Spring is here, and along with birds singing and plants coming back to life we often start to see ads for unscrupulous duct cleaning companies popping up everywhere this time of year. It seems that scams bloom right along with the flowers in spring.
Maybe you or someone you love has been thinking of getting your ductwork cleaned but you’re worried about falling prey to unethical companies. Your fear is (unfortunately) not misplaced. However, there are some telltale signs you can look for that give away sleazy duct cleaning companies every time.
In no particular order, here they are:
The ad says they’ll clean your whole house for $99 (sometimes less)
We see ads like these a lot and here’s the thing: most of the time they are not going to clean your entire house for $99. We will elaborate on this more in the section below on ‘bait and switch’, but before we get there let me give you some context that should shed some light on exactly why this is so ridiculous.
Let’s say you run a duct cleaning business. That means you have employees to pay, taxes to pay, insurance on the business and equipment, vehicles to maintain, supplies to buy, gas that has to be put in the work vans, etc. All of those expenses add up really fast. Common sense will tell you that there’s no way you can afford all of that while only charging your customers $99.
So common sense will also tell you that if you are only charging $99 per house, then you’re either tacking on other charges somewhere else to make money or you’re doing lots and lots of jobs every single day so that the quantity makes up for the low price tag.
Unfortunately, doing tons of jobs each day comes with its own problems. We will open that can of worms in just a minute.
You found a Groupon for them
Listen, we aren’t hating on Groupon. But Groupon makes it’s profits and reputation from offering incredibly low-priced deals to its customers. It’s able to do this by convincing the companies it represents to slash their prices in the hopes that they will do a higher volume of business as a result of the Groupon (again, exchanging reasonable pricing for quantity).
In our experience, you aren’t seeing lots of reputable companies on Groupon. Why? Because they don’t need it. For example, Hi Tech Duct Cleaning is often booked out weeks into the future because we have customers who want a quality duct cleaner. Being that we are always busy, why on earth would we (or any other successful company) sign up with Groupon, which would essentially just cause us to lose money? Answer: we wouldn’t.
So the vast majority of what you see on Groupon are either newer companies which need exposure, companies that are struggling and are willing to try anything to turn it around, and companies whose business models require that they do tons of work to make up for their low pricing.
You may get some great deals on Groupon for shoes, towels, or zip lining, but trust us when we tell you that reputable home service companies are not on Groupon.
They won’t (or can’t) explain their process to you
The thing with scammers is that they’re scammers. This means that their focus was never on creating a great duct cleaning method that would yield quality results for the customers year after year. Nope, their focus has always been on how to talk more people into paying them.
A good way to combat this is to simply ask them to explain their entire process to you. If they cannot give you a fairly specific overview of what they will do from the time they arrive at your house to the minute they leave, you have every right to be skeptical.
The worst of them can’t tell you what they will do because they don’t actually do anything at all. For reference, take a look at the Dateline NBC episode on this subject where the scam duct cleaners came into the home, but never even unpacked their equipment or hooked into the HVAC system. They literally sat in the basement for a while and then tried to charge the homeowner for it.
They say it will take less than 3 hours to complete the job
Like pricing, this is a common sense issue. Over the years we have found that it takes a minimum of 3 hours to truly do a good job and get ductwork in even the smallest of homes clean.
Many of the underhanded companies out there cleaning duct work will tell you they can do it in an hour. Sometimes two. And they aren’t just saying that they can do this on apartments or 1-bedroom homes. They are saying they can pull this off when cleaning 2,000 square-foot homes.
We’re here to tell you that you can clean a house in an hour or two OR you can do a good job. But you can’t have both. Quality takes longer than that when it comes to duct cleaning.
When they get to your house, they pull a bait and switch
Ok, we’ve circled back to the bait and switch. Remember earlier when we said that no legitimate duct cleaners can afford to only charge $99 to clean your duct work? Well, they can’t, but bait and switch tactics are often how they try to get around it.
What typically happens is that they put out an add for $99 whole-house duct cleaning (or some other similarly low-priced offer). The homeowner calls and schedules and they show up on the appointed day.
But once they’re at your home they will add on additional charges for things that legit duct cleaners usually include in their pricing. These can be things such as antimicrobial sprays, cleaning out your furnace, or even cleaning more than one “run line” (duct work has a main trunk line and several “run lines” which branch off of it to carry airflow to different parts of the house).
These additional charges usually make the final bill much higher than what you would have paid by using a reputable company. In fact, sometimes it can end up being $1,000+ for a tiny home. Again, take a look at the Dateline NBC episode for reference because that’s exactly what happened to the homeowner on that episode.
They have awful reviews
A bad review can happen to any company. All of us are only human so that means that company employees can make mistakes. It also means that a homeowner can have a bad day or have unreasonable expectations and this gets highlighted in a crappy review sometimes.
But for good companies, this is not the norm. The quality of their work is reflected in the fact that the majority of their reviews are from satisfied customers. But if you look up a scammer, you will see that they have many more bad reviews than good ones. There’s a reason for that!
How to avoid scammers:
If you are thinking of having your ductwork cleaned, there are some measures you can take to ensure you hire a quality, reputable company.
- Ask for a referral from your heating and air company
- Look up reviews
- Look up their Better Business Bureau rating
- Look at their pricing and ask yourself if it sounds too good to be true (hint: if it does, then it probably is too good to be true)
- Ask them to explain their entire process to you from start to finish
- Ask them for an estimate of how long the job will take
As time goes on, disreputable companies get more sophisticated in their methods for pulling the wool over your eyes. But to-date, taking some of these steps will help you avoid 98% of the bad guys!