Was a $14,000 install of a boiler and indirect overcharge?

Discussion in 'HVAC Heating & Cooling' started by wombat, Dec 30, 2011.

  1. wombat

    wombat New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    Bellevue WA
    I am just visiting my 88 year father and his caretaker and I found out a local plumbing company in East Brunswick NJ charged him $14,000 to install a Weil McLain Ultra 155K boiler and a 50 gallon indirect with argo board valvue ans circulator (per the invoice basically a boiler and indirect water storage). They also had to run a new flue out the side of the basement since they told him the chimmey was bad. However, they did were able to just connnect to the prior pipes and it was not a tight install. Unfortunately, it does not seem like my father got any other estimates so I have no way of knowing if this is a fair price. It seems like an extrodinary amount of money to me. They gave him a 5 year warranty on parts on labor and 10 years on parts.
  2. Just call 3 contractors in New Jersey stating you just moved there and need rough estimates. Hard to say how many hours were involved, any surprises, cost of materials.


    Sounds high but lots of variables can alter/raise the cost of work. Buyer's remorse after the sale though has fingers pointing both directions on this situation.

    Make sure you explain to your 88 father that you must be included in all financial transactions over $500.00 from here on out. Problem solved.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,636
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote; Just call 3 contractors in New Jersey stating you just moved there and need rough estimates. Hard to say how many hours were involved, any surprises, cost of materials.

    They will NOT give an estimate without seeing the site, and once there they will know that you are just "price checking" so would normally give a "low estimate" to make you feel real bad about how much you did pay for it. I tell people, including one boss I worked for that it is ridiculous to try to figure out how much a job "SHOULD HAVE COST", after it is done, because we do not know what the original conditions were, what problems if any were encountered during the installation, nor any of several other factors which could have affected the final price. Once it is done, the only reality is the final bill, and unless there was an original estimate and the bill exceeds it, you might as well pay it.
  4. wombat

    wombat New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    Bellevue WA
    Yes, I keep telling him to consult me first that but it doesn't register. He's very trusting in his old age. If anybody does not believe that there are businesses that take advantage of senior citizens then they were born yesterday. I don't believe they had anybody else give them an estimate and the way the contract was written up it is a $14,000 price flat in advance makes me a little concerned that they just wee just seeing what the traffic would bear. The company is Gold Medal Plumbing. I had a HVAC guy here say it was more along the order of a 7K job but he is not a plumber and this was much more of a plumbing job. They left a electric pump right on the floor and two of the flo valves had small leaks and were rusting when I got here. They replaced one and cleaned the rust off of the other one. Then the guy left the system in the mode (on the furnace) so that when we returned it would not shut off and the temperature got up to 81. I noticed that the times and dates had not been set in the furnace computer properly. And there is no bracing on either the hot water heater or the furnace ( I guess there is no concern for earthquakes here in New Jersey?). I will check with the city is required here. On the plus side they are very responsive to service calls and the service has a 5 year warranty parts and labor. The other issue is that they failed to fill out the paperwork for the New Jersey utility energy rebates which would have been $600. By the time I got here and found out about it, was too late to apply for the rebate.
  5. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,636
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote; If anybody does not believe that there are businesses that take advantage of senior citizens then they were born yesterday. I don't believe they had anybody else give them an estimate and the way the contract was written up it is a $14,000 price flat in advance makes me a little concerned that they just wee just seeing what the traffic would bear.

    That has ALWAYS been the case, maybe starting with the Holland Furnace Company in Michigan during the 50s, or they might just have been the most recent one at that time. There are "gypsies", driving "Cadillacs with chrome trailer hitches", who do this constantly.
  6. BadgerBoilerMN

    BadgerBoilerMN Master Hot Water Mpls,MN

    Messages:
    303
    Location:
    Minneapolis
    First, it is water under the bridge.

    Second, an "estimate" leaves room for all kinds of up-charges whereas, a bid implies a certain fee for a certain amount of work/product. If your father received (regardless of age) what
    was promised and paid what he agreed to, then this is what is known as a contract.

