The Anatomy of a Cheap Install
An update is posted at the bottom.

In the summer of 2005 I encountered a very old HVAC system that was in need of several repairs. I gave a bid for both repair and replacement but never heard back. Almost a year later I was called out to the same address and found the new system you see below.

It turned out that another contractor was hired to replace the system because of their low price. But when it broke down that same contractor could no longer be located to perform warranty work. Aside from the failure at hand, the homeowner believed the system was fine. However, there were many more problems beside the one that I was called out for. 


Update 1:

After this page was originally published I was called for what turned out to be a piece of paper caught in the blower wheel. While taking care of that I found that the installer used the old power cord for the new furnace. The ground prong was missing from the plug! This is yet one more example of how falling prey to a low bid will result in shoddy work.

Update 2:

It turns out that the hack who installed the equipment above was one busy bee. He left a trail of botched jobs in his wake. I found out about quite a few of his misdeeds because a property manager that use to call on him was also one of my clients. The property manager preferred my services over his. However, their homeowners sometimes insisted on getting it done more cheaply. Cheap is exactly what they got.

In the fall of 2005 I was called out to a home that had water dripping from the cooling coil due to the occasional "ice up". There were several contributing factors to the problem, but the biggest issue was that they had an ancient four ton evaporator coil hooked up to a ten year old five ton air conditioner. In our climate it's perfectly fine to have an evaporator coil that's rated bigger than the air conditioner. However, it should never be the other way around. Just like the job above, I made my recommendations and never heard back.

A little over a year later I was called out again. Is this starting to sound familiar? It should. The same contractor that did the botched furnace and air conditioner replacement above was hired to replace the evaporator coil on this job. His work was a total train wreck. It was done wrong in almost every way imaginable, including the most painfully obvious way: He replaced the four ton coil with yet another four ton coil!

I know it sounds hard to believe, but you can see for yourself. This file is what I sent the homeowner in the fall of 2006. This file is of the replacement work I did in the spring of 2007. Why so long for the second replacement? Because as I mentioned above the contractor disappeared. This homeowner lucked out in that he was finally able to get the bond company to pay out.

Needless to say the property manager is now a little more vehement in their recommendation of my services over the low price leaders. They reviewed my company on Yahoo Local.

1) A building permit was not pulled. That's not surprising because an inspector would have failed the job on site. In California at least the law requires that a permit be pulled anytime such work is done. And it also requires that the homeowner disclose the fact that a permit wasn't pulled when he or she sells the home. (There's no picture for 1.)

2) The hacked together sheet metal duct that connects the furnace to the attic ducts is not insulated. The metal gets ice cold when the air conditioner is on. It wastes energy and sometimes condenses water. Should enough water condense it could eventually drip down to the furnace's circuit board.

3) The hot exhaust pipe doesn't have proper clearance to combustibles. It's right next to the black foam insulation of the suction line.

4) There is no p-trap or vent on the PVC drain line as required by code. As a result conditioned air blows down the pipe during summer.

5) The Freon lines are right in front of the blower compartment. That violates code and makes it difficult to access the filter or to service the motor should it be needed.

6) The filter sits at the bottom of the furnace. The contractor did not install a mechanism to hold it down. When the blower comes on the filter gets sucked up and air bypasses it. The dirt that bypasses the filter will eventually clog the evaporator coil and might cause equipment damage.

7) The furnace is not secured to the pedestal. A slight push will cause the furnace to move around. I'm not kidding! It's just sitting there.

8) The flue connector (exhaust pipe) is connected wrong on both ends.

The top part of the connector is a flexible pipe that is slipped over a rigid pipe without a proper connector. The installer simply taped over it. Once the tape dries and falls off exhaust gas will leak into the closet.

The bottom portion of the connector has gravity keeping it in place. There is supposed to be a special fitting there called an appliance connector. Just as above they skipped the fitting and simply draped the flexible connector over the furnace outlet. To top it off, the flexible connector is one size too big.

9) The old brass gas flex connector was reused by the contractor. Some old brass connectors have a warning issued about them by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. You can see that warning here. Whether this particular flex connector falls under that safety alert is anyone's guess. But it's usually not an issue because most decent furnace installations come with a new stainless steel flex connector. This contractor chose to reuse the old one instead.

10) The flexible connector penetrates the sidewall of the furnace. Code requires that rigid pipe penetrate the sidewall to avoid the possibility of chaffing, leakage and fire.

11) There are numerous air leaks in the furnace closet. When the air conditioner runs and you open the furnace closet door you can feel a significant amount of cold air blowing on you. It's good for the rats but not so good for the utility bill. (There's no picture for 11.)

12) The old fuse box was not replaced. The fuse box's internal connections were already oxidized and running warm. As they wear further the connections will run hot and blow the fuses. That's a guaranteed future service call worth hundreds.

13) The maximum fuse size allowed is 20 amps. The installers left the 30 amp fuses from the old air conditioner in place.

14) The electrical conduit that feeds the air conditioner power was left sitting on the ground. An excess of thermostat cable was laying on the ground as well.

15) Code requires that the air conditioner be secured to the pad it sits on. It was not secured. The air conditioner will inevitably get bumped by landscapers and the like. In fact, it looks like it's already been pushed askew. Bump the air conditioner around enough and the refrigerant lines will start leaking.

16) The refrigerant lines were not purged with nitrogen when they were brazed together. The resulting formation of scale might eventually clog the metering device and stop the flow of refrigerant. The picture is from a different system where that exact problem happened.

It took all of ten minutes to make those observations. Imagine what I would have found if I had actually watched as the equipment was being installed. As you may have seen on the technical guide to installation, there's a lot that goes into doing a system right that most customers never see or even know about.

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