Demystifying Duct Cleaning

Over the past couple of years, it has been a rare day when I have not received a phone call at dinner time from an overseas telemarketer trying to sell me duct cleaning, despite the best efforts of our government to establish do not call lists and issuing penalties for violators.

In January 2013 CBC Marketplace even did a segment on these companies, exposing the kind of work they do or, more accurately, don’t do. The existing lack of trust with duct cleaning services was the principal reason AtlasCare entered the business in the first place. Our customers wanted their ducts cleaned by someone they could trust. They sought someone who would not only do the work right, but who would also respect them and their home in the process.

I am proud to say that AtlasCare fits the bill completely in responding to what customers want in their duct cleaning. In the six years we have now been in the business, we have completed more than 5,000 duct cleanings to the complete satisfaction of our customers.

The message we want potential customers to know is that there are a number of ways to clean ducts and they are not all the same. You will find duct cleaners who use every method from a shop vac to sophisticated vacuum trucks and everything in between. It’s hard to see the finished product because it is enclosed inside the duct. Since the end product is so hard to see, we feel it’s important to let customers know our approach to duct cleaning so they can feel confident choosing our services.

First off, we use only the highest end truck mounted vacuum and compression systems, which is the only way to guarantee that the ducts will be completely cleaned.

In fact, this month we just added another truck to our fleet. We seal off all vents to ensure that dirt does not get blown back into the home. Should a vent cover ever come loose (a rare occurrence) it’s important that you are dealing with a contractor with good insurance coverage and a commitment to customer care so that things are cleaned up to your satisfaction.

We do little things like covering up the air conditioner coil so it doesn’t get plugged with dirt. We also protect your walls and baseboards from the impact of large vacuum hoses. And, of course, we put down the AtlasCare red carpet to protect your floors.

It isn’t that complicated to get into the duct cleaning business, which is why so many folks do it. Doing it right, though, takes a big investment in people and technology and a commitment to delivering what customers expect and more.

Teeing Off for MS – Our Annual Golf Tournament

Once again AtlasCare was pleased to be the lead sponsor for what’s become a vitally important annual fund raising golf tournament for the MS Society of Canada, Peel-Dufferin Chapter. The event was held on September 13 at the Royal Ontario Golf Club. We enjoyed spectacular weather and had a great turnout of golfers. We raised a total of $60,500 for this very important cause.

We would like to thank our many sponsors including lunch sponsor – Aecon Construction, breakfast sponsor – Lennox, cart sponsor – NPL Canada, on-course event sponsor – York and our raffle and silent auction sponsor – Harbinger. We would like to thank everyone who participated, including all of our hole sponsors, who help send a collective message of support and hope for people living with MS.

Helping Customers Escape Costly Water Heater Rentals

In our last issue of An Engineer’s Opinion, I announced that we were entering the water heater business with a new rent-to-own product. I also outlined some of the benefits of this type of product vs. renting for life.

About half of the water heaters we installed over the summer were rent-to-own and the other half were purchased outright. Both are good options and our rent-to-own option can cut the cost of ownership of a water heater in half, should it last 20 years, which is very common in the GTA.

As with all new ventures you learn a few things as you go along. The technical aspects we mastered quickly. What proved to be a bigger challenge was dealing with the existing water heater monopolies. They clearly don’t want AtlasCare, or anyone else for that matter, taking out their water heaters. They will occasionally offer customers a financial “incentive” to stay with them. More than likely, however, they will issue empty threats of big financial penalties and legal action if they are not paid (just the kind of company
I want to do business with).

To make it easier for water heater customers to switch to AtlasCare, we ask you to sign a document naming AtlasCare and our financial partner, Vista Credit, as your agent. The great news for you is that we take out the tank, return it to the monopoly and assume all of the financial risk and indemnify you (the homeowner) from any charges that could potentially be levied.

Please call us if we can help you get out of a costly rental agreement and leave it to AtlasCare to look after all of your HVAC service needs.

A Message About Customer Service

Anyone who experienced it will not be surprised to hear that the summer of 2016 was the hottest since 2005, even though old guys like me have trouble remembering back that far.

