Monday, September 10, 2007

Warranty: Friend or Foe?

After midnight last night, I prepared to head off to bed by performing my nightly ritual of tidying and locking up the house. Upon opening the closet to where our trash can is located, I was hit with a wall of hot air. There stood the water heater, spewing water, streaming down the sides in mini rivers.



I immediately turned off the water valve and started mopping up the pool of water in the closet. Generally, I loathe plumbing and electric issues. They are the two most hated things in home living and I am not skilled in either of them. When one of them goes wrong, I am at the mercy of the contractors. I don’t care what has to be done or how much it costs—just fix it so I can resume normal living. This is a dangerous mindset. I also want things fixed NOW and hate waiting. I also hate how Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head all too often. Why must the water heater decide to go kaput in the middle of the night on a Sunday???

Frustrated, I popped open the laptop and started doing research. Attempting to diagnose the problem all led to the same solution: call a plumber. Most likely, the water heater would need to be replaced. Okay…how much is a new water heater? A few hundred bucks for the unit. So I braced myself to pay close to a grand when it was all said and done with installation, haul away, any piping work, etc. Distraught and stressed, I finally was able to doze off at 4 a.m. only to wake up 2 hours later.

The water heater was still under warranty. At least, that’s what the housing inspector had told us. According to him, the water heater was only 1-2 years old. After the warranty place finally opened at 8 a.m., I found out that the water heater was more than 5 years old (6 year warranty). MKD and I have lived in our house for about 7 months now. The longer we live here, the more I find our housing inspector was a waste of money and was off the mark on a lot. But that is a whole other rant…

So the warranty place told me that I needed to get in a plumber to retread the valve area. If that didn’t work, call them back. Oh, and they didn’t have any recommended service providers on hand. Useless. So I called around and wanted to get someone in ASAP as I have basically no time to take off of work for the rest of the year. I got someone who would arrive somewhere between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from a large, well-known, plumbing establishment, and a dispatch fee of $80. Fuck that. I called someone more local and was able to get a plumber to arrive in 2 hours with no fee. I appreciated the prompt service and like supporting small businesses when possible.

Local plumber took one look and told me what I knew. The water heater was shot and the whole retreading idea from the warranty company was bull. He told me he could install a new one, haul away the old one — everything — for $750. Desperate to use indoor plumbing again, I agreed (MKD and I had gone to my parents’ house to get showers at 6 a.m. and did not want to repeat the following day).

Called the warranty place again while the plumber drained the old one and went to fetch the new one. The warranty place told me in order to benefit from the warranty, I needed to take the old one to Home Depot, have them assess it, they would obtain a new one of the same make and model, and then install it. Now, the only thing I WOULDN’T have to pay for was the actual water heater which was $239. I would have to pay for everything else and take more days off of work to have a new water heater. I crunched some numbers and it did not add up in my favor. The costs of taking off another day (possibly two) from work, figuring out a way to have the transport of water heaters to and from Home Depot, the time and stress, etc. was not worth $239. The “warranty” is basically a piece of shit feature to ease people into thinking they are paying for a good deal and provides a false peace of mind. When it comes down to it, is it really worth the trouble? In my case, far from it. I politely told the warranty place to fuck themselves and felt better about purchasing a whole new water heater which was being installed the same day I needed it to be. Instant gratification was worth the cost this time.

To further ease my mind, I called around to 5 other plumbers (both large and small) for an estimate. I find large companies don’t give you estimates over the phone. They like to send someone out for a free estimate. Waste of everyone’s time, but a tactic to make you go with them given the personal touch and other psychological factors that play into it. Anyway, the estimates I received to supply and install a 50-gallon electric water heater were: $859, $919, $1100, and $1250. In that order, at random, the prices kept getting higher and higher. Granted, I could find prices in the $500 range on the Internet, but I also don’t live in OR or PA. In the DC area, everything costs more off the bat.

Phew. Great deal, fast service, and the plumber took off his shoes every time he entered the house (didn’t ask him to; he noticed the shoes by the front door). New water heater, new warranty (as useless as they are), and new plumber to call for now on (as there are other minor issues that need attention). Not exactly how I'd like to spend a day off from work, but productive nonetheless.
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