HMS Home Warranty / Aggravated and disappointed
I am a design and maintenance engineer for the United States Navy. Part of my responsibilities is application engineering and maintenance of MIL Spec HVAC systems. I have also authored military performance specifications for several HVAC systems currently being used in the fleet. Below is my documented experience that I had my lawyer review for a malfunctioning heat pump at my newly purchased home.
12/29/08: After receiving a $1000 electric bill for December, I realized that the house was being heated exclusively with the electric strip backup heat and not the heat pump for almost a month. I called HMS to make a claim about my heat pump malfunction. The claim was made with an automated system, which gave me an HVAC contractor to call, the deductible amount, amount a claim number. I called Alvico HVAC and made an appointment for 12/31.
12/31/2008: (Because of the large window of time required to wait for the technician to arrive, I choose to have my mother wait for the technician so that I wouldn’t have to miss a day of work. Therefore, the morning events are based on a conversation that I had with the Alvico technician on 1/2/2009.) The Alvico technician arrived at my home at approximately 8:30am. He inspected my heat pump and found that the high-pressure safety switch had tripped and needed to be reset. He then inspected the evaporator fan air filter and found that it was dirty. He then reset the high-pressure safety switch, and restarted the system without an air filter. He observed the system run for 10 to 15 minutes. He left me a message at my work that the dirty filter had caused the high-pressure safety switch to trip. He left my home 30 minutes later at approx 9:00am. Later that day the temperature in the home became noticeable cold, and I noticed that the backup heat had been activated. I also noticed that the outside unit was not running. I continued to observe the operation of the system for the remainder of that day.
1/1/2009: My observations of the heat pump system had not changed from the day before and the house continues to be noticeably cold, the backup heat was running, and the outside unit was not running. The system continues to operate without an air filter.
1/2/2009: I contacted Alvico and spoke with the technician that had serviced my heat pump. He explained his findings to me, and we discussed the dirty filter. I informed him that before I purchased my home in November, a complete servicing was performed on the heat pump as a contingency of my contract, and that I had written documentation that the filter had been cleaned only a month earlier. I asked if he had taken pressure reading as part of his diagnosis. He told me that he did not see the need to hook up any gauges to the unit at that time or attempt any other normal diagnostics. I indicated to him that the heat pump had not been heating properly since he had left and inquired about him returning to continue troubleshooting the system. He admitted that the filter might not have caused the malfunction, since the system had now malfunctioned without an air filter installed. He advised me that he could not return until I requested a recall of my claim with HMS and they contact him to return. I immediately called the HMS claims department and explained the situation to the claims representative. The claims representative informed me that a report had not yet been submitted by Alvico and that HMS could not recall the claim until a report had been received. The claims representative made a note on my claim that my heat pump was still malfunctioning and that a recall had been requested. The claims representative stated that I should expect a call from Alvico during the following week to set up a return visit.
1/6/2009: After not receiving a call from Alvico, I called HMS claims and requested the status my recall from the claims representative. The claims representative indicated that the recall had been refused because the problem had been caused by a dirty air filter which was a maintenance issue and not a repair issue. I reiterated my story about the heat pump continuing to malfunction after the filter had been removed, and again requested a recall on my original claim. The claims representative spoke with her supervisor and indicated that the supervisor was not willing to recall the claim, and that I would have to submit a new claim for the same failure, and then pay another $100 deductible to Alvico when they arrive to continue troubleshooting the heat pump. I requested to speak with her supervisor.
1/6/2009: Later that evening, I received a call back from the HMS supervisor. After discussing my concerns, he agreed to recall the claim and have Alvico return to continue troubleshooting the malfunctioning heat pump. He warned me that if Alvico finds some other maintenance related issue that is causing the heat pump to continue to malfunction that I would be responsible for another $100 deductible paid to Alvico.
1/7/2009: I called Alvico and set up a service call for 1/9/2009. The Alvico representative also warned me that if the technician finds some other maintenance related issue that is causing the heat pump to continue to malfunction that I would be responsible for another $100 deductible. During that day, I noticed squealing and grinding sounds coming from the HVAC vents, and the floor in the bedroom and kitchen were rumbling and vibrating.
1/9/2009: I choose to take the day off from work, so I could observe the technician while he diagnosis the problem. A different technician from Alvico arrived and asked for details of the problems with the heat pump system. I described for him the sounds that I had heard from the vents and the vibrations that I felt in the floor. The technician indicated that the sound and vibrations are consistent with a failing blower motor. I also described how the heat pump system had been running non-stop but blowing cold air most of the time. The technician attached pressure gauges to the outside unit of the heat pump and started the heat pump system. We both observed a system fault and then the outside unit shut itself down. The technician researched the fault code and found it was an overpressure fault from the high pressure safety cutout switch. The technician’s supervisor called the technician during the diagnostics and requested an update.
