It was a hot day out here in sunny Las Vegas, and I finally decided it was time to have my A/C units checked. The A/C companies tell you to have your units checked every year, but I'm too cheap for that, especially in the first five years of the unit, when not much is likely to go wrong.
As always, I do some math on the issue.
Here in Vegas, it costs about $120 to have an A/C company come out and check your A/C system. We have two air conditioning units on our house and I haven't found a company that gives a discount on the second unit's inspection.
So, that's $240 per year in inspections. Multiply that by 5 years and we're talking $1,200 to test the systems over 5 years. In my mind, it's not likely for a $1,200 issue to happen in the first 5 years, so even if there is a $1,200 repair, I'd still break even.
Now I'm really banking that the warranty on the units will pay for any major parts should something go wrong in those first 5 years, and I don't really know if there's a clause on those parts that if they weren't expected yearly, such that their warranty would be void. My gamble is that they would be covered and I'd have to pay (as is typical) the labor to have them replaced (hence the potential $1,200).
So I guess I'm a gambler in that regard as I don't really know whether or not having the system inspected every year voids the warranty on the parts.
Anyway... back to my story...
During the inspection, after he finished checking the first unit, the technician said to me, "You should think about investing in 'Hard Start Kits' to increase the life of your A/C units".
I asked what a "Hard Start" kit was and he told me (somewhat incorrectly) that gets attached to the a/c unit on the side of the house and that it increases the power at startup (wrong) of the compressor, which in turn extends the life of the air conditioning unit.
This is a "Hard Start" Kit:Compressor Saver Hard Start Capacitor Model CSR U3
I asked him how much it would cost.
He said $450 per air conditioner and followed up with "its well worth it as it will save you thousands in repair costs as the unit ages".
As soon as I heard that line, I knew I was being sold something. That's what the kids in the sales business call a value qualifier. Use a big number to to make the sales price seem small.
I told the tech that I'd think about it and he went back and started on the second unit.
While he was out there, I Googled "Hard Start Kit" to find that the kit cost $40 and my jaw dropped. There was no way he was going to charge me $410 to install a $40 kit, was there?
When the technician finished the second unit I asked him, "How much do the parts on the Hard Start Kit cost? Is it really just $40 or did I find the wrong thing?"
He admitted, "Yeah, that's it."
I queried further, "So your company charges $410 in labor to install a $40 part?"
"Yep. Sorry. That's not me. It's insane, I know. I don't set the pricing."
I appreciated his honesty and we had a laugh. I then followed up with a sheepish, "How long does it take you to install it?"
"I can get it done in less than 15 minutes, especially on a newer unit like yours" he bragged.
As my brain nearly exploded, and with my eyes nearly popping out of my head, I blurted out the rough math that could not be contained in my head, "Four hundred times four... that's over $1,600 per hour in labor!"
I said, "I'm sorry but I just can't get screwed like that on principle, I need to do more research and decide if this is something worth 'investing' in".
And before he left, I had to ask one more question, "How much commission do you get on that $410".
"About 25 bucks".
I very jokingly replied, "You're company bills you out at over $1,600 per hour and you get $25. Is it worth it? How do you sleep at night knowing you are screwing people over like that?"
He laughed and said, "Well actually, I hate it. I know people are getting ripped off, but it's just what this industry is. That's what every company charges. I'm actually leaving this company next week anyway to go back into commercial work. Less guilt".
We shook hands, I wished him the best of luck and thanked him for his honesty.
Then I went back to my desk and spent an hour looking up "How to install a 'Hard Start Kit' in an air conditioner". It seemed pretty easy. Three wires and a couple of screws was all there really was too it.
But being me I needed to make sure I really understood what I was doing. After all, if I did blow something trying to install the kit, it would be incredibly expensive to get someone out here to fix my mistake... potentially to the tune of $1,600 per hour!
So I spent a few hours watching videos and learning about the "Hard Start" kit and how to install one.
I meant to give it a try, but something kept holding me back. Just the fact that they charged $410 to install it. There must be some real reason for that big of a labor charge.
A few weeks later, I noticed that the drywall on the corner of on of the vents in our kitchen was wet (actually I had noticed it for a year and finally decided to look into it). I looked up in the attic to try and see the issue from above and the vent was at the edge of the house where the roof angle of the roof gets really narrow so I couldn't easily get back to it.
Not really knowing how to navigate around the attic (there are no floorboards and the insulation is like a Wisconsin snowstorm). I decided to spend the $90 to have an A/C tech come out and inspect the issue (and of course I watched him navigate through the attic and I now know how to do it).
When calling for service, I asked for a "highly experienced tech" as I figured this might be a difficult diagnosis. They obliged and sent a senior tech.
I didn't know you could request that, but apparently you can.
The tech that came out was a really nice guy and I started asking him about the "Hard Start" kit. He confirmed that it was an expensive install for an inexpensive part.
Ultimately, I hit it off with him and ended up getting his cell phone number as he said his brother might know who I would call to get the fire sprinkler system leak repaired.
Ultimately he gave me some incredible pointers that gave me the confidence to install the Hard Start kit myself.
I wrote a "how to" article that includes everything I learned on "How to Increase the Life of Your Air Conditioner by Installing a Hard Start Kit".