Constant demand over a sustained period of time tends to expose any weaknesses within a company’s processes. In our case, over the past couple of years we had adopted some new processes that worked well during periods of slow demand but failed us when the heat came.

These processes made it too slow for us to respond and were too inflexible to enable staff to make adjustments on the fly.

So, to those of you who experienced the weaknesses in our processes, I offer my sincere apologies.

The good news is that we now have a clear understanding of the issues that impair our ability to deliver great customer care and are committed to fixing these issues and being ready to go before the heating rush comes with the colder weather this fall. I’m pleased to let you know that Michael Grochmal has taken over direct responsibility for the Customer Care department and will personally handle any specific concerns.

I wanted to personally thank you again for your patience over the past few months.


Roger Grochmal
AtlasCare Heating + Cooling

Rental Furnaces and Air Conditioners

The whole issue of renting furnaces and air conditioners has been getting a lot of attention lately – largely for the wrong reasons.

One reason why so many companies, including the big water heater monopolies, have gotten into renting furnaces and air conditioners is that they made so much money renting water heaters. While the Ontario government passed a law some time ago to protect consumers from door-to-door sales agents trying to switch their hot water heaters, the door was left open on other equipment, which is another reason we are hearing so much about it.

Do you know someone selling a home?

The issue of furnace and AC rentals is too big to tackle quickly, but I wanted to provide some information to help our customers and their families avoid some of the pitfalls with some rental contracts, especially if you are looking at selling a home.

We have recently become aware of the potential challenges with rental contracts that occur when you go to sell your home. Better real estate agents are advising customers to make vendors buy out their rental contracts. They have done the math and figured out that it is not a good deal to assume someone else’s rental contract. The buyouts with some contracts can still be very costly, even after several years of ownership. The initial capital cost that you agreed to can be as much as 50% higher than the cost of purchasing the system outright. After five years of paying $150/month or more to rent, you might still have to pay more to buy out the contract than the equipment was originally worth.

Rental companies can register a lien against your home

These rental contracts are rock solid and there is no getting out of them. In fact, these companies can register a lien against your property to protect their interest. It’s a high price to pay for short term cost certainty.

New home builders like rentals a lot. They get to reduce their costs without having to reduce their prices. This makes first time homebuyers particularly vulnerable, since most of them often move up within five years of their initial purchase. The end result: when they go to sell their home, they find out they have a lot less equity in their home than they thought.

So, if you have children who are buying their first home, please advise them to be careful so they are not taken in. We’ll be watching this issue closely and providing more information to help our customers and families in the future.

Why Replace a Furnace and Air Conditioner Together?

I recently had to buy a new car, not because I wanted to but because my last one was stolen (that’s a story for another day). I decided to get the same model as one I had owned 10 years ago.

The car was essentially the same in look and feel but was totally different in most other aspects. It was the same size, had roughly the same power and handled essentially the same. That’s where the similarities ended. My new car has superior gas mileage, improved comfort, more advanced technology and improved convenience and safety — all features that enhance my enjoyment of the vehicle.

Sure, the more basic car of 10 years ago would have gotten me from A to B, but not in quite the same way.

So, how is this story relevant to air-conditioning? The relevance is actually in how buying a car and buying air conditioning or other HVAC equipment is different.

In a car, all the pieces of the system are contained in a single package. While they are discreet pieces of equipment, they are integrated into a system where everything works together. You can replace a single component and get essentially the same performance as you had previously.

However, with air conditioning or your furnace, to take full advantage of recent technological improvements, they should be upgraded together. This is especially true if they are more than 10 years old as there has been a lot of technological change in this time.

We now have air conditioners that are up to three times as efficient as the models they’ve replaced. New high efficiency air conditioners come with multi stage and even fully variable speed compressors to match the output of the air conditioner with the load required by the home, so no energy gets wasted. To reach these efficiencies, however, they must be matched with a compatible furnace that also has a variable speed blower motor. Coupled with the right thermostat you can get better temperature distribution throughout your home and enjoy the added benefit of managing it through your smart phone, wherever you happen to be.

