To ease the threat from gas, pre-emptive sales need to be made

Feature Story

Summer of ’05

By Lou Karl


I guess that all the service managers are having lots of fun these days. I said it before, how I envy you guys with all that action going on with the air-conditioning jobs. I am sure for all the hard work you are doing during this “steaming” hot weather, your boss will surely give you a bonus at the end of the summer.

Some of my recent adventures in damage claim investigations still continue to surprise me occasionally. A homeowner claimed that her air-conditioning company told her that the unit was struck by lightning and beyond repair. Sure, it was beyond repair, the sucker had rotted out due to being over 40 years old.

I still do not understand why some air-conditioning companies tell the homeowner that a device was hit by lightning. Most likely, depending on the insurance company, they may be covered for a lightning strike. I guess they feel that if God strikes equipment the insurance companies better cover it. But no matter how you look at it, it is still fraud in most cases.

It is easy for me to call the weather bureau to find out weather conditions in such and such an area on the date claimed. In this case, it was clear and sunny on the day of the alleged lightning strike. The problem was simply old age where most of the controls had corroded and no longer functioned. I guess people figure, what the heck, lie about it and see if the insurance company will pay for a new unit. Most insurance companies do not bother to pursue such false claims, they simply turn them down.

On another damage claim, a house burned down and it was claimed that the retail fuel oil company was at fault. The service tech did an annual maintenance check a week before the fire and the fire marshal condemned the oil company, stating negligence due to improper maintenance.

I went to investigate the fire damage and, wow, it was a mess. It was very difficult to locate the actual problem since the floor beams had fallen down. After some time of digging through the rubble with my hands, scratched and bleeding (but Lou always gets through), I found an electric clothes dryer burnt to a crisp. The clothes dryer was in the same room as the boiler. The heating boiler and hot-water heater showed no signs of a fire being started. It had to start from the electric clothes dryer. I called the fire marshal and after his re-inspection he agreed that the fire started from the clothes dryer. Perhaps I saved the retail fuel oil company from being subrogated by the insurance company. (Occasionally, I can be smart).

I recently had a damage claim for soot at a small church with classrooms in the basement. It was a large warm-air furnace firing 12 gallons per hour. The registers throughout were covered with soot. No question something was drastically wrong.

The furnace was dated 1950 and after testing the unit I found the heat exchanger to be burnt out. The draft changed from a minus-6 over fire to a plus draft off the scale when the blower came on. The burn-out was also visible by simply looking through the rear inspection door. The heat exchanger burnt through, causing soot throughout. All around the registers in the rooms were signs of black on the outlets and the ceilings.

The rooms were used to teach young people. There were lots of children’s drawings around and lots of children’s books. The pastor said to me that he did not realize that the furnace was dated from 1950 and he wished that someone would have told him that the life expectancy of a warm-air furnace may be around 20 years or so. He certainly would have considered replacement. I did believe him. A furnace dated 1950 absolutely should have been replaced some time ago.

Why did no one pick this up to send a salesperson to give him a price on a new unit? Now the pastor is considering going to gas because of the soot. Don’t you guys have on record the age of the equipment? The serial number would usually tell you how old it is. The oil companies should really send a salesperson around recommending replacement of these 40- or 50-year-old units. If you did this, I really do not think you will lose the account to gas.

Prior to this job I had a problem with a very old hydronic boiler. It was a steel boiler and you could see it was deteriorating. I suggested that the very old boiler be replaced and the owner said no one every told her about the life expectancy of a steel hydronic boiler. She said that she would call her oil company for the price of a new unit.

Must I do the selling for you guys, too? What are you worried about, losing the customer to gas? If so, don’t wait until the old boiler has a problem that turns the customer off and makes them switch to gas. Explain the advantages of the new extremely high-efficient oil-fired boilers and that gas-fired boilers cannot hold a candle to these units. Fuel oil will save you money in comparison to gas.

Do it right and you will not lose an account. Give your sales personnel an incentive, don’t chisel them on commission, treat your employees right and surely in return they will treat the company right. I always treated my installers and service techs reasonably and fair, and they returned it to me. It’s a win-win situation.


Lou Karl has over 40 years of experience in the fuel-oil industry, is a licensed oil-burner technician and a licensed insurance claims investigator. His e-mail address is kenviron@aol.com.



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