Large HVAC Company takes on Home Inspector

Submitted by DavidAndersen on Thu, 10/16/2008 - 17:26.

This past week I encountered another one of those conflicts between contractors and home inspectors. The situation puts everyone on the spot but particularly raises concern between the client and the real estate agents with whom you must work with.

The following is a letter which I addressed to an HVAC contracting company after a request for repair was declined by the company because they felt they knew better and did not wish to address the client's concerns/issues. Beyond the home inspection process of reporting, this is an example of how we follow up for the benefit of the client and agent involved.

It is my opinion that the customer is always right to question and their concerns should be addressed regardless of cost. In this case the camera contractor was too busy to address the big picture of a health issue that was being affected by HVAC equipment that they had installed.

I will post a follow-up responses/replies associated with this letter and allow the mechanical contractor a vehicle to explain their decision.

I am writing to advise you of a situation that I encountered this week concerning an employee of Lee company.
First, I'd like to tell you about myself a little so you understand my background. Currently I am an infrared thermal imaging thermographer conducting building inspections. I previously was a general contractor. I have a degree in HVAC system design and worked for many years as a diagnostic service engineer making HVAC equipment fit the application.
I was conducting a building inspection for an engineer purchasing a new home. During the inspection we conducted radon testing on the property and found elevated concentrations of radon. The test results was marginally high and a decision to definitively install a mitigation system was under consideration. During the inspection we found several things that are associated with elevated radon conditions in a building which we recommended to be repaired prior to further testing. If we could correct some of the minor contributing factors it was possible that the elevated levels would drop below the EPA "action level" requiring mitigation and save my client significant money.
Several conditions were directly related to HVAC. Such as, failure to install combustion make up air after the basement had been remodeled and airflow blocked from the HVAC equipment by the use of weather sealed doors. In the same mechanical room, a return air register filter grill was installed on the side of the furnace at the level of the floor (within 10 feet of the combustion burner of a gas-fired water heater and the gas-fired furnace). Air leakage at refrigeration pipes where they entered the air conditioning coil on the HVAC equipment located in the attic. And finally a condensate drain installed on an upflow gas furnace HVAC system (which was installed by your company) without a trap in the drain line.
When pointing out the situation to the engineer/homebuyer we removed the cleanout tap and observed the large volume of air being discharged from the supply air system of the unit. This is the amount of air being discharged to the outside of the house. Besides being an efficiency concern, whereas conditioned air is being discharged to the outdoors and must be made up by drawing unconditioned air around window and door openings, this condition will (depending on the tightness of the building envelope) reduce the atmospheric pressure within the house contributing to the infiltration of radon gas.
Someone in the real estate transaction contacted Lee company concerning installing a trap and possibly other concerns with the HVAC systems. I received a phone call from a Lee company employee. This person indicated he was in the HVAC business for 19 years and that he has never installed a trap on a positive pressure or HVAC system/gas furnace. He indicated that with this Goodman manufactured equipment, if a trap was installed on this positive pressure system condensate water would flow into the air-conditioning coil and flood the gas furnace below causing all kinds of problems. The engineer/homebuyer and myself questioned why a positive pressure drain would flow backwards if trapped. Why would water not be forced through the drain line with the positive air pressure applied? We agree that positive airflow passing across the outlet of the drain line could entrain condensate water like a pneumatic paint gun draws paint up the feed tube through high-pressure air passing in front of the nozzle. However, this condition would also be associated with an improperly designed and installed trap (such as a running trap at the same level as the drain pan). If the trap were properly designed, the pressure required to lift the condensate water up the drain and back into the furnace would be overcome by the dimensions of the trap.
The Lee Company employee insisted we were wrong and refused to look at or make any modifications to this equipment.
As a result of your employees actions, several adverse conditions occurred concerning your company.
1. Numerous other HVAC repairs (some of which I listed above) that were going to be performed by my client, will not be offered for service to your company.
2. A service contract to service the three HVAC units in the house will not be offered to your company.
3. Two of the three HVAC units in his home will require replacement in the near future. Your company will not be considered.
4. Future repair of this equipment will not be offered to your company.
5. Referral to your company by this high profile engineer will not occur in the Corporation in which he is employed (which is where I received my referral for this job).
6. Though it is not legal for me to refer repairs to a specific company, I will recommend several of the local HAVC service companies, Lee company being one of them when the client requests this information. I base these referrals on positive feedback from former clients and real estate agents. In your case, I remember receiving a good referral from Rita M. Patel (a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Barns, Brentwood).
When my client asks me for a referral, I generally advise them that I cannot refer a specific company due to legal issues as well as the fact that I cannot keep up with changes in those companies. I do not want to refer someone who did a good job last week and can no longer perform well this week. However, I always advise my clients of companies and manufacturers that perform poorly in my opinion and relate specific circumstances to support my opinion. This case is one of those circumstances. Seeing as we can not work together professionally, I may no longer recommend Lee company.
We were not pointing a finger at your company for doing something wrong, however you did do things wrong by installing flex duct from a garage into the living space of the house and may have made the modifications to some of the other equipment. Have you caught the local media buzz about fire barriers between the garage and living space of the house concerning 1/2 inch versus 5/8 inch sheet rock? This is not the free media coverage you want for your company! We were simply asking for some very inexpensive repairs to be made. In the process you probably would've picked up a substantial amount of other repairs, installation and annual service. All this for the cost of a PVC trap!
As a real estate consultant I often encounter biased opinion from specialized contractors as they feel I don't know what I'm talking about because I am perceived as a generalist (which I am for the most part). In this particular case I'm not a generalist, I am an expert in HAVC and thermal transfer being certified and building science, radon mitigation and infrared thermology. My client has an engineering degree and though not specifically related to HVAC, he does have an understanding of fluid dynamics.
Being a generalist we look at the overall picture of certain conditions. In this case the effects of HVAC installation practices and improper modifications resulting in the elevated levels of radon gas in a building. I pointed this out to your employee and he quickly replied that he was also experienced in radon mitigation and that he had done scientific testing to prove that the amount of air leaving a three-quarter inch PVC drain pipe under pressure would not affect the atmospheric pressure within a building structure. Well, we all know that if you take the air out of the house and it is not replaced without resistance, the atmospheric pressure will drop. The stack effect in a house has significant adverse conditions, and its pressure is derived from a very insignificant temperature rise. Natural convection has much less force than induced/mechanical convection. Your employees statement was not derived from an actual assessment of the site conditions, just something off the cuff to keep from having to install the trap.
I'm not here to point fingers at people for doing something wrong. I am here to facilitate a repair of a condition that is important to my client. All too often contractors refuse to do the most simple adjustment we request just to save face. This often results in contractors being fired from contracted jobs and in your case the loss of substantial HVAC repairs and future service.
In my business, I like to know the things that positively and adversely affect my company. This is why I am taking the time to advise you of the situation at hand. It is unlikely that you can recoup from this loss, but maybe you can avoid it in the future.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
David A. Andersen


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