While energy efficiency is a big feature of today’s furnaces and air conditioners, moisture management is equally important. When a high efficiency air conditioner is matched with a variable speed furnace, you can also improve humidity control, particularly in the spring and fall, which can be quite damp. They can also work together with an energy recovery ventilator to bring fresh air into your home for optimal moisture control year round. There have also been significant improvements in sound reduction, inside and outside the home.

Contractors anxious to make a quick sale and then move on will often focus on the one piece that needs changing now. They might propose replacing the furnace or air conditioner as well but only at the entry product level. As you might suspect, the best efficiencies and features are only available on the higher end products. There is no question they can cost more, which is why we try to make them more accessible for our customers with financing plans that can put leading edge technology into your home for as little as $165/month.

The next time you are replacing a key piece of HVAC equipment, consider how it will work most efficiently with other equipment in your home.


Water heaters – rent or purchase?

As most of you are aware, there has been great upheaval in the water heater business. You have been besieged by unscrupulous door to door salespeople pretending to be utilities wanting to give you a “free” upgrade to your water heater.

It got so bad at one point that the Ontario government enacted special legislation to deal with the matter. This situation arose largely as a result of the water heater industry being controlled by a duopoly firstly of gas utilities and then international energy infrastructure companies. It became so lucrative that a host of opportunists jumped into the market.

Many of our customers were taken in and now have rental water heaters with God knows who. These portfolios of water heaters get bought and sold every day. Many of our customers are fed up and have asked us to intervene and become involved in the business. To that end, we are pleased to announce that effective April 1, 2016, you will be able to get your water heater from AtlasCare.

We have partnered with Rheem, the number one supplier of water heaters in Ontario to bring you a full range of water heating options.

We believe it is always better to own your own assets, so to make ownership easier for our customers we have developed an innovative “rent to own” program with rates that are competitive with the big guys. With AtlasCare, though, you will own your water heater after 10 years, while enjoying rate increase protection along the way. This way you can have the best of both worlds: low monthly cost with eventual ownership. If you rent your water heater you can expect to pay almost twice as much for the same one over its anticipated lifetime, than if you purchased it under the AtlasCare “rent to own” program. In addition to the savings, you can get the same great service from AtlasCare for your water heater that you currently enjoy for your furnace and air conditioner.

Water heaters are one of the least efficient appliances in the home today. We know that in the very near future legislation is coming to mandate higher minimum efficiencies and make those old water heaters obsolete. We offer excellent higher efficiency options such as tankless and condensing models with efficiencies in the same range as your furnace.

The best time to replace your water heater is now. AtlasCare will remove your old water heater, install a new one, return the old tank to the rental company and have them stop the charges on your gas bill. Why wait? Have AtlasCare replace your water heater today and get on the path to ownership and great service.

Duct cleaning & dryer vents

It is hard to believe, but AtlasCare has been in the duct cleaning business for more than five years now.

We got into the business in response to many requests from customers who were tired of being hounded by relentless telemarketers and wanted to have their ducts cleaned by someone they could trust. We took the plunge and invested in leading edge, high-powered vacuum trucks to do the job right. We hired people dedicated to the task and earned our National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) certification.

Duct cleaning can be done at any time during the year but many homeowners seem to get spring cleaning fever and want to clean their homes thoroughly including the ducts. This is not a service we recommend every year unless there is a particular reason such as a recent renovation or you have pets in the home. Having it done every three years is a good frequency so, if you haven’t had your ducts cleaned for more than three years, this is a good time.

People are always amazed at how much dirt (six pounds on average) our trucks can remove each duct cleaning, using the latest technology.

Even more important than cleaning your ducts is cleaning your clothes dryer vent. Dryer vents are one of the most common causes of fires in the home. No matter how good the lint traps are in our modern dryers, plenty gets through and eventually plugs the vent, especially if it has corrugated ribbing. If your dryer vent is made from flexible plastic and/or is ribbed it’s recommended that it be replaced with one made from smooth sheet metal similar to that used in heating ducts.