St. Louis, Mo., May 24, 2011 –
Customers of a Columbia, Mo., heating and cooling contractor say the company billed them for unnecessary and overpriced repair work and then refused their requests for refunds.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) suggests caution when dealing with Columbia Heating & Cooling
. Company president is Clarence L. Morris
, who also operates Quincy Heating and Cooling
in Quincy, Ill. The BBB suspended the BBB accreditation
of Columbia Heating & Cooling last month after a series of recent concerns from consumers and others questioning its business practices.
An independent expert in the heating and cooling business from the St. Louis area said the prices charged for some replacement parts were seven times higher than the typical retail price. The expert also noted that the company charged three separate consumers for almost identical furnace repairs during one four-week period this past winter. The expert said the chances of three consumers needing identical parts replaced would be “highly unlikely.”
“Consumers who invite contractors into their homes to make repairs have a right to be treated fairly,” said Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO. “Unfortunately, it appears that this has not been the case with this company.”
A schoolteacher from Boonville, Mo., said she paid Columbia Heating & Cooling $1,400 for repairs to her furnace in January, but when the repairs failed to fix the system, she contacted a second company. A representative of the second company told the woman that Columbia Heating & Cooling had misdiagnosed the problem. “Not only was the problem not addressed, but unneeded parts were replaced at (exorbitant) pricing,” the representative wrote in a letter.
The second company made the repairs for $250 and noted that if it had needed to make the same repairs as Columbia Heating & Cooling, its price would have been about $310, less than a quarter what Columbia had charged.
An engineer with the University of Missouri said he believes Columbia Heating & Cooling severely overcharged him for parts and double-billed him for labor in January. The St. Louis heating and cooling expert who reviewed the man’s bill noted a charge of $290 for a flame proving rod that normally retails for about $43 and an igniter assembly and harness billed at $350 that should retail for about $190. The customer said that Columbia Heating & Cooling also charged him $237 for a case of furnace filters that he did not want. The company later agreed to pick up the filters and remove the charge, but has refused to make other refunds.
A Columbia city official said he interceded earlier this year on behalf of an elderly Columbia woman after Columbia Heating & Cooling charged her $337 for an evening service call and diagnosis. The official said no repairs were made during the service call. He said he spoke with Clarence Morris who told him the charge was justified. The official said another consumer told him that Columbia Heating & Cooling tried to convince him to spend $8,000 to replace a defective furnace. A second company ultimately made the repairs at a charge of $400, the official said.
The company’s Yellow Pages ad advertises “100 percent satisfaction guaranteed.” Its website, www.columbiaheatingandcooling.com
, says the company is family owned and family operated by third generation heating and cooling specialists. “ ‘Prompt professional service. That’s our mission statement,’ ” the site says. The website lists an address of 7301 Rogers Road in Columbia.
Morris, in responding to a letter from the BBB, said the number of complaints involving his company is small compared to its total number of customers. In the past 36 months, Morris said his company has helped about 4,752 different customers “and although we try to make everyone happy, it is impossible to keep everyone happy especially when you deal with thousands of different customers a year.”
Morris said that company technicians always get a consumer’s approval on repair work and pricing before the work is done. Morris defended the company’s pricing, saying: “If we were working out of the trunk of our cars and were not licensed, bonded or insured and we did not have high credentials we could have lower rates like most others working in our area.”
The BBB offers the following tips to consumers doing business with a heating and cooling contractor:
- Make sure you are dealing with a reputable business. Determine whether the company is registered with the secretary of state, holds a license to do business in your community, and whether it is bonded and insured. Get a company address and contact information. Ask technicians for their credentials.
- If you have time, try to speak with others who previously have done business with the company.
- When you call to make an appointment, make sure you know exactly how much the contractor is going to charge for an initial house call and diagnosis. If the price seems too high, look for another contractor. Also, before you agree to any work, understand exactly how much will be charged for parts and labor. Take time to check around to determine whether those prices are fair.
- Be wary of any company that tries to sell you a new furnace or air conditioning unit when you don’t believe it is needed.
- Contact the BBB for a BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-645-3300, email@example.com