    Installing boilers and indirect water heaters is one of the most skilled of all trades, involving tin-work, wiring, burner/boiler, gas pipe-fitting and plumbing. Those who ply this trade successfully, often charge for it.

    As for "gypsies", I think the comment is meant to be disparaging, though for the life of me, I can't imagine anyone who has actually replaced a boiler, doubting the
    worth of his peers, lest jealousy clouds his judgement or least his sense of decorum.

    I always propose flat rate/guaranteed pricing on all my radiant floor and boiler replacements for the very reasons this case makes evident. Folks (including many
    "professionals" do not know what it should cost to perform competent boiler/hydronic work. Since the cost of living, labor, and overhead vary widely, no one
    can comment, with any accuracy, the appropriate cost of this or any other job, without the benefit of knowing the conditions of the job before it was started and after it was finished.

    I take special care of the elderly as most people in the trades do, but would not presume to ask a man if he would like to call "Sunny" before signing a contract.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2012
  7. pipehacker

    pipehacker New Member

    Messages:
    191
    Location:
    Iowa
    I don't knpw whether $14k for a boiler is cheap or expensive, but I am concerned that your father is at risk for financial abuse. You may want to talk about this with a lawyer and consider whether a guardianship and conservatorship, the use of two signature checks, or other precautions is prudent. The next time it could be $140k for a roof.
  8. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,636
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote; As for "gypsies", I think the comment is meant to be disparaging,

    If you do not know about "gypsies" then I guess you have NEVER heard of the William's clan, (and they are REALLY gypsies). The "Cadillac with chrome plated trailer hitch" is one of their trademarks. They are notorious for bilking seniors by selling worthless or even dangerous services. For example, they "reseal" an asphalt driveway with used crankcase oil, but charge as if it were a proper topping material. IF there is any "scam" that can be used on seniors, or other gullible civilians, they have probably done it. They are also always "Doing another job in the neighborhood, and we have materials left over so we can use it at your house and save you some money".

    He might not call "Sunny" before signing the contract, but he SHOULD call at least a couple of "somebody elses" to compare prices before signing it.

    You are thinking everyone who installs a boiler or heating system is ethical. The way Holland Furnace worked in the 50s and 60s, is that they would go door to door in the wintertime, asking to perform a free heating system check up, especially looking for elderly people. Once the got into the basement, they would take the furnace apart and then tell the homeowner that the unit had cracks in it and they could not safely put it back together, but they DID have a replacement unit in the truck and could install it before the house got so cold that the pipes would freeze and break. Under those conditions, the person did NOT have time to get other estimates because the heat had already been off long enough to chill the house down. The units ALWAYS cost two to three times what the going rate was, and FEW of the systems actually were defective. It took a long time for the various Attornies General to shut them down.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2012
  9. Dana

    Dana In the trades

    Messages:
    2,841
    Location:
    01609
    For the record, it's the Williamson clan, not Williams, and are culturally-linguistically Scotch-Irish "Travellers", and really NOT Roma (gypsy). During the Renaissance there was Roma immigration to Scotland (refugees from the Spanish Inquisition) but remain to this day distinct from the celtic-rooted Travellers such the Williamson clan, speaking a Roma-English creole, etc. It's not a subtle distinction despite some common lifestyle-cultural characteristics, and their habits, tactics, & beliefs diverge greatly.

    But Travellers are more into the quick & dirty scams that can be done in an afternoon or at most a day, not something as involved or having as much financial & time risk as a mod-con install. "Sealing" driveways with used motor oil for a quick buck is one of their standards, often good for taking a whole neighborhood's worth in a single afternoon at zero cash outlay.

