Peterson accused of pumping up prices for furnaces, other repairs
Local consumers are accusing a Grand Junction plumbing company of charging too much to install new furnace and boiler systems when less expensive repairs are available, according to the Better Business Bureau, two online rating websites and a prominent area hospital administrator.
Time and again, consumers have complained that Peterson Plumbing & Heating offers to make repairs or replacements at a cost of thousands of dollars when a workable alternative would cost much less.
Mesa County Building Department records from a seven-month period that began Nov. 1, 2013, appear to support the claim.
Between Nov. 1, 2013, and May 31, Mesa County issued a total of 93 mechanical permits for furnaces and 38 for boilers. Peterson installed 25 of the 38 boilers and 42 of the 93 furnaces, department records show.
But, Peterson charged on average $2,200 more for furnaces and $2,100 more for boilers than the overall average cost for such equipment, according to the records.
The average cost of a furnace installation during the period was $3,420. Peterson, however, installed furnaces at an average cost of $5,675. The average cost of a boiler installation was $7,160, but Peterson installed boilers at an average cost of $9,273, according to the county numbers.
Nearly all of the equipment sold by Peterson during the seven-month period exceeded both the average and median prices for furnaces and boilers, including the furnace Peterson bought for itself in February at a cost of nearly $8,000.
Both Peterson’s owner and general manager deny the company pushes overpriced heating systems on unsuspecting customers. Every installation is different, they said.
Peterson technicians take as long as two hours to make sure customers are educated about their options before they make a decision, they said.
The cost of boilers and furnaces varies by manufacturer, and the size of the heating system to be installed also affects price, said Peterson General Manager John Burwell.
Because of those variations, the building department records do not allow an apples-to-apples comparison of systems, he said.
“It seems unfair to me,” said Burwelll, a longtime Grand Junction family man.
Peterson owner Kenny Chapman said buyers make the ultimate decision about whether to purchase a new system.
“The reality is that we operate from the highest level of customer service that we can,” Chapman said. “The customer makes the decision.”
A RECORD OF COMPLAINTS
Several people have registered anonymous complaints against Peterson on Yelp and Google websites alleging Peterson charged more than necessary, but Chapman dismissed those since they are not signed.
“I can’t fix a problem if people don’t call me to talk about it,” he said.
Burwell said buyer’s remorse plays a role in many cases, but several of the people who complained raised concerns after they obtained a second opinion, before they actually hired Peterson.
Matt Tulin, for example, chief financial officer for Mind Springs Health in Grand Junction, complained in April that Peterson offered to repair his air conditioning system at a cost of $2,500.
“I received an estimate for repair of my home residence air conditioner in the amount of $2,500,” Tulin wrote in an email to The Daily Sentinel. “I have owned several homes in my past, and as such, have needed repair of my AC units. Thus, I was astonished by this price of $2,500. Prudently, I called another heating and air company here. Their price was only $260.”
Tulin said he tried unsuccessfully to speak with a Peterson representative about his concerns.
Chapman said he was aware of Tulin’s complaint, but has not been able to reach him to try to resolve it.
Three similar complaints lodged with the Better Business Bureau allege Peterson urged customers to replace entire systems without fully explaining less costly alternatives, the BBB website said.
Two of the three complaints were resolved through the website with partial refunds, the BBB said.
According to one unidentified consumer, Peterson “did not fix the problem and charged me $199 and quoted me $2,800 for a damaged cable. Because of the amount, I called ... for another opinion and they were able to fix my problem in five minutes (for) $98.”
“(Peterson) estimated $1,700 to repair, but recommended that we get a new one for $4,000,” read another BBB complaint. “I called another company out two days later for an estimate on a new heater. The gentleman got here and said you don’t need a heater and pushed the reset button for the ignitor and the heater turned on and it was fixed — no charge.”
Mesa County must approve all furnace and boiler installations by issuing mechanical permits when a contractor completes work, said Darrell Bay, a Mesa County Building Department official.
The county works frequently with Peterson to arrange times for inspections.
“We have a very good working relationship with them,” Bay said. “They’re very polite. Very professional.”
Mesa County examines furnace and boiler installations to make sure the work is done according to code. If the work measures up, a permit is issued, he said.
Complaints about cost or alleged unethical behavior are outside the building department’s jurisdiction, Bay said.
“We deal with what the code says,” he said. “As for the financing side, or if you were told something that wasn’t true, we tell people, you have to go to court.”
The best way to make sure a consumer doesn’t pay too much for mechanical work is to “always get a second bid,” Bay said.