Air Handler & Rep Woes


Hi there,
We recently decided to switch from our old oil furnace to an electric system. After doing some research and conferring with the technician from a company that does both oil and heat pump systems, we went with an air handler that we were assured could heat our home *without* the heat pump...the logic here was that at a later point (when we could justify the additional $$$ cost), we might install a heat pump and if so, would already have the air handler in place.
The problem is that the air handler cannot effectively heat the house. Our house isn't huge, but it's evidently too large for the two heat strips that provide the electric heat through the air handler. It takes several hours for our house to climb to 66 degrees!
In talking with the installing company about this, the service manager stated simply that we only purchased half a system and we shouldn't have expected it to effectively heat our home, and that the rep told us as much but we insisted on doing it anyway. Squeegee?? That's not how the sales rep represented the situation at all. We were completely clear with the rep that we were not interested in purchasing a heat pump and he was clear that this air handler would still do the trick. Why in the name of all things holy would we purchase a system that was more expensive than a regular electric furance solution knowing it wouldn't work?? Yeah. Right.
Now the company is balking.
So my questions are:
1. Does anyone out there have just an air handler heating their home? We have a Lennox cvx32MV 024/030 air handler with variable speed fan and even heat strips (EvenHeater).
2. Anyone have any idea if additional strips can be added to this model? Manufacturer's website is woefully lacking in info...
3. Anyone have any ideas on how to get the installing company to make good on their word and guarantee? We think the rep just wasn't well informed, but is now fibbing to cover his behind. Any suggestions? They are a well-respected company with a great reputation and nary a complaint to be found...not sure how to help them do the right thing in this case...
Thanks for the help!
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sandraDEE wrote:

1. That would be an electric forced-air furnace. But only "emergency" heating strips in a unit intended as the air handler for a heatpump system would be unusual, certainly.
2. I would assume the dealer you've got should be able to answer that question. I don't know the particulars of the system you name, but typically heat pumps are supplied with sufficient heat to make up for the shortfall expected from the heatpump itself in some extreme percentage of time depending on the location and expected low temperatures and duration. In really cold climates, they may include as much or more so that at very low temperatures the heatpump can be turned off as it is off virtually no use under those conditions. Not knowing your climate, what would be reasonable is impossible to guess.
3. What does the contractual guarantee actually state? I'm guessing it covers workmanship and the usual length of time warranties and little if anything specific about the actual time to achieve a fixed temperature at a given outside temperature, etc. What, specifically in the contract did they not fulfill? That is essentially all they're obligated to provide as well as, of course, workmanlike installation, etc.
What do they propose to do? More to the point, what do you think the right thing for them to do is? Supply more than the contracted heating for no cost? I don't think that's necessarily reasonable.
Did they do a load calculation to size the heating requirements and does this unit meet that? If they didn't, that's a bad sign and indicates they didn't do their job well. Did you ask how the heating capacity you were buying compared with that of the existing furnace? If not, you didn't do your job very well.
I think you will have to work with the company and figure out what techniclly _can_ be done with the exsiting system to supply sufficient heating and I think unless you can show they did a load calculation and missed it by this much you really have very little leverage. Even then, while I might expect them to contribute some labor, I think it only reasonable that you should pay for the additional capacity.
Since you were adamant that you didn't want the heat pump unit itself, that _should_ have raised flags on both sides here -- one, that they were providing a very unusual system on their end, and you should have realized you were doing something quite unique on the other side and done a lot of questioning about how this would manage to provide as much as or more heat as you removed.
Again, unless you have the stuff in writing as to what was promised, I don't think there's much you can rely on, unfortunately. That they have a good reputation as probably means you have a reasonable chance of negotiating a fair settlement, but I don't think "fair" here will be likely to include them biting the whole bullet. It may be best in the long run to actually go with the heat pump addition even if that's not a thought you wanted to entertain at the moment. That would depend on the house and the location, but if heat pumps are pretty much the standard there, that would imply it's not an area too cold for them to be effective. If, otoh, that's not the case, then options may become more sticky. Also, of course, what's best option in the long run depends quite a bit on the electric rates you're paying.
Sounds like a tough situation, but unlike any I've heard before, precisely...
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Thanks so much for the detailed and informative reply! I posted this in the HVAC forum thinking it would be more appropriate there and got such a vitriolic profanity-riddled response that I was a little worried to even check back here!
I think you pegged the contract - although I believe it also states that if the intended system does not perform as expected, it would fall under the service guarantee.
We also think it should have raised some red flags for them. We weren't sure about this as a stand-alone unit, but the sales person was certain it would work well with just the two heat strips for heating as well as our old oil furnace did. We had told him that we wanted to go with a standard electric forced-air furnace, but he assured us that this air handler, although usually coupled with a heat pump, should be able to provide adequate heat to keep the home comfortable.
What we would ideally like is for them to cover the labor associated with getting this thing to work as they said it would, while we would cover the cost of the additional capacity (larger unit, more heat strips, etc.). That seems fair to us, as we would gladly have bought a larger unit if the salesperson has recommended it - but he felt this would do the job fine. Unfortunately, he has evidently told his service manager that he told us it wouldn't work well and yet we chose to do it anyway (this is what is so maddening -we never would have agreed if he hadn't assured us it would work without the heat pump).
At present, the company is sending out a more experienced tech to see if heat strips can be added. Then the negotation over solutions will likely begin. We do not in any way want something for nothing...we're just frustrated that the sales rep assured us of something that was evidently not the case, and that having convinced us to make a choice based on that assurance, now won't stand by it. We did a bunch of homework on this and had so many options and questions that nothing seemed better than anything else...so when we asked and he confirmed that this would work as a stand-alone unit while we saved up for an eventual heat pump install, we foolishly trusted him. Now he's implying that he cautioned against it but that we insisted. Oy!
Today, the service manager asked why we thought a half-system solution would work and said that it raised red flags for him and that he discussed it with the sales rep before the install. We told him that we trusted the salesperson...and asked why they advocated selling it to us if they knew it wouldn't work. He didn't have any answer to that aside from advocating that we spend another $5000 and get the heat pump.
As for the heat pump question...we're in the Pacific Northwest, and in the winter, the temps do drop below the level at which a heat pump evidently functions effectively...but at this point, likely faced with having to either get an electric furnace (what we should have done initially) and eat the money we've already spent, or spend another $5K for a heat pump and rewiring, we'll likely go the pump route, but not with this company.
Thanks again. I appreciate the honesty and respectful response.
dpb wrote:

