Any HVAC Experts here? Heat Pump Issue ~ American Home Shield Home Warranty Headache

Discussion in 'The Coffee Shop ~ Chit Chat' started by ChevyFan, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. ChevyFan

    ChevyFan The Sheriff Staff Member 5+ Years 1000 Posts

    I'm looking for answers from someone who knows their stuff, please don't hijack this thread!

    So, my mother-in-law's HVAC system has been on the fritz, it's a heat pump unit for the 1st floor in her house.


    • It's been tripping the circuit breaker a lot for this heat pump unit.
    • It's not heating unless we have it switched to EMERGENCY HEAT, and that's the ONLY way that it's heating.
    • Plus, when it was warm recently the AC didn't cool the house down (it was 80+ just a few days ago).

    So, she's got a home warranty and she called and the tech came in from a company that we'll call "FFF Air Conditioning & Heating" and he looked at the system and said that there was a shorted out wire on the secondary heating unit, so he fixed that up and now that was working and all is good.

    When he was here it was one of these rare days where it was 25F outside, so that makes it difficult to really test it from my perspective.


    No matter what, shouldn't the system work as a whole so that we never have to flip on emergency heat, unless we know that a problem exists with the primary heat pump? (again, PLEASE do not answer this unless you are qualified to answer.)

    The tech said that we should be running on Emergency Heat, mostly because we have an old mercury thermostat and it was 25F outside. However, this system used to work without having to do this, so why should we start now? If the thermostat isn't working properly, then they need to replace it!

    There are more questions to ask, but I would prefer to PM someone directly who has the answers.


    - - - Updated - - -

    Wow, maybe I should open this up to more people. Lol.

    The first floor heat pump is not working, the heat pump in the 2nd floor is working fine and we can get the temp up to over 75F and downstairs it's in the 50's or 60s F. The guy was not exactly the smartest tool in the shed ... ugh.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2014
  2. BRB46

    BRB46 Rockstar 100 Posts

    Emergency heat is usually electric heating elements. It has nothing to do with the compressor part of the system. The fact that in cooling mode it didn't cool tells you the compressor side is not working. If it's tripping the breaker then the compressor is likely shorted. A heat pump is the air conditioner basically running opposite with a switch over valve. They are not very effective under 32F degrees. Hope that helps you out. Sounds like you need a better HVAC tech to look at the system. The T-stat may very well have crapped out. You may need to find one specifically for a heat pump system. Heat pumps are not very popular in the north east so I don't know what is available for those.
  3. ChevyFan

    ChevyFan The Sheriff Staff Member 5+ Years 1000 Posts

    She's got a service contract with American Home Shield, so they determine who comes out.

    Yeah, I understand how the system is designed, but how's it supposed to work?

    Is it true, or is it not true, that you are never really supposed to ever flip it on "emergency heat" unless there is a major problem with the system.

    Is it true, or is it not true, that the system is supposed to slowly bring on the secondary heating as it gets colder outside, until it's so cold outside that it essentially shuts off the primary heating (heat pump) and then runs 100% on the secondary heating (electric).

    - - - Updated - - -

    Also, it's now up to about 35 F outside, is it possible to test the cooling function of the unit with it being so cold outside?
  4. BRB46

    BRB46 Rockstar 100 Posts

    With a properly working stat it should be automatic. Emergency heat is just that. Emergency. when primary fails. Not sure you have multiple electric circuits in that system but what you have is on or off. As with any electric element. Not sure it is a separate circuit for emergency heat.

    - - - Updated - - -

    It might kick on. If you were using gauges to look at pressures in the system they would be off from normal due to it being so cold but it should run. Coolers and freezers run with it this cold.
  5. ChevyFan

    ChevyFan The Sheriff Staff Member 5+ Years 1000 Posts

    Yeah, it's been running full-blast downstairs for 2 hours and it's 67F right now, some of that heat is from when I made a pizza and the oven heated up the kitchen at least.

    The upstairs temp was 60 F and in 45 minutes that heating unit moved it up to almost 80 F.

    That proves that a heat pump, without switching it on emergency heat, CAN heat up a space. The upstairs is about 1000 sq. feet and the downstairs is about 1500 sq. feet, but it's got a larger unit.
  6. BRB46

    BRB46 Rockstar 100 Posts

    Is the compressor running for the first floor system.
  7. ChevyFan

    ChevyFan The Sheriff Staff Member 5+ Years 1000 Posts

    The warranty company is called American Home Shield, and we called them for two things for my mother-in-law's house.

    You want the Backstory on this?

    My mother-in-law has had a lot of health issues over the past few years and in December she had a slip-and-fall where she broke her leg very very badly. She spent 2 weeks in the hospital and rehab on her leg, then came to stay with us. We checked on her house during the time she was with us (and it's been a few weeks) and we noticed that it didn't seem like it was getting very warm, but we didn't spend all that much time in the house, so we figured it was fine. Plus, it's hard to tell the temp.

    Well, looks like the heat pump has gone out and it's ONLY the secondary heating source that's providing heat for the downstairs area. I had the heater on full-blast today and right now we are struggling to hit 60 degrees. Only when I made a pizza and the oven increased the temp did it get warmer downstairs. It's not really even seeming to add any extra heat when it's on emergency heat.

    So - Where Are We At Now?

