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Last-minute shopping for appliances and installation can cost you in more ways than one.

3 minute read

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my neighbor’s water heater installation guy to look at my own water heater, which I knew I’d need to replace soon.

Ken gave me an estimate and his business card. The labor would be around $200, and I could buy a water heater on my own. That price was a lot lower than the $1,800 my HVAC company quoted me last year for a water heater and labor. After that company’s quote, I decided to squirrel away some money, comparison shop, ask friends for referrals and read reviews before making my purchase.

I banked enough money but procrastinated on the rest. A week after inquiring with Ken, my water heater died for good. Now I had the perfect storm for making a bad home repair decision: No hot water and plenty of money in the bank.

The poor decision begins

My first mistake was ignoring common sense because I was in a hurry to fix the problem. For example, a few days after my neighbor’s installation, she knocked on my door and asked to borrow a dolly because Ken forgot to bring one to remove the old appliance.

An hour later, I watched her family drag the heavy water heater to the curb. That should have shown me the installer was a half-assed-job kind of guy. A week later, though, I had no hot water but still had Ken’s business card. My trusted handyman couldn’t do the job until four days later. So, I took my chances.

Installation epiphanies

Fortunately, Ken, who brought a dolly this time, removed the old water heater immediately. I watched him, huffing, grunting and sweating, as he dragged the water heater, which weighed hundreds of pounds, up one treacherous step at a time from my basement. Meanwhile I was working up my own sweat, picturing everything that could go wrong.

What if Ken lost his balance and slammed his head against the concrete floor? What if he had a heart attack from overexertion? Would Ken pay for a replacement if he lost his grip on my new water heater and it toppled down the stairs? Did he even have insurance? I doubted it.

Saving a few hundred dollars wouldn’t be worth it if I got slammed for hundreds of thousands of dollars with a personal injury lawsuit judgment. Maybe I should have checked further into that $1,800 price from my HVAC company. Perhaps it was a high-end water heater quote but there were less expensive models available. However, it was too late for due diligence now.

How to prepare for expensive appliance replacements

Here’s what I recommend when it comes to replacing home appliances like water heaters, air conditioners and furnaces.

  • Build an emergency savings fund to pay for an appliance you think is most likely to need replacement soon.
  • Ask friends for recommendations of companies and contractors they’ve used. Check Yelp. Sign up for Angie’s List to find reputable professionals.
  • Make sure that the person or company doing the work is licensed, bonded and insured to cover damage to your property or themselves. The price may be expensive but so is a lawsuit or repairing damage to your home.
  • Check whether the appliance’s warranty requires that a licensed technician trained for that brand’s equipment perform the installation. My Lennox air conditioner warranty requires that the system be installed by a licensed, professional installer in accordance with manufacturer instructions.

Just one more thing

Poorly chosen people may get the job done but there’s always “just one little thing” that’s not quite right. In Ken’s case, that little thing was the ventilation draft hood, which didn’t fit exactly because a pipe interfered. “If this was my house, I wouldn’t give it a second thought,” he told me. This made me nervous.

That afternoon, I studied my water-soaked owner’s manual that Ken attached to the side of the appliance. I learned that improper draft hood installation could result in “fire, explosion or asphyxiation from carbon monoxide.” I called my usual handyman, Allan, who came over the next day and fixed the issue in five minutes.

So, let my annoying and potentially dangerous experience be a lesson the next time you try to save on installing gas or electric appliances. Choose wisely. It’s not worth blowing up or burning your house down just to save a few hundred bucks.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Hipp is a freelance writer based out of Missouri.

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