Scam Alert: Protect Yourself From These Common HVAC and Plumbing Schemes

The unfortunate truth is, there are shady people out there who are only trying to get your money. Plumbing and HVAC schemes can happen to anyone, and scammers are always finding new ways to con unsuspecting victims. These insidious schemes may target homeowners who are new to the area, or older homeowners who are more vulnerable. In any case, it’s important to know what red flags to look out for when it comes to some of the most common HVAC and plumbing scams.

Overcharging for cheap materials

Scamming plumbers may tell you they’re using the best materials, in order to charge you more, when in actuality they’re using low-cost alternatives. Not only is this practice dishonest, it also puts you in a position where your repair will probably need to be re-done, as cheaper materials may not be strong enough to hold for long. Unfortunately, you may not realize that cheaper materials were used until you’re faced with a sudden emergency, like major flooding or a sudden shutdown of your HVAC system, that results from the previous technician cutting corners.

One way to avoid this scam is by asking the plumber what kind of materials they intend to use. These may include things like O-rings, gaskets, washers, and drain snakes. Then, compare the prices to those at a local plumbing supplier or big-box hardware store. Some markup is normal, to cover the plumber’s overhead and operating expenses. However, if the markup is unreasonable, you may be getting scammed.

Neighborhood markup

If you live in a nicer neighborhood, a shady plumber or HVAC technician may try to use that against you by charging more for a basic job than they would if you lived in another area. They may look around and see a nice house, a brand-new car, or a nice flat screen TV and assume that you’ll be willing to pay more just because you may have more money. To avoid this scam, get an estimate from several professionals before committing to using one for your job. Or, ask your friends and family who live in other neighborhoods if they got a similar estimate for the same service.

No paper trails

Imagine this scenario: you meet a plumber or HVAC technician who seems to say all the right things. He’s eager to get to work, and assures you that he’ll get you an estimate in writing later on. As the work continues, he continues to deflect your questions about paperwork. When the job is done, you finally get an invoice—but find that it’s much higher than he originally said. You’re understandably upset. But, since nothing was ever put in writing, you may have a hard time taking any sort of action in civil court. This is why it’s important to get an estimate in writing and make sure both parties are on the same page before work begins.

Misleading estimates

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Often, less than reputable plumbers and HVAC technicians will give a homeowner a quote or estimate that’s much lower than it should be. Then, as the work goes on, homeowners find themselves suddenly on the hook for a much higher price than they were quoted because of vague “additional work.” In this scenario, the initial low estimate is just a way to get you to agree to hiring them. Even the simplest jobs can turn into expensive ones with this scam.

While the scope of any job can change, a good technician will communicate with you every step of the way and make sure you understand why you’re being charged more than the original estimate.

Door-to-door salesman

This scam involves someone posing as a plumber or HVAC technician trying to coerce unsuspecting homeowners into working with them.  It might start with a knock at the door, or a random phone call. The scammer may pretend to work for an established and well-known company in the area, and may offer a free inspection of your plumbing or HVAC system. This scammer could be a sketchy contractor looking to get your money, or a burglar trying to case your home for vulnerabilities. Either way, it’s best to call the authorities if you’re targeted by this scam.

One good way to avoid this scam is to remember that nearly all reputable plumbing and HVAC companies will use marked and clearly identifiable vehicles with company branding. If someone shows up in a personal vehicle, proceed with caution.

Oversized HVAC systems

One of the most common HVAC myths has to do with how large your system should be. The fact is, when it comes to HVAC systems, bigger is most definitely not better. Some HVAC contractors may upsell you on a larger system, and try and convince you that it’s a better choice. However, they’re simply doing this because bigger systems are more expensive to purchase and have installed, allowing them to pocket more of your money.

Your HVAC unit should be accurately sized in proportion to the size of your home. This not only saves you money in the long run, as you’ll be using less energy, but also saves you the potential headache of a system that short cycles because it’s in the wrong size for your home.

Avoiding scams before they happen

When it comes to avoiding scams and schemes, trust your gut instincts. If you have a bad feeling about a plumber or HVAC technician, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. When you’re trying to gauge whether a certain individual is trustworthy and worth your business, use the following guidelines:

Do your research

Before you hire anyone for a home services job, you should do your homework. Search online for reviews, testimonials, and history on the contractor or company you’re looking to hire. Consult the Better Business Bureau to see whether they have an A+ rating. The BBB can also tell you important information such as how long they’ve been in business, who runs the business, and their locations.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

A plumber or HVAC technician who stands by the quality of their work won’t hesitate to answer any and all of your questions, and will do their best to put your mind at ease. Don’t hold back on asking tough questions in the name of trying to be polite—when it comes down to it, you need to be comfortable with who you hire to work in your home.

Get everything in writing

Quotes, estimates, contracts—everything between you and the plumber or HVAC technician you hire should be documented in writing. If not, you will have little to no legal protection if you run into issues. Having a paper trail makes it easy to identify potential scams and make sure you’re not being charged for something you never agreed to.

When in doubt, trust Chas Roberts

No matter what HVAC or plumbing service you need, one thing’s for sure—you won’t encounter any of these scams when you trust Chas Roberts. For industry-leading service you can count on, contact us today.