Ignore the door

October 3 2010 by Ellen Roseman

I try to resist door-to-door sellers, but I know how irresistible they can be in sneaking past your defenses and into your wallet.

The latest scam is the person who comes to inspect your rented water heater and give you an upgrade, disguised as a gas fitter working for your local utility. See my column here.

You’re thrilled to get a newer, better, safer, less wasteful water heater and you fail to see that you’re switching to another rental company and agreeing to stay for up to 15 years.

Later, you may face higher fees, improper installation and double-billing from your previous supplier (if the old tank wasn’t returned). You may also get telemarketing calls from your new supplier, anxious to replace your furnace as well.

Check out the Ignore the Door campaign from the Consumers’ Waterheater Income Fund. This is an affiliate of Direct Energy, which also employs door knockers to sell fixed-price energy plans.

Do you think DE is promising never to use unethical tactics again? One can only hope.

Summitt Energy is also now replacing water heaters, using this as a foot in the door to sell other products, including its Evergreen carbon offset program. See comments below about this company’s practices and my Star column.

23 comments

  1. The SOFT Blogger

    Oct 3 2010

    There will always be shady sales individuals trying to take advantage of people who aren’t willing to ask hard questions about what they might be getting in return for what should be an obvious over-savings or “great deal”.

    Love the column btw!

  2. Dave Ings

    Oct 3 2010

    Renting a water heater is really questionable. It seems to make far more financial sense to buy one (they actually aren’t that expensive as far as appliances go). So maybe that’s the real story here – why do so many people rent?

    In my case – I admit I still rent – its simple inertia. The darn thing is installed and renting is the path of least resistance. However as soon as it dies it will be returned and replaced with a purchased unit.

  3. Geoff

    Oct 4 2010

    @ Dave – call DE and ask what the buyout cost is.

    For our 15 year old heater, which was costing us $12.99+tax a month, the buyout cost was $30. After 3 months, it’s paid for itself now.

    Now I just have to hope it lasts a couple years, that would be suhweet.

  4. Glenn

    Oct 4 2010

    Geoff – check with your home insurance provider. Ours said they would not cover a flood (due to a burst tank) with a water heater that was older than 15 years. It prompted us to replace ours.

  5. Chris

    Oct 4 2010

    From what I understand, if you rent you get quick and hassle free service when it goes vs purchasing in full.

    You’re on your own on in replacing it. When will it go? Either in the winter/middle of the night, of course.

  6. MA

    Oct 4 2010

    One thing to note, I’ve been hearing DE commercials on the radio saying that they don’t send representatives door to door to check on water heaters. I think they may finally be getting pissed about Summit Energy and other companies that are pretending to be DE and unethically signing customers to long term contracts at ridiculous rates.

  7. Frances

    Oct 4 2010

    We’ve replaced a few water heaters over the years and we now own it. They don’t burst they just leak. But Chris is right, getting service is a pain but Sears would do it. The next time we replace it, the supplier will have to agree to service it. But I must say that it is rare that service is required; if it works once installed, it will probably work until it starts to leak. By the way, when we go on vacation, we turn off the water at the meter. Learned that from my parents who once had a pipe leak when they were away.

  8. Geoff

    Oct 5 2010

    @ Chris – I doubt I’d make a claim against my home insurance for a leaky water heater but good to know.

    But I don’t get why losing hot water in the middle of the night or winter is necessarily catastrophic. It’s not the furnace, it’s the water heater.

    I can take a cold shower for a day or two, and my son could have a bath diluted with boiled water. We’re talking a couple days here, not forever.

    I don’t rent my fridge, stove, tv, furnace, etc, why rent my water heater?

  9. idk my name

    Oct 5 2010

    Direct Energy gives every door to door salesman a bad rep. They are quite possibly the worst company out there @ what they do. DE has also lost its energy retailing license in almost every part of onatio. Summit easily tops DE and Just Energy tops them all. For hot water tanks your best bet would be National Home Services.

  10. hv

    Oct 6 2010

    Thank you for your article. Last week I got a phone call out of the blue from Enbridge saying that they needed to enter my house to inspect the gas connections to the water heater for leaks.

    I’ve been in this house for 5 years, the water heater dates from 2001, and I’ve never had a problem with it or any smell of gas. But the Enbridge guy stressed how important it was to have a regular inspection and without it they may have to cut off my gas supply, it’s a safety thing.

