Knock, knock, who’s there?

If someone comes to your door wearing a hard hat and a lab coat, watch out.

Chances are it’s a salesperson who wants to replace or upgrade your rented water heater. The “uniform” is designed to make you think you’re dealing with a technician working for your local gas or electrical utility.

Today’s column, the most emailed story of the day at the Star’s website, talks about the scare tactics used by these persistent pests.

One commenter also mentioned the deceptive duds they wear.

They appear at the door dressed in one of those fluorescent yellow halters with the orange X that road workers wear, with an aluminum clipboard in hand to lend credibility, and say “I’m here to replace your water heater”.

This is the same gear that hydro workers wore when coming around to install the smart meters. So it’s very confusing for the homeowner.

Many people told me they were annoyed by the sleazy sales tactics. I also heard from Joan, an apparent victim of fraud by a National Home Services agent who wrote a phony contract for her after seeing her old water heater being taken away. See her story below.

A few people said how stupid it was to rent a water heater when you could save money buying your own. Canadian Capitalist agrees it’s cheaper, as long as you’re willing to absorb the cost of an unexpected maintenance call (and you don’t mind cleaning up a mess of leaking water in your basement).

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

14 thoughts on “Knock, knock, who’s there?”

  1. Let’s say a new heater installed costs about $1,300. Add in two service calls at $300 each and you are looking at about $2,000 over 15 years or $11 per month. That’s roughly half the cost of renting a heater these days.

  2. Canadian Capitalist: it depends on the product you have. The house we live in at the moment was built in 2008. The water heater is brand new state of the art with electronic controls.

    A few months ago that whole control module had to be replaced by Direct Energy. The cost of that unit alone is $400 plus the additional labour time. As we rent the heater, Direct Energy came the next day and replaced it for free.

    While I agree that it may be cheaper buying the unit outright, in the long run the maintenance costs for the new type of heaters are cost prohibitive. All these high tech “gizmos” that make the unit energy efficient may very well make the unit more expensive to maintain in the long run. long run.

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  4. Interesting. Just now, my doorbell rang and there was a young man from LivClean at my door. He wore a LivClean badge around his neck and when I opened the door, he tapped his clipboard and said, “Good evening. I’m here in the neighbourhood checking on all the Enbridge hot water tanks.” Even after all this publicity, these guys are still implying that they are working for Enbridge. He seemed taken aback when I told him I owned my tank.

  5. NS says: “If rental is preferrable (sic), why don’t people rent air conditioners, furnaces, fridges and stoves? It must be that houses don’t come ‘equipped’ with rentals of these other appliances.”

    Good question. Perhaps new home builders should offer their buyers the option of installing their own water heaters before the gas or electricity distributor gets its foot in the door.

    We are not the first owners of our house; the water heater was here when we purchased our home. At the time, the industry had not yet been deregulated and Enbridge (formerly Consumer’s Gas, if memory serves) was the only game in town.

    It would never have occurred to us to have them remove the tank, and when we did enquire a few years later, we were told that there was some type of charge (based on the amortized value) to do so.

    I believe the fee no longer applies for existing units, which may be why Direct Energy (who took over the water heater division from Enbridge) is trying so hard to get us to sign a new contract — and because they want to secure their existing customers before the door-to-door sharks steal them away.

    We were paid a visit last fall by someone who didn’t say outright that he represented Enbridge, but implied he was there on behalf of our gas company.

    Because of the recent smart meter campaign, we just assumed that he must be a bona fide rep and ushered him in to see our tank. It was only after he asked to see our gas bill that I realized that things were not on the “up-and-up”.

    After one or two more conflicting statements, and because of his insistence that the tank be installed the next day, we became very uneasy and asked him to leave. In a fit of pique, he tore up the contract and left it in our recycling bin.

    Once we had pieced it back together, we were able to ascertain that, had we signed it, we would have been on the hook for 15 years; the contract would be transferred to any new owner of our home; and the cost to cancel the deal and remove the tank would be in the area of $600. We really dodged a bullet on that one.

    The only advantage we can see in having a rental water heater is that, were it to spring a leak (this has happened to us once), we would not have to scramble to find a replacement and hire a contractor — it would all be taken care of with one phone call.

    Is it worth the extra expense? Probably not. But look at how much we spend on car and home insurance without ever getting a return on our annual investment. (But that might be the subject of another column.)

  6. We have had electric water heaters since 1964 and we have never had a repair. We have replaced two because they leaked. All water heaters leak eventually and have to be replaced and there is nothing unusual about it. And anyone who puts a water heater in a finished area of a house and doesn’t provide a drain pan, is asking for trouble.

    We started off renting but eventually bought. Of course we will have to pay for the replacement when required but it is no different than repairing or replacing any other appliance in the house.

    I don’t understand why there should be a fancy control device to fail. It’s a resistance device for heaven’s sake and it goes on and off. Period.

  7. I just cannot let all of this nonsense go unanswered. Here are the facts.

    Companies such as Direct Energy and Reliance have had a monopoly on rental water heaters for years. Due to changes in efficiency and safety standards, there are more efficient units available and for the sake of the environment, updates to a high efficiency model just make fiscal sense.

    These companies, understandably, are unable to offer these updates to all of their customers. It would simply cost them too much money. Of course, they do not want us replacing them and taking their customers.

    It is guaranteed to save you $7-12 on your energy bill every month, which more than makes up for the $1-2 increase in your rental.

    According to the Ministry of Energy, after 5 years, 6 inches of sediment settles on the bottom of the tank and hardens over the heater (also on the bottom of the tank). The heat now has to travel through this rock to get to the water.

    It is a no brainer that if you remove this obstacle, you will be heating the water more quickly and efficiently, thus saving energy. You would then be wise to drain the tank briefly every 4-6 months to remove this sediment and thus never lose that kind of efficiency.

    Livclean is also a carbon neutral company, which means that they will reinvest your rental charges in carbon neutral programs worldwide, thus offsetting all of your carbon footprint for any emissions your unit produces. Good for you….good for the environment.

    The ministry of energy has discovered that the black abs piping used in years past has a tendency to crack and leak carbon monoxide into your home. Livclean will change that piping to proper pvc, at no charge, thus bringing your home up to code as well.

    Sure, you will be renting from another company, but is there really anything wrong with a little healthy competition to a company that has, over years now, done nothing to update your equipment (unless it leaks) or address the serious problems stated by the Ministry?

    The market has been deregulated by the government to encourage companies like ours to present better options to you, the consumer.

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