Heating and Air Conditioning Advice

Expert HVAC Advice With No Strings Attached

Cheap HVAC Maintenance

Creates More Problems Than It Prevents

an asteroid about to hit EarthComing to a heater and AC near you!

Advertisements for cheap HVAC''HVAC'' is an acronym for ''heating, ventilation, air conditioning''. maintenance are everywhere. Some contractors call it a tune-up. Others call it a checkup. Whatever they call it, they all promise the moon and the stars for an irresistibly low price. What they actually deliver may be more like the falling star from that blockbuster B movie. Read on to learn how cheap HVAC maintenance creates more problems than it prevents. Otherwise you might lose more than the cost of a movie ticket!


Contractors lose money advertising and performing cheap HVAC maintenance. Consequently, most do very little real maintenance. Instead they put their technicians on commission with a mission to sell. HVAC inspection is very important! Just don’t call on those ads.


The Promise of Maintenance

The Reality of Maintenance

The Money They Make

The Inspection You Need

The Freebie You Might Get

The Promise of Maintenance

Most advertisements for cheap HVAC maintenances, tune-ups, checkups, inspections, etc. advertise essentially the same thing: They promise to make your heating and air conditioning run better and last longer for an unbelievably low price. It may be advertised as a standalone service. However, once there, the technician may ask you to join some kind of membership program. With many such programs you’ll pay a monthly fee by debit. In return, you’ll get one or two maintenances per year along with priority service, discounted repairs, and possibly even a refund if something goes wrong after the maintenance.

One such postcard for an $88 Tune-Up boldly states, “We guarantee you will save at least $88 through savings on your utility bill.” Then they up the ante by saying, “We promise your heater won’t break down this winter or our service is free!” That’s right! For less than a C-note they’ll perform a 12, 24, or whatever point tune-up that will pay for itself in energy savings. If their tune-up doesn’t pay for itself, or if your heater breaks down the following winter, they’ll refund the $88. What’s not to love? As you might have guessed, an awful lot.

The Reality of Maintenance

Sometimes a technician simply can’t make a modern residential natural gas furnace, air conditioner, or heat pump run better or last longer by way of a cheap maintenance. That’s partly because most parts in residential HVAC systems are sealed. Oiling motors and changing belts are things of the past. Most thermostats can’t be calibrated. The list goes on. Some sealed parts can be inspected, but few can be maintained in any meaningful way.

Aside from servicing the air filter a few times per year, cleaning the burners and flame sensor every few years might be all the maintenance a modern gas furnace needs. Depending on the environment around the equipment, a modern air conditioner or heat pump might need even less maintenance. As a result, many cheap maintenances are really just cheap inspections. Inspections are important, but those ads make customers think they’re getting more.

While the two preceding paragraphs apply to many, they may not apply to you. Your particular HVAC system may need lots of maintenance. To find out, learn as much about HVAC maintenance as you can. Then hire the best contractor you can find. Then watch as they work and ask lots of questions. They may not like it, but that may be the only way to answer the question: Are you getting real maintenance or just a cheap inspection with an ulterior motive?

The Money That Motivates

It costs HVAC contractors $200 to $350 to attract just one new customer. That means contractors could lose over $200 on each $88 maintenance. They could, but they don’t. Many, if not most, technicians are on commission. And many contractors post their technicians’ sales numbers for everyone in their company to see. The results are predictable. Repairmen become salesmen. Coworkers become competitors. Top-selling techs make lots of money. Bottom-selling techs make for the unemployment line. Consequently, techs are highly motivated to turn cheap maintenances into expensive sales calls.

If they can’t upsell you during the cheap maintenance, they’ll try again later. Despite the cheap maintenance, and maybe even because of it, failures are inevitable. When your heating or AC does fail, they expect you to call them back. After all, you want the $88 refund that the postcard promised… right? They want you to have it! Many contractors who offer cheap maintenance also offer incredibly expensive repairs. For example, many postcard-pushing contractors charge >$1,000 to install this circuit board. It’s no wonder they promise a refund. It’s an $88 carrot that gets you whacked with a $1,000 stick.

HVAC Inspection Is a Must!

While I am warning you away from offers of cheap maintenance (or whatever their ad calls it), I’m certainly NOT telling you to neglect your HVAC system. Getting your HVAC system inspected regularly to determine if it actually needs maintenance is a must. A legitimate inspection performed by an honest and skilled technician could and probably should cost a lot more than $88, but it could also save your home and even your life:

  • On some inspections they may find the motor and/or coil blocked and clear the blockage. The motor pictured in the link could have failed prematurely were it not for the inspection. Replacing it would have cost over $1,500.
  • Or they may find drain lines disconnected and connect them. The linked example was corrected before it had a chance to do thousands in damage to the nearby hardwood floor.
  • Or they may find a broken exhaust vent like this and repair it. A broken exhaust vent has the potential of causing serious injury and even death.

My guess is that 20 to 30 percent of legit inspections result in those kinds of improvements. Another 20 to 30 percent may result in lesser, but still worthy, improvements. The rest may only get peace of mind. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, “50/50 Chance of Improvement!” isn’t exactly a great sales pitch, which is why most contractors promote their cheap maintenances with propaganda.

Final Thoughts

Some utility companies offer FREE inspections. This utility doesn’t inspect air conditioners or heat pumps. However, they do inspect things that some HVAC contractors don’t, like gas ovens and gas water heaters. Their technicians may not be as good as a genuinely skilled tradesperson, but at least they’re not on commission. So it might make sense to call an HVAC contractor for an inspection from time to time and call the utility company at other times.

Don’t assume everything written here applies to you. Your HVAC equipment may need more frequent maintenance than the equipment I’ve seen locally. However, you can assume what industry insiders readily admit in this article. What they call “service agreements” (and what I call “regularly-scheduled sales calls masquerading as maintenance”) are busyworkFrom the article: ''Service agreements are typically thought of as busywork, or a method to fill up technicians’ time during the off seasons. While this might be true...'' designed to generate “pull-through work”From the article: ''We know we're going to generate maybe $2 of pull-through work per $1 of preventive maintenance...'' so that HVAC contractors have steady income.From the article: ''The beauty of service agreements is in the... consistency that comes with them, both in the form of loyal customers and a steady income.''

Finally, some have complained that I’m making gross generalizations about cheap maintenance and the contractors who peddle it. There are exceptions, but those exceptions don’t disprove the rule. To contractors I say, “Cowboy up and prove yourself exceptional.” To everyone else I say, “Don’t take anything written here to extreme and avoid Michael Bay films at all costs!”