I just saved myself $364 with about 15 minutes work - that's an hourly rate of $1456, the sort of money Wall Street lawyers get! And it's all thanks to the greed and unethical business practices of one of the nation's top manufacturers & suppliers of heating & cooling systems.
I have a Bryant heating & cooling system in my house - it was installed about 5 years ago with a very simple non-programmable thermostat. My wife continually complained that someone (usually her) had to keep turning the temperature up or down throughout the day to keep the home comfortable. Why couldn't we just have a programmable thermostat like everyone else? You know, one that makes the furnace come on at a set time before we get up in the morning, warms the house whilst we are having showers & breakfast and then drops the temperature down while we are all out at work or school, warms everything up just in time for when we return in the evening, and finally drops down low at night when we are all asleep. Not only making the house more comfortable but being much more energy efficient and saving on our fuel bills.
I'm no electrician but even I can change over a simple thermostat myself. We are NOT talking rocket science here but a 24 volt system connected by 5 wires something my old Granny could mange without too much difficulty. So I rang Bryant Heating & Cooling Systems in New York to ask where I could buy the programmable version of the thermostat that was currently in my house. The Customer relations department explained that their head office didn't sell direct to the public and I would have to go to their website and enter my zip code to find the contact address & phone number of one of their approved dealers' in my local area. No shortage of those, it turned out there were about five within 25 miles of my home. But here's where the story gets interesting & I learned to make out like a son of Wall Street!
Out of the five firms I rang, I could only find one that actually answered my purchase request immediately. The man on the other end of the line explained that the model I wanted wasn't one he carried in stock and he would only order in batches of 24 and no, I didn't need that many and I had no idea programmable thermostats were so rare, they must be collectors items!
The other so-called Byrant 'dealers' just had answering machines where I left messages or people took note of what I wanted & promised someone would ring me back. In the case of two of these firms, nobody even bothered to contact me. Finally, someone rang to tell me that they couldn't sell me the new thermostat but they would be able to supply & fit it for the magnificent fee of about $400! According to the dealer 'it's a complicated business'. Clearly a talented man who could determine just from the sound of my voice that I was a complete d**k-head with too much money to burn
To cut a long story short, I went to my local hardware store, purchased a new programmable thermostat for $35-99 and fitted it myself in about 15 minutes using a Phillips screwdriver as my only tool of choice. Most of that time actually being spent entering the pre-set day/time schedule & preferred temperatures!
I complained to Bryant's Customer Relations Department about a practice which is widespread in their industry, and got an interesting reply to say the least. It's worth reproducing in full if only to reveal how they justify this rip-off
On behalf of Bryant I apologize that you feel this way about the HVAC industry and it's business practices. However, this is not just how Bryant regulates their business, but how the HVAC industry as a whole is operated. Dealers for any brand in the industry are independently owned and operated. The manufacturer of the products is exactly that, the manufacturer. We make and warrant the product itself. The installation, maintenance, and service are regulated and done by these dealers. We do not tell the dealers what they must or must not charge for their services, much like auto shops are not told by the manufacturer what they must or must not charge for an oil change. If you feel this strongly about what the dealers are charging you, I would suggest you bring it up with the companies that are setting this rate, and not the company that simply makes the equipment.
I understand that you feel you can do the repair yourself, however our distributors only sell to licensed HVAC technicians. This is not simply an attempt to restrain any kind of fair trade regulations. This is something that is done not only for the safety of the consumers, but also for our distributors. If they sell a part to an unlicensed individual, who in turn installs the part wrong and someone gets hurt or killed due to the mistake (considering our equipment deals with high electricity, high pressure refrigerants, flammable gasses, etc.), then they could be held responsible. It is for the safety of everyone that only experienced and licensed technicians do these installations. Unfortunately, if that means going to a dealer that is going to charge what you may think is too much for the job, then that's not something that our company has directly done to you.
Perhaps there is another company or an independent technician in the area who has an account with our distributor who can do this repair for you without charging you something that you feel is too much. Bryant will assist wherever and however we can, but we cannot order an independent company to change their ways or just sell a part to a unlicensed individual to save them some money. Again, I apologize that your experience with the local dealers was less than satisfactory, but the practices that our company and distributors follow are an industry standard, not just a Bryant standard.'
Bryant's reply makes a decidedly odd justification for their unethical practices by comparison with an oil change for a motorcar. They quote safety reasons but you will recall this is not rocket science it's 15 minutes with a Phillips screwdriver and 5 wires connected to a 24 volt system! You can do more damage to your car and other drivers if you don't get an oil change right. Unlike an oil change which is quite a complicated procedure, a replacement thermostat is very simple and takes a fraction of the time. In addition, you aren't forced to visit the oil manufacturers website to get a list of approved dealers' to buy the product or have an expert' put it in your car. You can buy oil anywhere, and any mechanic can do the job - even if you don't want, or can't do it yourself.
Of course any mechanic who charges $400 for an oil change would soon be out of business - but here is where the heating & cooling industry is different. It's a cartel which believes in the restraint of fair trade. The manufacturers know the scam, the suppliers know it too, and the so-called dealers' make out like bandits! A win-win situation, where consumers come out as the only losers by having to pay thru the nose.
I suggested to Bryants that they should contact all their dealers' and find out how much they charge to up-grade a simple thermostat. Those that are charging excessively could loose their dealership'. Needless to say Bryants didn't go for that idea. Heaven forbid they should take ANY responsibility for the unethical business practices of the firms that promote and install their products. I can hear the arms industry making the same case we only supply the weapons' it's not our responsibility if they get into the hands of terrorists.
Bryant are not the only heating & air-conditioning manufacturers and suppliers who are playing this game and insisting that only their so-called 'dealers' can install their products at grossly inflated costs but they are the ones I have reported to the Maryland Department of Consumer Affairs and the ones which readers of this magazine need to be made aware of. If they ran any kind of ethical business they would be looking at their entire dealer network and introducing a code of practice that ensures that the firms that supply & install their products behave in an ethical fashion & don't rip-off the public.