those american home sheild blues

Music: Camper Van Beethoven: Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (1988)

Here is a story I’m sharing based on my own notes, beginning in May. I worry I may be suing someone soon, so I had to write this narrative anyway. I thought I might share, for all you home owners out there—or those contemplating a home warranty.

In the summer of 2009 I noticed water dripping from the ceiling in my guest bathroom. The water was coming from one of two air-handlers in my home (the blowing part of the air conditioner). When I opened the access door just above the tub, about five cups of water poured out onto my head. When I bought my home in 2005 it came with a home warranty from American Home Shield (AHS). I called the company, and for a $50 fee a repairman was sent out.

Since 2005, I have paid my annual $500 home warranty bill for two reasons: (a) my home is old and falling apart; and (b) I am not Mr. Fix-it. In fact, I’m a complete idiot when it comes to repairs; I cannot even repair my toilet. I’ve often thought the warranty was worth my money for the piece of mind. I recently got a new stove from the warranty (although it took forever). The air conditioner incident, however, is making me question whether continuing my AHS warranty is worth it.

Last summer AHS sent out WCU Services to make the leak repair. The owner, Ron Pettit came out to survey the situation. He first said that my filters were dirty, which encouraged condensation and therefore the leaking water. He cleaned the filters and the condenser with the hose (something I do every other month or so) and went on his way. Of course, the leak continued and he came back out. On the second visit Mr. Pettit concluded my drainage was clogged, and using an air gun he blasted a bit of air in the drain to force out debris.

I woke up the next morning to find Niagara in my guest bathroom—well, not Niagara, but certainly a steady trickle of water into my bathtub and more than a trickle into the ceiling. I had about $1000 worth of ceiling water damage. AHS then called out Jones AC Service to fix the problem Mr. Pettit caused. The Jones repairman concluded that Mr. Pettit simply blew debris to one end of the drain piping, which caused the back up and therefore the flooding. He installed a brand-new drain (it empties into the bathroom sink), which solved the problem. I wanted to take Mr. Pettit to small claims court to repair my ceiling and the water damage, but Jones AC was unwilling to testify on my behalf—nor would the technician agree to put his diagnosis in writing. After checking with some lawyer friends, a $1,000 repair job wouldn’t be worth my time in small claims, so I gave up (the ceiling still needs to be repaired).

Fast forward, then, to May of this year, when I noticed the familiar drip-drip-drip coming from the ceiling of the guest bathroom. I called American Home Shield again for a repairman (I am not being sexist here; in five years not once has a woman been out to my home for repairs). Initially they sent out their own company on June 5th (ARS), but after waiting all day for the person to arrive at 5:30 p.m., he refused to work on the air conditioner. It is a double-condenser unit, and they will not work on those.

I was livid, because when I phoned this in I made sure the customer service representative promised me she would find a company that would service dual compressor units. Perhaps because of my ire, I was contacted by Ashley Hudson, a “case manager” at AHS who was designated to help me. She was frequently rude in her tone on the phone, but she vowed to help. So I took her at her word.

Ms. Hudson then secured Dave’s Heating and Air a couple of days later. Dave himself arrived a week later to survey the damage. He said that he thought the air handler needed to be replaced. The coil was probably very dirty and old, and the drip pan was probably rusted-out. He explained that the current air handlers are “too big” to fit into the space I currently had. He said they would have to re-do the ceiling to fit the handler into it. He said they would rebuild the access door. He didn’t know if AHS would cover it, but that was his recommendation.

Dave seemed nice. He sweated a lot. He asked me about my dog, Jesús. We talked about dogs. I liked Dave.

A couple of weeks later his technician Robert came to install the new handler. They asked to get into the attic. After many hours, the handler was installed. I was surprised to see they did not tear-up the ceiling. Nor did they replace the access panel. I was upset. Robert explained that they were surprised, but they were able to get the handler in the smaller hole. I asked why they didn’t replace the access panel, since the handler was bigger. He said he was told not to. He also presented me with an unexpected bill for $200 for a “disposal fee.”

I phoned Dave to ask about my bill, and to inquire why my panel was not replaced as I was told. “Wendy” responded, curtly, that it was my responsibility to have “carpentry” done. I explained Dave said he was going to do this. She said she would have Dave call me back.

Dave phoned back. He explained that AHS was to contact me about replacing the panel door; they would not cover the cost. They never called me, I said. He said the cost was $100 for the door, and then $100 would be for the disposal fee.

So, I paid Robert $100 for the disposal fee.

I called Ms. Hudson and inquired as to why I was being presented with a $100 bill. She said she did not know, as my policy covered any disposal fee.

