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Question DetailsAsked on 11/3/2017

Can I file against contractors bond for misdiagnosing HVAC leak and charging me and its still not fixed?

It has been 2 years now. He first came out and tried to diagnose it. Said it was the Evaporator coil (indoors). Charged my system. $450 for service call and refrigerant. come back out a month later and charge the unit again because the replacement hadnt come in. Paid $200. installed the evaporator coil and charged system. Paid another $450 (part was warrantied). 2 months later, unit freezes up -its still leaking. He comes back out and recharges system. By this time it is fall and we barely use the unit so we make it till the next summer. Next May we turn the AC on-couple of weeks later it freezes up. charges system and said that he got a defective replacement Evap coil. orders another. over month goes by-hear nothing from him-freezes up again-says he's going to come out and put some dye in it. he does. finds the leak in the copper coil in the AC unit. patches is and stops leak -coil is warranty but he wants $800 for install. He should have fixed (used dye) 1st time.

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Certainly sounds like you got a lemon tech - though that seems more the norm these days - all too many mainteance/repair techs spend little or no time diagnosing the actual cause, instead just start replacing parts till the problem goes away. True on appliances, vehicles, HVAC equipment, and electrical/plumbing issues too at times.

It is actually illegal to replace refrigerant in a residential unit (a certain amount of loss is allowed per year in commercial units) which has significantly leaked off without repairing the leak - or at least fixing a leak thinking he has fixed it. A responsible and professional tech would first, when significant gas has leaked off, locate the leak with any of a number of detection methods - which should be used varies by the rate of leakage.

Unfortunately most HVAC techs just recharge the system (which these days can sometimes run over $500 and sometimes even $1000 depending on the gas type used) and go their way, commonly (as in your case) coming back frequently to recharge it as it continues to leak. I remember one 6 ton unit I saw where the tech had meticulously kept a record of service on the unit - having put a total of over 100 pounds of refrigerant into it over a 4 year period - in a system with 11 pound full charge capacity. Never once did he seriously try to find the source, and had told the owner that some systems just leak. Baloney. A residential sized A/C system will commonly leak off a pound or few through fittings and gaseous diffusion over a period of a decade or more, requiring a "topping off" - others can go 30 years without needing any gas added. But any significant loss, especially one causing unit malfunction or requiring topping offs over a short period of time, should have the leak located and fixed BEFORE refilling the unit.

In your case, you have a problem in that you kept paying him for non-fixes for 2 years, so you are in a weak position - the "strong position" would have been to start demanding refunds or free continuing work when the first fix did not solve the problem. I would say your best initial bet at this time is to tell him you want a full refund for all the charges prior to the final replacement of the defective coil - sounds to me like $450 minus the diagnosis part of the call + $200 recharge + sounds like 2 more recharges. And the $800 installation for the defective coil should be free because a faulty part is his problem - he may be able to recover something from the manufacturer (fat chance) but you should not be paying for a defective repair. The part I think you should pay would be the diagnosis charge to determine it was a leaking coil, and the $450 initial coil installation. (No explanation why $450 first time but now he wants $800 to replace same part ?)

A weakness in this argument would be the refills with gas - if you wanted the unit to be functional during the time waiting for coils he could argue that gas loss is your cost for having a unit that worked instead of red-tagging it till the parts came in. So you might win only on the $800 second replacement on the coil or refund of the original coil replacement.

If instead you mean the initial diagnosis was the evaporator (indoor) coil but that the actual leak was in the condensor coil (on the outdoor unit) then I would say you should pay the diagnosis fee and the condensor coil installation charge but not for the mistakingly replaced evaporator coil. Same issue as above on the gas charges while awaiting the new coil(s).

This sort of issue is not uncommon - when I attended the Carrier professional HVAC factory course they showed up a huge stack of coils which had been returned as defective - testing showed far less than half were leaking, so they had been sent in as warranty defects when the problem was actually a leak elsewhere. Many HVAC techs think a froen up coil necessarily means it is leaking, when the icing may be only because the pressure drop across it is incorrect or because the airflow from the blower is wrong or the coil is dirty so the airflow across it is restricted, letting it freeze up.

Basically, I would say your position is quite weak because of the time involved and the "temporary" gas cost argument above, so I would try to negotiate with the vendor for a cost reduction - which at this point might end up being a good deal for you if he just does not charge you for the current coil replacement - so $800 off the total in your favor. IF he balks, then you could escalate the issue by threatening a complaint about incompetence to the state contractor licensing board, bad Angies List and Yelp reviews, and potentially calling his bond if he does not make it right for you. This is likely to carry a lot of weight with him - a lot cheaper for him to just give you the refund or free second coil work and go away mad then risk a license suspension hearing or risk having his bonding company investigate him and potentially drop his coverage, or having the bonding company pay you a settlement (which they then go back against him for reimbursement of).

If you carried through on calling the bond threat you might or might not get a settlement with them without sueing (which you could probably do in small claims court) - they could be willing to make it a fight because of the issues raised above, or they might settle for a reasonable amount (roughly $800-1200 say) of the total in your question.

And of course, especially if you threaten action against him but probably anyway given the performance to date, I would be looking for a new HVAC vendor for your heating/cooling systems maintenance.

One issue not discussed is what the lubricant in the filter/drier looks like - it might be all scorched and burnt because your unit was running low on gas and overheating, damaging it. The gas passing through the compressor provides much of the compressor cooling and possibly causing compressor wear due to low lubricantion (which is circulated in the refrigerant gas so is not circulated through the unit is gas pressure is real low). If that is the case, might make more sense to

There are a number of previous A/C repair/replacement questions with answers in the Home > HVAC link, under Browse Projects at lower left, which address the economics and higher new unit energy efficiency issues and benefits of a new warranty on compressor and coils related to that decision.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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