    So I booked an appointment. They told me they have subcontracted the inspection out to a company called Reliance. At the time, I thought the call was genuine because even my call display on the phone said “Enbridge”.

    However, I got to thinking and called Enbridge back on their customer line. Enbridge told me they had no record of a service appointment, and that they NEVER phone a house or knock on a door, they send a letter instead and ask that you call them.

    So it was a scam by Reliance to get into my house, tell me my water heater was unsafe and force me to buy one of theirs or else they will cut off my gas!

    Somebody needs to do something about these scam artists, it’s deporable. It reminds me of an incident in Elmvale a couple of years ago when a homeowner became so enraged by a hot water salesman that the police ended up shooting him!

    I think there’s lots that left unsaid about what the role of the salesman that contributed to the incident. Check out the article:

    http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/655626

  11. Frances

    Oct 11 2010

    Reading about these situations, I keep wondering why people even listen to a door-to-door salesman or a telephone salesman, for that matter. Close the door on them or hang up. Case closed.

    I also wonder how someone can sign up for something when they are not the person with the relationship or contract as in the case of the son of the 92 year old woman.

  12. Sandy

    Oct 12 2010

    This article is incredibly intriguing.

    Somebody came to my door 3 months back from Summitt about checking my water heater. After asking him some questions, I didn’t see why not, since my husband has a gun in the kitchen.

    He checked my water heater and said I qualified for a new one from Summitt that would save me up to 30% of my hot water bill, so I said yes. It made theoretical sense.

    However, the cases I’ve read here have made for some compelling afternoon reading. Some of the people you mention seem like scum. However, the young man that spoke to me was quite nice really and I actually have saved some money, which I’m surprised at based on the comments from Ellen and this site.

    I thought I’d do some research while I was on my computer and from what I hear you’ve run into some very interesting characters! I guess I was just lucky.

  13. Dan

    Oct 20 2010

    Yesterday someone came to my door in St. Catharines saying he was from “Reliance Home Comfort – Ontario Consumers” suggesting in veiled language that he was authorized by the government to check my water heater (when I questioned him he seemed baffled that I didn’t understand this secret code name for the ministry). I let him in because he did not ask to see my bill.

    After checking my water heater and telling me the water was fine but that the starter and some of the equipment was “illegal” he began the subtle sales job. He told me stuff about how the Direct Energy heater (installed two years ago) was a refurbished unit (DE says they NEVER install these) and that it was not energy star compliant, as evidenced by the lack of Energy Star sticker (my water heater was installed in 2008 and DE tells me that the sticker did not come into play until 2009–something I don’t think is true, so someone is lying).

    For me, the big red flag for any of these people is the jargon. If they start using a lot of “you know” type language which is baffling, the odds are they’re trying to sell you a bill of goods. I told him that I’d take his information, and call him if I’m interested. I’m a university professor and spend a lot of time researching government and talking about how jargon is used to alienate the individual and elevate the “professional,” so I think I’m somewhat on the ball (as much as scholars can be!). But man, this was a really good snow job. I didn’t sign anything, and I won’t.

    The other indicator that it’s a sales job not a benevolent check up is the “do not pay for 3 months” deal. Just another desperate sales person. I felt a little violated after he left, but just a little.

    This is the problem with the free market in utilities. These are pretty essential appliances and services. As far as I see it, we should not be leaving them to the private sector. They are not accountable to the public.

  14. Dan

    Oct 20 2010

    Oh, the other red flag is when they show you a letter “you should have received” that you’ve never seen before, then seem baffled that you don’t recognize it. Riiight. I’m an idiot.

    BTW, thank you very much for this timely article. Keep up the good work.

  15. Hands Off

    Feb 1 2012

    We have had our share of deceptive salespeople show up for water heater, energy contracts, and so on. Problem is easily solved with a sign on your door which you can find here:

    http://sites.google.com/site/handsoffmywaterheater/

    It works. Just print it off, put on front door and they will stop bothering you. Share link with friends or download sign and email the pdf to them.

  16. Maria C

    Feb 15 2013

    Three guys came to our door today from Ontario Consumers and told us we “had” to make an appointment with them and let them in to inspect our water heater for an upgrade, the costs of which would be on our Enbridge bill.

    They told us all our neighbours were making appointments for the upgrade tomorrow afternoon, even though almost none of our neighbours were answering the door to them.

    My husband directly told them we were not letting them into our house at all, even though the guy started to take off his shoes to come in.

    This outfit borders on the criminal–misleading, deceptive, aggressive. Why are they still operating?

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