    Given that this boiler by itself runs close to $4K f.o.b. the distributor's yard, and the raw cost of indirect is on the order of a grand, it leaves quite a bit of fat left over for installation between cost of goods & $14K. Mod-cons can't be vented into a standard chimney and the side-venting is a legit relatively low-cost (or should be) solution, usually made of PVC. It also sounds like quite a lot of boiler for a "typical" East Brunswick NJ house, unless it's a breezy mansion with single-pane windows and major air leaks. They probably didn't do a meticulous heat loss calculation if they didn't provide one. (They probably went with the output numbers of whatever it replaced.) Odds are that at the design condition (+10F outdoor temp is the 99th percentile for New Brunswick) the whole house heat load is under 50K, about a third the output of the Ultra 155, probably less. Move the same house to Winnipeg or Edmonton and it might still be under 100K. It has to be pretty big and/or leaky to really NEED a boiler that big. Right-sizing the boiler probably would have knocked a grand off the hardware cost, but if the plumber was marking up the hardware the incentive to go smaller didn't exist. It may be a gold-plated company used to dealing with upscale clientele and priced accordingly, but there's a very real chance that they were seizing an opportunity here. Demanding 100% up front isn't how it's done in my neck of the woods under normal circumstances. Taking payment up front the financial risk was entirely your father's. Many contractors are willing to cut a discount for cash-in-advance customers.

    NJ has no earthquake resistance requirements enshrined in code the way the left-coast of the US (rightly) does. It's not that earthquakes never happen there, but it's not an active fault zone- the Poconos & Catskills are some of the oldest (read "most stable" ) mountains in the world.

    I can't imagine with the cost of money and labor that a project like that would cost as little as $7K, and $10+ isn't out of the question. If they mark up the hardware 20% for handling & delivery they'd already be at ~$6-7K before paying the installer's wages & insurance, and marking it up is legit if they assume the financial risk. But $14K up front sounds like gouging if it was a simple boiler swap.
  10. BadgerBoilerMN

    BadgerBoilerMN Master Hot Water Mpls,MN

    Messages:
    303
    Location:
    Minneapolis
    Whether they be "Travellers" or gypsies "roma", it is a poor, and insulting, simile. It is hard to believe a fellow tradesman would be so ready to cast aspersions.

    I must of have missed the dimensions of the home in question. Whereas it might be safe to assume the boiler is over-sized (an unfortunately common practice among all HVAC professionals), it is a leap, given the facts, or lack thereof.
    Having been a sworn police officer, I am also aware of various confidence games and related fraud. Our industry is not immune to criminal activity but, is certainly not a common perpetrator of such crimes either.

    The facts point in the opposite direction. Buy the shear numbers of failed heating/plumbing contractors, it is clear that they do not (as a whole) overcharge by habit, training or innate criminal intent. No, more likely, they oversize
    equipment out of innocent ignorance. Since the cost of the boiler itself is a mere fraction of the cost of a working system (what you actually need and pay for) the size of the boiler, is the most important aspect in terms of
    performance and much less a factor in terms of cost. I have in fact lost jobs because mine was the only properly sized boiler (following a proper heat load). As is evident in this thread, the facts are turned against the informed.
    The guy with the biggest boiler (not the biggest price) should be scrutinized.

    The bulk of my business, here in Minneapolis, is condensing boiler retrofits (Weil McLain Ultas included) and the cost of replacing an old cast iron boiler and conventional water heater with a high efficiency condensing boiler and
    indirect water heater, will often run in the range you describe if installed by a professional, licensed, competent contractor.

    It is always good practice to solicit three proposals before buying a new boiler or furnace. A deposit is not unusual but full payment in advance is.

    Unfortunately, what passes for "research" as is pertains to condensing boilers if of little value by any standard. Boiler systems represent a very small (less than 2% of the US residential heating market and thus makes for a somewhat
    esoteric subject with little evidence and even less expertise from which to draw. Suffice it to say, that we often spend thousand so dollars re-piping failed or poorly performing condensing boiler based systems every week. If your father's
    Weil McLain Ultra and indirect were installed to factory specs. in a safe and professional manner he was not swindled but perhaps could use more attention as all have attested.

    As an aside, I would not have much luck reviewing my 84 year old father's expenditures, more especially after the fact.

    Best of luck.
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