Heating and Air Conditioning Advice

Expert HVAC Advice With No Strings Attached

Marketing Tricks

HVAC Contractors Use to Get You to Call Them 

a salesman selling HVAC“Advertising is based on one thing…”

The HVAC''HVAC'' is an acronym for ''heating, ventilation, air conditioning''. industry has been taken over by marketers. From the multimillion-dollar operation down to the mom-and-pop shop, they all sell and sell hard. The service side of the HVAC industry has suffered most of all. It seems like everything they do is orchestrated for maximum manipulation. Am I being immoderately melodramatic? Read on to learn the marketing tricks HVAC contractors use to get you to call them and judge for yourself.


Contractors use the first six tricks below to get you to call them. They use the last one as an excuse to call you. What they’re really using are well-worn wiles that will wear on your wallet.

The Seven Tricks

The Cheap Trip Charge

The Free Service Call with Repair

Same Day Service or It’s Free / On Time or It’s Free

No Extra Charge for After-Hours Service

“We have highly-trained technicians!”

“We’re highly rated on…”

Cheap Tune-Ups and Membership Programs

 The Cheap Trip Charge

The cheap trip chargeThe trip charge goes by many names including ''service call'' and ''diagnostic fee''. It typically includes driving to your home and diagnosing your HVAC system. is bait. It’s a money loser with a motive. A skilled HVAC technician’s total cost of laborThe total cost of labor includes the technician’s wages, benefits, and payroll taxes. It also includes the cost of office staff, the service vehicle, and tools. can be over $100 per hour. Factor in an additional $200 or more in customer acquisition cost, and a $49 or even $99 trip charge doesn’t make sense. It was $49 thirty years ago! On the other hand, think like a marketer and it makes perfect dollars and sense: It turns out the cheap trip charge is a loss leader with a terrible twist

Retailers sell loss leaders hoping their customers will buy more. Contractors need not hope. Their technicians can twist the diagnosis any way they want. Few customers know enough to argue. So if technicians want to exaggerate the diagnosis a little to cover the loss on their artificially cheap trip charge, then that’s what they’re going to do. And if they want to exaggerate the diagnosis a lot to increase their commission, then that’s what they’re going to do.

What’s worse is that most contractors’ cheap trip charge only includes a simple diagnosis, but of course they don’t tell you that until after they show up. Consequently, many complex diagnoses end up costing a LOT more than the initial fee they quoted. For example, it’s very common for an HVAC contractor to diagnose low refrigerant for $49 or whatever, only to then quote an additional $1,000 to find the refrigerant leak.

The Free Service Call with Repair

The free service callA ''service call'' or ''service call fee'' is sometimes called a ''trip charge'' or ''diagnostic fee''. It typically includes driving to your home and diagnosing the problem with your HVAC system. with repair is a fantasy. Most HVAC contractors just raise the price of their repairs to cover the cost of their supposedly free service calls. For example, instead of charging you $200 for a service call and an additional $600 for an expensive repair, they charge you $800 for the repair and then claim their service call was free. Since most customers have no idea what expensive parts and repairs should cost, they believe the service call was indeed free. Now ask yourself…

What if the only “repair” your HVAC system needs is a new fuse? You probably have some idea of what that should cost. If the service call really is free, what’s a reasonable price for a few minutes of labor and a cheap fuse? $100? Contractors would lose money on that and other minor repairs if that’s how it really worked, but of course they don’t. All they have to do is conjure up an expensive problem; “fix” the conjured problem; change the fuse while you’re not looking; and the myth of the free service call lives on.

Same Day Service or It’s Free / On Time or It’s Free

Same day service is a promise that only a marketer would make. That’s because, when a heat wave or a cold snap hits, there just aren’t enough HVAC technicians in the world to take care of everyone at the same time. When that happens, customers who don’t get same day service can invoke the “or it’s free guarantee”. Now ask yourself…

What’s “free”? The trip charge.The trip charge goes by many names including ''service call'' and ''diagnostic fee''. It typically includes driving to your home and diagnosing the problem with your HVAC system. What’s not free? The repair! And few customers say no to the repair even if the price is absurd. That’s because the last thing most customers want to do is wait for another contractor to come out while their home is boiling or freezing. Contractors know this, so they dangle the promise of same day service in front of you while staying mum about their exorbitant repair prices.

The same logic applies to their promise to be on time or it’s free. If they end up waiving the trip charge, they just don’t care. To paraphrase one high-priced consultant’s thoughts on the matter: “When you’re charging $400 per hour and 500% markup on parts, who gives a darn about the lousy trip charge?” That’s darn right. If they can’t get you coming, they’ll always get you going.

No Extra Charge for After-Hours Service

If you have a 9 to 5 job, would you willingly work evenings and weekends “at no extra charge” to your employer? Of course not. You’d want overtime. Contractors are no different. Even if they say they’ll work after hours at no extra charge, it’s probably not going to happen quite the way you think. Call a “no extra charge contractor” for an after-hours appointment and you may get one of these two responses.