(I found out from the technician that his supervisor had performed the original diagnostics at my home.) The technician told his supervisor what he had observed and also what I had mentioned about the blower motor making noises and vibrations. The technician also told his supervisor that he was concerned by the erratic behavior of the pressures and suspected a bad TEV (thermostatic expansion valve). The Alvico supervisor told the technician that he suspected the dirty air filter to have caused the blower problem and that maybe the system had been overcharged with refrigerant which was causing the system to fault on overpressure. After the call had ended, I discussed with the technician the possibility that the failing blower was not moving a sufficient amount of air to remove the heat from the evaporator coil allowing pressure to build up and eventually tripping the safety cutout switch. He agreed and informed me that even though he was not able to hear the fan noises at the time of his visit, he was going to recommend replacing the blower motor. He also informed me that, on the advice of his supervisor, he was going to remove some refrigerant from the system to relieve pressure that would keep the system from faulting on overpressure and run until the new fan motor arrived. I expressed my concerns that removing some refrigerant without knowing the actual charge in the system may mask the real problem and cause the system to run inefficiently. He agreed and assured me that after the new blower motor was installed the system would be recharged. I requested that he weigh out the charge so that we would have documented evidence of the actual charge before he removes any refrigerant. He told me that he did not bring his scale and could not perform the common task. After some refrigerant was removed, we watched the system run for approx 30 minutes without a fault. I then showed the technician the suspect air filter that his supervisor had removed during the first visit, and asked his opinion about the filter. He agreed that the filter would be considered 100% blocked because no light is able to penetrate the filter, but indicated that 100% blocked does not mean that air cannot pass through the filter. The blocked percentage is an indication of how often a filter is to be cleaned or changed. He agreed that since the filter was a washable black foam core filter with black polyester mesh on both sides, it is very hard to evaluate blockage with the light test. The color and construction of the filter makes it hard for light to permeate even when the filter is clean. He watched as I cleaned the filter with a water hose. After some effort, we were able to see light though most of the surface area of the filter. The technician left and the heat pump continued to run throughout the day and night without fault.
1/14/2009: I received a call from the HMS Supervisor, and he informed me that the report from Alvico for the 1/9 visit indicated the heat pump system had a bad blower motor caused by the dirty air filter, and under my contract HMS is not responsible to cover repairs for failures caused by insufficient maintenance. There was no mention of the possibility of a bad TEV in the report. I informed the HMS Supervisor of my profession, and that as part of my job is to maintain and repair HVAC systems. I continued by stating that in my professional opinion, since the heat pump system is approximately 13 years old and reaching the end of its serviceable life, that it is common for blower motors to fail after more than 10 years of use. The HMS Supervisor said that he was not knowledgeable about heat pump systems and had no information about the normal life span of a blower motor. The HMS Supervisor suggested that HMS might want to get a different HVAC contractor to inspect the heat pump system to get a second opinion about the blower motor. The HMS Supervisor informed me that he would call Alvico and discuss with both the Alvico supervisor and the technician my opinions about the blower motor and call me back later in the day. The HMS Supervisor called my back later in the evening and said that he was putting together a report about my situation for his supervisor to review. The HMS Supervisor said that he would call me the next day with the decision of his supervisor as to whether or not HMS would pay for the replacement to the heat pump blower motor.
1/15/2009: I received a call from the HMS Supervisor this afternoon informing me that he was waiting for more information from Alvico before he could finish his report. He would call me the next morning after he spoke with Alvico with the decision.
1/16/2009: I received a call from the HMS Supervisor. He informed me that he would approve the blower motor replacement to be covered under my warranty contract based on information he had received from Alvico. He continued by saying that he will not cover the blower replacement under the original claim, but instead he had taken the liberty of opening a new claim for this repair. He said that the original claim would be denied for the reason that the heat pump was malfunctioning due to a dirty air filter. The new claim will be approved for the reason that the heat pump is malfunctioning due to a failed blower motor. He also informed me that I would be required to pay Alvico an additional $100 deductible for the new claim when they arrive to install the new blower. He also stated that I would have to wait another week to allow HMS to locate a refurbished blower motor to supply to Alvico for replacement. The HMS Supervisor also informed me that Alvico invoiced HMS $700 for the fan replacement and $60 for the original visit for which the HMS claim had now been denied. The HMS supervisor agreed that since the original claim was denied, the service call should be considered between the Alvico and myself, and that I should only be responsible for $60 not $100. I mentioned to the HMS supervisor that, from my point of view, it appears that Alvico is collecting from the HMS customers the full amount of their deductible regardless of what service is performed or whether or not a claim is approved. Since I had never been invoiced for the original visit, I called Alvico to request an invoice. (The invoice that I eventually received was for $100, and not the $60 that HMS had been invoiced.)
2/6/2009: I again took off the day of work so I could observe the technician. The Alvico technician arrived in the morning and did not notify me of his arrival. He let himself into my crawlspace and replaced the blower motor while I was home unaware of his presence. After the replacement was complete, the technician closed up the crawlspace, returned his tools to his truck, and came to my front door to request the additional $100. I complied, and asked him if he replaced the refrigerant that he had removed during his earlier visit. He said that he had not check the refrigerant level, but the system appeared to be running normally and no further checks were necessary. He left immediately. I then went into the crawlspace to inspect his work. I found that he had left his trash and old fan motor lying beside the air handler and did not install all of the screws on the fan cover. The open screw holes were allowing cold outside air to enter the fan section through the screw holes to mix with the warm air used to heat the house. I installed the remaining screws that I found on the ground and cleaned up the trash he had left behind.
I was highly disappointed with both HMS and Alvico and would not recommend contracting either company in the future. After 6 weeks of arguing and another $1000 electric bill, my heat pump seems to be working. Unfortunately, I cannot replace the two days of work that I would not have needed to miss if the problem had been properly diagnosed during the first visit. At my pay rate, two days of leave is worth $600. In the end, I paid $800 for a $700 repair. I would have saved $100, an unknown amount of electricity, and a lot of headache if I had just called an HVAC contractor myself instead of HMS.
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