I called Dave back and explained that I thought we had a “failure to communicate” (dunno if he got the Luke reference). I said that I paid $100 for disposal, but that it was covered by my warranty. Dave said he was sorry, as he was just confused and would return the check (he did). I said I would pay him to install the correct panel access door.

Unfortunately, after Robert left I noticed the air handler was still leaking water. He was back a week later to address the problem and install the door. The door was installed. Robert explained that the leak was caused by a bad fitting, which he replaced. This was a Friday. That night, I noticed it was still leaking and phoned Dave’s Heating and Air.

The next day, Robert was back with a new helper. He re-routed the draining pipes and said he thought he had fixed the problem.

He asked me about my dog, Jesús. I wasn’t buying it this time. Even the love of dogs . . . (great band name, no?).

On Sunday, the next day, I noticed the unit was still leaking water. On Monday I phoned Ms. Hudson back. “Do you think we should get a second opinion?” I asked Ms. Hudson patiently. She was not happy. “Well look,” I said, “they’ve been out here four times, and yet the problem continues. Do we want this done right? Do you want to keep dealing with me?”

So, Ms. Hudson secures the third company of the summer, Aire-Serve. When they phone to make an appointment, I tell them that I am not going to rearrange my workday until they can promise they work on dual compressor units. The scheduler says she’ll need to check. She calls back: nope, they don’t work on those types of units. I phone Ms. Hudson, but she’s gone for the day. I phone customer service. They secure Shelton’s Pride.

Shelton’s Pride comes out a week later. The technician is confused. It looks like, he says, that the air handler is a 1.5 ton machine, however, the condenser outside is 2 tons. “They installed the wrong size air handler,” he says. Uh-oh. There may have been a problem with the drain, but now the problem is condensation: the coolant is too powerful for the air handler, and so water is condensing on the pipes and dripping into the ceiling. Shelton’s Pride recommends replacing the condenser to match the handler.

It starts to come together: Dave’s Heating and Air originally was going to install a two ton handler to match the compressor, but then installed a 1.5 compressor so that they wouldn’t have to replace the ceiling and panel door. In other words, they cut corners and hoped it would work.

I emailed this message to Ms. Hudson:

Date: Wed, 14 Jul 2010 17:34:46 -0500


From: Joshua Gunn

Subject: July 14th Update

Cc: ahswarranty

Hi Ashley,

I’m following up on our conversation around 4:20 or so today. Shelton Pride’s technician Casimir came out for some time and investigated. He was very polite and great to talk to.

Casimir said the following:

1. I have a two ton compressor.

2. The newly installed air handler is 1.5 tons.

3. The air handler has no TXV valve.

In a nutshell, he said, he thinks the compressor is too big for the air handler. He is not certain however, which is why he called it back in. One or the other needs to be replaced, he said, so that their tons match up.

Dave’s Heating and Air, in other words, installed an air-handler too small for the compressor. Now, when Dave did his initial estimate he said they would have to tear up the ceiling and replace the panel door, because the new handler would be too big. Yet, when they installed the handler it fit and they didn’t replace the door. This makes me, of course, suspicious. I think had the right size been installed by Dave’s in the first place, we would not be in this predicament.

Casimir said he has never worked on a unit like mine before. He said that he believes what is happening is that the installed handler is too small to take the amount of cold Freon that was being pumped up to it, and so it was chilling the pipes and water is condensing. He said he believed the plumbing was the best that could be done (for drainage), so the issue is either going to be the condenser or the handler.

I’m trying to be as clear as I can in these notes. I apologize if my account is confusing; I think at this point it’s good to have everything we discuss in writing.

Now, the company you arranged to come out, AIRE-SERV HEATING & AC just phoned, but stated that they did NOT service dual-compressor units. Unfortunately, your office was closed. So, I called the regular service line and Bernice helped find a new company. They have assigned American Air, who apparently will try to schedule for Friday.

I’m sorry you have to keep dealing with this issue. I’m hopeful American Air will be able to properly diagnose the problem and have a solution for fixing it. I also very much liked working with Shelton’s Pride. I thought their technician Casimir was quite knowledgeable and helpful.

Thank you,

Josh Gunn

This message receives no response.

American Air came out a couple of weeks ago, and the technician just kept rubbing his forehead, obviously not happy. His story confirmed that of Shelton’s Pride: the handler is 1.5, but the compressor is 2 tons. Therefore, condensation is the culprit. Either the handler or the condenser should be replaced; both should match.

I phoned Ms. Hudson twice, and sent an email query. I received no response—but then had to leave town for Tacoma and Vancouver.

While in Tacoma last week, I got a call from American Air: they wanted to know what AHS said. I reported I have heard nothing for AHS. They said they would call and figure it out.