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You already received the technical information you needed, but the problem now, of course is the resolution. We already know the salesman is sleazy and not to be trusted. The service manager seems to know what he is doing, but does not have the authority to make good on what the sleazy salesperson did.
First, you have the legal contract. You bought X product. The company installed X product. As long as it works to the specifications of the product, they have fulfilled their legal obligation.
Next, though, is a moral obligation. As a homeowner, you probably have limited knowledge of heating systems. That is why you call in experts. Just as you'd call in a doctor for a gall bladder operation, the heating contractor is who you call for getting your house warmed up. Had the service manager made a phone call to you, this would not have happened. Flags were there, but either ignored or taken away by sleazy salesman.
Who owns the company? Can you sit down with him, one on one, explain the situation and ask for help? If he is reputable,, concerned about what his sales people are doing, he may be willing to assist in making things right. I doubt he is going to give you a $5000 heat pump, but he may do it at cost, much less than the guy down the street. At least try to talk with him before you burn a bridge that you want to use a few years from now.
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sandraDEE wrote:

I agree w/ Edwin -- I don't think you should walk away from this installer just yet. Particularly if it is a relatively small outfit, I'd really make the effort to talk w/ the owner or senior partner if at all possible.
Surely there was some sizing calculation done? Ask to see it and how the salesman sized the unit -- if there's no answer or an unsatisfactory one, that's a big plus in your favor in my opinion. If they're as reputable as your other research seems, that should be a real indication to the upper level guys they sales rep you had didn't do you right.
I'd also echo the advice I just gave to the guy ranting on the Sears installation -- follow this up with a formal letter outlining the the entire transaction from your perspective. Don't be belligerent or accusatory, just factual as you understand the facts. You might outline what you think would be a fair solution as well, although before doing this you just might want to talk to an attorney for advice. I'd probably suggest that step anyway simply to get some input on what you should do to ensure any rights you do have. This is one that probably won't come to litigation, but a little up front research can save a bunch of grief later on. It's much easier to over-gird-up-the-forces than to try to recover later if should have.
Good luck, but I'd really try to work something out with this bunch rather than going elsewhere from what you've said...
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dpb wrote:

Yup. Try to talk to the owner. The service manager is a hired hand; the owner may not know what is going on. Explain calmly what you were told, ask him/her for a solution.
Second, and if you really want to escalate, track down the factory representative for the equipment you purchased. This can be hard to do, as they usually *only* deal with dealers. But stay on it, and, if you can't resolve it with the owner, talk to the rep. The factory doesn't want bad word of mouth, and they will tell the installer to make you happy.
This *will* piss the owner off, but you are likely to get results.
--Yan
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There is really not much difference between an electric furnace and an air handler. The only electric furnaces I see here(San Antonio Tx) are 30+ y/o. The main difference between the two is that the A/H has the evaporator coil built in. There are a number of houses here with air handlers with straight cool A/C rather than heat pumps.I do not recall ever seeing a house with electric heat and no A/C, (A/C is not a luxury here) so most houses with no nat. gas available use heat pumps, as the only additional cost is the difference between the cool only and heat pump outside unit. S me of the people who choose to have electric heat w/o a heat pump(as opposed to those who buy a tract house that already has that setup) say that they do not use the heat enough to justify the difference, and when they do use the heat is cold enough outside that a heat pump would not put out that much anyway. How many KW do you have now. I am not that familiar with Lummox, but adding heat strips or replacing the heat strip assy with larger ones is usually not big deal. The biggest problem is having adequate power to run them. I am sure you don't use/need much a/c in your area, but if you do add a heat pump, you will have it, and it sure is nice to have on the days you can use it Good luck Larry
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sandraDEE wrote: ...

It came to me last night--I'm thinking the guy ended up spec'ing the unit based on the sizing calculation of the heat strips for the installation including the heat pump --- _NOT_ on the basis of it being the only heat. If, as you say, he was a less-experienced guy, he may have thought he fooled their software to do the load calculation w/o the heatpump input but didn't and now he's in a bind...really would push hard to see how they did the element sizing for the bid 'cause it's pretty clear you're way under what would be the results of a correct calculation.
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