct cleaning really isn’t necessary. Just clean your air filters religiously.

(I say this with the following credentials - my dad owned a Heating and Air conditioning company that I worked at 10 years and my husband is a licensed HVAC mechanic. He gets lots of work after ducts have been cleaned (blocked coils.)

That original report doesn’t pass the smell test. Definitely have the second opinion.

Let us know what they say.

Seconding or thirding get more estimates. The first time we had a guy out to check our AC he determined that the bill would be like $5000. So we asked around the neighborhood and got several suggestions for a guy that most people used. He came by and said that the first guy’s estimate was a complete rip off. He said we only needed some basic maintenance and it would cost $180. We got a yearly contract and he threw in a washable filter. Just pop it out once a month and hose it off.

It’s a good idea to get an annual inspection. It can head off getting problems in the middle of the winter/summer so you want freeze/burn to death when service call schedules are all full.

I’ve had my share of bad HVAC service people and a short list of two that were amazing. If things are running, nothing is actually freezing up or stopping and cooling isn’t running excessively long (high power bill,) I’m not sure quoting that much preventative maintenance really shows how good they were at managing things year to year via inspection for you.

I’d be interested to hear what the second opinion comes out as.

If/when you do find a good service/repair/installation HVAC company, SHARE that feedback with your neighbors. Hell I had my entire system replaced about 3 years ago and shared my quote and details directly with 4 of my neighbors and handed out extra business cards the guy left me. Frequently neighborhoods are built out around the same time, using the same HVAC systems and people experience similar issues. Asking your neighbors for references is a very good thing. Or try Nextdoor for recent reviews by a neighbor.