A) You call and they say, “That’s correct. We don’t charge extra for after-hours service. However, we don’t have any appointment available until next week. How does that work for you?”
B) Or you may very well get someone to show up after hours for a suspiciously low price. It doesn’t happen consistently because there’s a severe shortage of technicians. But when it does happen, you can be sure they’ll charge extra for working after hours. They’ll just do it stealthily.

That stealth is called “flat rate pricing”. Marketers use it to hide their contractor’s labor rate. Many contractors claim to not even have a labor rate, but they all do. $400 per hour or more is common. Throw in a parts markup of 100% to 500%; add in the fact that technicians are trained to push new equipment and useless service every chance they get; and I’d say some flat rate contractors are charging you after-hours rates for every hour of the day.

“We have highly-trained technicians.”

You’re on hold waiting for Full-Page Ad Heating & Air Conditioning Incorporated to pick up the line. You hear cheerful music playing in the background while a prerecorded propagandist informs you they have highly-trained technicians on call to serve you swiftly through snow, rain, heat, and the gloom of night. And you know what? The highly-trained part is true! Many contractors offer paid training programs. The focus of their training? Why, sales, of course.

You may have multiple degrees, but marketers do too. So, when it comes to HVAC, they’re smarter than you. And one thing these PhDs in Deceit have learned is that, of all the employees contractors have, it’s their technicians you trust the most. That’s because techs are supposed to be problem solvers. They’re supposed to help you. As such, contractors have dedicated inordinate resources to training their trusted techs how to lie, cheat, and steal sell.

On the flip side, the only technical training some technicians get is by way of trial and error in the field. If you’ve ever had a tech spend hours on the phone with tech support trying to diagnose your equipment, then you know what I’m talking about. Sales training suffers no such neglect. It’s a win-win scenario. The boss wins bigger sales. The technicians win spiffs and commissions. And you? Well… someone has to pay the winnings.

​”We’re highly rated on…”

It seems like most ratings systems have become a pay-to-be-placed shite show. What’s worse, they’ve become very good at guiding their users to paid results without them knowing it. It wasn’t always so. For example, years ago any given category on Yowl''Yowl'' is my nickname for a famous four-letter review site that starts with a ''Y''. might have had one to a few businesses that paid to be shown first and, as you can see, they were clearly marked. Paid and organic results were listed in a fairly clean and easy to understand format.

Now Yowl’s listings are a chaotic mess. A 9/23 search for HVAC yielded 27 listings on page one, but only 19 unique contractors. It’s hard to tell, but the first 16 listings and the 27th are sponsored. The 10 listings in between are labeled “All hvac results”. That implies they’re organic. However, 2 of those listings are repeats from the sponsored section and all 10 are enhanced in other ways. In other words, every contractor on page one paid Yowl for something.

Most Yowl users won’t make it to the bottom third of page two, but that’s where you’ll finally find four contractors who didn’t pay Yowl for anything. One of them is a one-man show who’s been in business for 20 years. He has 751 reviews with a 5.0 average. Some Yowl users might find that listing compelling. Apparently Yowl used to agree because years ago he was often found near the top of page one. Now he’s the 48th listing near the bottom of page two.

Cheap Tune-Ups and Membership Programs

Cheap tune-ups are also bait. HVAC contractors lose money on them unless their on-commission technicians upsell, which of course they do. The cheap tune-up’s primary purpose is to concoct work for the spring and fall slow seasons. They worry about those seasons year round. So, no matter when you call, they’re probably going to ask you to sign up for their twice-a-year tune-up program. Call such a contractor for a repair and you might hear this:

[Begin Parody]

“As you can see, this trumped-up repair costs the righteous amount of $2,500. However, for a small monthly fee that’s almost impossible to cancel, you can join our exclusive Maxed Out Maintenance Club! Club members get a 10% discount on all of our overpriced services and two Totally Tubular Tune-Ups every year. But wait, there’s more! Club members also get monthly spam and priority service. We always prioritize our cash cows for slaughter, er, service.

I get nervous when customers watch me work, so please don’t. We don’t want you to learn that there ain’t much tuning happening on most tune-ups. However, if you must watch, I’ll put on a cool dog and pony show where I vacuum the heater, buff the air conditioner, and fine tune your HVAC system my sales technique. That’s right! You’ll get a twice-yearly opportunity to help me earn some serious commission on silly services that I’ll sincerely suggest.

You’d really be doing us a solid because we need make-work during the off season, except when we don’t. In that case, we may conveniently forget to schedule the tune-ups you’re paying monthly for. You’ll be doing yourself a favor as well because you’ll think your system is running better after the tune-up. After all, perception is reality. And I’m perceiving me a fat commission check!”

[End Parody]

So maybe you wouldn’t hear that, but if they thought out loud then that’s exactly what you’d hear. It’s been proven that club members buy more and shop around less than non-club members. What’s NOT been proven is that the typical residential membership program benefits customers in a meaningful way. So, unless you really want a 10% discount on overpriced upsells, don’t join any HVAC club that would have you as a member. ;^)