Tuesday morning I received an email that Dave’s Heating and Air had been assigned a new service order—but there were no details. I phoned Ms. Hudson to ask about what was going on, but got voice mail. Later that day I phoned again and asked for Ms. Hudson. After a ten minute hold, I was informed that “your case is closed, Mr. Gunn.”

“Uh, but I still have a leaking AC. How is it closed?”

“You’ll need to call customer service. Case Management is no longer dealing with this work order.”

So I called customer service, but the wait was like 20 minutes. I was out of town and was supposed to be exploring Vancouver. So I phoned Case Management once again. And by some miracle, guess who answered? That’s right, Ashley Hudson. The rude Ms. Hudson.

I took notes during the phone call, and could produce the back-and-forth dialogue fairly accurately—but I’m tiring of writing this narrative. Here’s how the conversation went, in a nutshell: “Why has my case been dismissed? Can’t you help me?”

“Your case is closed, Mr. Gunn. You will have to call customer service.”

I vowed then to keep Ms. Hudson on the phone as long as humanly possible, just to make her day. I kept asking why my case was closed. She eventually responded, “we don’t have to tell you. That’s the way it works. We are under no obligation to discuss this case with you.” I expressed concern that Dave’s Heating and Air was assigned to me again, but she was having none of it. She had been dealing with me for two months now, and was following some sort of protocol, but she would not budge. “This is not personal,” she said. I responded that it was, that her tone was frequently rude, and that I had taken off seven days of work to deal with this issue and still had a broken air conditioner. She never apologized, for either the situation or her tone.

Two hours after my chance call to Ms. Hudson, however, I received an email that American Air had be assigned to the case. Apparently Ms. Hudson had something of a heart, and switched out Dave’s for this new company.

On the way home yesterday, however, American Air phoned to say that they had been assigned the work order in error and would not be coming out.

This morning I phoned AHS customer service and got Valencia. Valencia was a bit hostile, but nothing like Ms. Hudson. Valencia put me on hold for twenty minutes (thank god for speaker phone). She came back on to report that she was speaking with Ashley Hudson and getting the details of my case.

“Uh, but Ashley said it was out of her hands and she was no longer dealing with the case.”

“Ashley is a personal friend of mine, though,” disclosed Valencia. And so on hold I was again for another six minutes.

When Valencia returned to me, she began by suggesting that AHS was not going to do anything because I did not allow Dave’s Heating and Air access to the attic, and it was my responsibility to do so. I said that Dave’s technician Robert used a ladder to get into the attack, and was up there. She then said that it was my responsibility to cut a hole to allow for the new sized air-handler. I responded that no one said I had to cut a hole, that Dave himself said he would cut a hole.

Valencia then put me on hold. She came back to report that Dave’s Heating and Air was now refusing to work on the unit. She said she would need to call me back, as now she had to contact the “contract department”—basically, their legal services. To be able to assign me a new company to fix what Dave’s company messed up, she had to get legal clearance.

And so, y’all are up to date. I have an AC that is thankfully working upstairs, but continuing to produce water. I’ve taken off of work seven days (or at least waiting around the house for seven days as I worked from home). I have had four companies this summer on the job, two last summer.

An important aside: in the state of Texas, one can record telephone conversations with the consent of only one party. I have a telephone recorder. I consent to all subsequent phone conversations with AHS. Stay tuned, I plan to broadcast.

5 thoughts on “those american home sheild blues

  1. This sounds eerily similar to my experience with AHS vendors over the past year. One plumber last year charged us $1300 of which AHS only covered $500. When we had another plumber out to look at the job, he said his total bill would have been $2-300 for the same work. The AC tech they sent two weeks ago added a pound of refrigerant and pronounced the job done. Then it got to 90 in the house over the following weekend. The second guy from the same vendor (the owner, as it happened) said we needed a new condenser coil but he refused to do the covered work ($400) unless we also agreed to $1600 in uncovered (and unspecified) “code upgrades.”

    What I have discovered is that, after an AHS-approved vendor diagnoses the problem and collects the service fee, you can use your own service provider to perform the covered repairs and they will reimburse you at AHS contract rates (just ask for cash-in-lieu). We ended up having the AC repaired by an outside company and paid out-of-pocket for the difference, but we saved well over a grand and got better, more trustworthy service.

  2. Yikes. I stopped renewing my home warranty after two years (despite the fact that I knew I would be needing a new fridge and hot water heater and that i have had to purchase these) because of issues just like (though not as serious as) these. The annual cost as well as the fees for getting someone to come out to look (and not being able to have a choice who that was) just weren’t worth it. Turns out that if we had kept the warranty we would have spent just about the same amount on the replacement appliances as we did without the warranty…

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