    So she put in a ticket with AHS last week and they couldn't get anyone (cheap enough) to come out until this morning when they sent out a company that will remain nameless. Their tech basically didn't really fix the system, he said that the everything was working properly, and I really do believe that's not true. That's why I was getting at very specific questions on here. He said that essentially we could not really heat up any room when it's below freezing outside, unless we flip the heat pump onto emergency heat. According to every single source I found online, including Zillow's Blog, "
    Should You Set Themostat to 'Emergency Heat' in the Winter?"

    So, now after about an hour or so, the upstairs is now pushing 80 degrees. nice and toasty! It's COLD COLD COLD downstairs. Both of the thermostats are set to the same temp! Neither of them have emergency heat flipped on, so clearly the downstairs unit is not working properly.

    Edit: I just talked with a HVAC guy who said that some systems don't have an automatic switch between the heat pump and the backup heat. I don't know if that's true, but if it is true then it would make some sense then why it's not getting any warmer ... of course, it's still not really doing anything with emergency heat, and I think the emergency heat seems to max-out below 70 degrees. (I just checked and this guy I talked with gets bad reviews online, so who knows if he knows his stuff?) ... I did some more reading and this is called "Heat Pump Staging". (This is why I need an expert that I can trust)

    American Home Shield Customer Service

    I just had to hang up on someone for the first time in years! Seriously, I called their main customer service line and that took about 30+ minutes of waiting on hold and they said that they would send the same people back out. That's not cool, they don't know what they're doing. So they set someone up for tomorrow am. Really? Couldn't have found any company that would come out tonight? It's been like three or four days since we called in to report this problem.

    At this point I'm not sure if I'll be able to recommend American Home Shield or not. To cover her house costs about $600/year, PLUS you have to make a $100 Trade Service Fee for each person who comes out. So, for her garbage disposal ... which I didn't want to replace, we paid $100 for about a $50 garbage disposal plus install fee. Well, that's not terrible, except when you consider that she' spent $600 for the year, that's now up to $700 for a garbage disposal. The second service call is for the HVAC and they didn't fix it. So that's $800 for the year, and maybe only $250 of service. Ordinarily they would charge her an EXTRA $100 for the trip tomorrow for the 2nd HVAC company to come out, except I made a fuss on Twitter and Facebook, so they're waiving that fee.

    Also, I did talk with someone today who told me that AHS (and other warranty/service contract companies) will authorize the cheapest way to get the appliance up and running. So don't have in your mind that you're going to get a new system, they'll have it repaired as many times as it can be repaired if each and every time.

    Keeping all of this in mind, and trying to keep an open mind, I'm going to wait and see how all of this works out tomorrow and then crunch the numbers to see what it would have cost without the home warranty.

    She's had this contract for two years ($1200) and even if they had to do some major work on the heat pump components, it might have just been better to create an emergency account online and stick the $50/month payment into that. That is, if it's true that it's very difficult to get money out of them.


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  8. BRB46

    BRB46 Rockstar 100 Posts

    Good luck on this issue. I still think the compressor is the issue if you are tripping breakers. Seems like the electric part "emergency heat" is not adequate to heat the space. It may eventually but as the article said "only till a tech comes out to make repairs" is all it's for.
  9. Dana W

    Dana W Rockstar 3 Years 500 Posts

    You'd be better off canceling that warranty and just getting a real HVAC guy out there. Never buy one again, and never buy an extended warranty plan for a vehicle either. I have lived through a couple iterations of both and got nothing but bad repairs and wasted money. They are nothing more than legal can games.

    The Emer. heat is just that, for emergency. It is meant to keep you from freezing to death until the repair guy gets there. Some systems will automatically kick on the emer heat if you were to say zip the thermostat up several degrees to meet a quick demand.

    A properly functioning heat pump system as well as any other type of heating system is federally mandated to be able to bring the indoor temperature up to 70 deg F in ONE HOUR when it is 0 deg outside.

    I experienced a similar loss of heat from a heat pump and it was due simply to low coolant pressure.
  10. ChevyFan

    ChevyFan The Sheriff Staff Member 5+ Years 1000 Posts

    That was my thought. Let's just say that you pay into this plan for 5 years. That's $3000 ... then you still have to pay the tech service trip fee and then put up with them only doing to minimum repairs.

    I'm not sure if the compressor is running or not. Let me go out and check ...

    <brrrrrrrrrr> Nope, it's not running but the breaker for HEAT (there are three of them) was tripped again so maybe it will come on in a few minutes?

    - - - Updated - - -

    They sent someone else out here for a 2nd opinion today and he did a check and found that everything was just fine except that one of the circuit breakers was bad in the garage and that was causing the downstairs backup heating unit to not function properly.

    He packed up and was just about ready to walk out when I had to again ask him if it was putting out enough heat. He finally got a thermal heat gun and got a puzzled look on his face ... "It should be putting more heat out than that."

    So he went around and looks again, had to take the case off of the air handler box ... yup, the coil was all rusted out and it's leaking refrigerant out of the unit and the coil needs to be replaced, can't be repaired because it's rusted, so the entire air handler needs to be replaced.

    SO ... long story short, persistence pays off!

    However, American Home Shield doesn't really pay off. They only cover $10/lb of freon, and this place says they charge $60/lb (which seems pretty high if you ask me) ... so that's a huge expense and I guess it needs to be charged up with maybe 10 lbs? So that's $1200 for the warranty, $200 for service calls (maybe more, they might charge us for each trip that they make, not sure), and $500 for freon and there may be other parts that are not covered as well. So that's $1900 at least, so I guess she'll come out on the better end of this when all is said and done, but she's only saving maybe $1,100, so it's not like some major windfall of cash or anything.

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