Sunset Heating & Cooling of Portland, Oregon,
Appears to Be Incompetent or Dishonest—Perhaps Both

My dealings with Sunset Heating & Cooling leave me with a very negative opinion of the business and its people. They demonstrated apparent incompetence, perhaps real, or possibly feigned to cover other motives. I say this because the outcome of following their advice would have involved great, unnecessary expense for us and great profit for themselves.

What follows is a chronology of events relating to my home heating and air conditioning system. Please read all of it before reaching your own conclusions.

April 26, 2016:

Sunset Heating & Cooling had been called to diagnose a non-working heat pump at my home (at the time) in Beaverton. There was a service fee of $89.95. Bryant was the service technician who did the diagnosis. He reported that the unit contained no coolant and that a leak test would be $275. Any repairs would be quoted following the test. He also forewarned us that our unit used an older refrigerant that is no longer made and, thus, is in limited supply. The refrigerant alone would cost $800, he said.

Bryant went on to say that the heat pump is very old and would be difficult, if not impossible, to successfully repair. He suggested that I replace the heat pump with a new one. He then inspected the air handler unit and told me that it was so old that a modern heat pump could not be interfaced to it. As a result, Bryant said, the air handler would also need to be replaced.

April 27, 2016:

Peter, a Sunset sales rep, came to my house. He said he'd spent years as a repair technician and asked to look at the heat pump and air handler. Both were again declared unusable. He recommended a Lennox high-efficiency system costing $13,235 ($9,160 after energy credits).

Being busy, and with the weather being rather mild that time of year, I opted to take time to decide what to do about our system. A friend suggested that I get a second price quote for replacing the system and recommended Northwest Heating & Cooling. He had recently had work done by them and was very happy with their work and pricing. So I called them and set up an appointment.

June 13, 2016:

Jerry, the owner of Northwest Heating & Cooling, arrived to give a quotation for replacing the entire system. But first, he said, he'd like to verify the incompatibility of the air handler. Jerry inspected the unit and advised that the air handler could easily be interfaced to a new evaporator coil, so there was no need to replace the unit.

Then Jerry suggested that he also look at the heat pump before starting the quotation. Within one minute, Jerry assessed the unit and had several surprising observations. There was an obvious problem with the heat pump that might be the reason it wasn't working. Specifically, one of the two brass caps used to cover the refrigerant ports was only finger tight. The other brass cap was completely off, lying on the ground. The uncovered port showed signs of being exposed to the elements for some time.

Jerry said that, quite possibly, the system had no leak at all and just needed to be recharged. Even if there was a leak, it would not be impossible, nor even difficult, to repair, he said. He explained that expensive R-22 refrigerant was not needed, as there is a much less costly modern replacement, R-421a. Though unable to guarantee it as the fix, he recommended that his technician could thoroughly clean the dirty port, evacuate the refrigerant lines and recharge the unit with new refrigerant (and dye, just in case), and reinstall the brass caps with appropriate tightness. We would then run the system on both heat and cool settings for at least 4-6 weeks to see if it keeps working. If the system stopped working, they could trace the dye and determine whether further repairs were needed.

June 14, 2016:

The technician from Northwest Heating & Cooling arrived and performed the following operations: he cleaned both refrigerant ports at the heat pump and their caps, evacuated the refrigerant lines for two hours, installed six pounds of R-421a refrigerant into the refrigerant lines, injected dye into the refrigerant lines, and measured an 18° delta temperature across the coil. Total cost of the service work was $288.08.

August 31, 2016:

After two and a half months, I called David, the owner of Sunset Heating & Cooling, to request a refund of the original service fee of $89.95, since the diagnosis and advice given were all clearly erroneous. We had a 26-minute conversation. When I told him about the work done for $288.08 by Northwest Heating & Cooling, he stated that the repair would fail within weeks. He also said that there was no inexpensive replacement for R-22, so I told him about R-421a refrigerant. He said he was doing an internet search as we talked, then admitted that R-421a was indeed a viable option, but one which he said he hadn't previously heard of. (As the owner of a large HVAC business, his claim of ignorance is very surprising.) The bottom line, he said, was that the service charge would not be refunded, since his technician had spent time to make the call, regardless of the usefulness of the diagnosis.

January 31, 2018:

The recharged system has now been in continuous operation for 20 months and is working perfectly for both heating and cooling. From my best discernment and judgment, I'm making these observations:

Sunset appeared to be incompetant in diagnosing our heat pump and air handler, something done quickly by Northwest.

Sunset misrepresented our system as having an unrepairable leak, when it actually had no leak at all.

Sunset misrepresented the cost of refrigerant for our system, overstating it by hundreds of dollars.

Sunset misrepresented the ability of our air handler to interface to a modern evaporator coil, something Northwest assured us would have been no problem.

Sunset misrepresented the need for us to replace our system and tried to sell us an expensive system we didn't even need.

These misrepresentations appear to be deceptive, at the least, if not outright dishonest. I'm offended by the business practices of Sunset Heating & Cooling and recommend that no one do business with them.

-- Stan Cleveland, McMinnville, Oregon

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