St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 9, 2011 – Customers of a St. Louis County air duct business have told the Better Business Bureau (BBB) they were lured by promises of $49 duct cleaning specials, then hit with unexpected bills of $1,800 and more.
The BBB suggests extreme caution when dealing with US Air Ducts, which reports an address in University City, Mo. Noach Israel Palatnik is listed as owner and president of the company.
“I would hate to have anybody go through what we have,” said a Ballwin, Mo., consumer. He said his wife was “totally floored” after receiving a bill for more than $2,700. He said the couple had responded to a mailer advertising a $49.95 fall special for unlimited vent and return cleanings. He said his wife later agreed to additional work totaling about $200, but then was billed $2,780.
“I could replace my entire furnace for $3,000,” the man said.
US Air Ducts has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible. Several customers said they felt they were misled by the ads which have been running in local newspapers or in mailer packets distributed to consumers in the St. Louis area.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the complaints describe what appear to be typical bait and switch tactics.
“This company apparently is teasing consumers – many of them senior citizens – with bargain basement prices and then presenting them with bills 30, 40, even 50 times higher than what they expected.”
Several customers said company technicians broke heating and cooling equipment or left them with dust-filled homes. Some said that later inspections by heating and cooling professionals determined that technicians with US Air Ducts did little, if any, work.
The man from Ballwin said one of the two US Air Ducts technicians who came to his home last month reported that a furnace inspection turned up mold, bacteria and green slime. He said his wife agreed to between $200 and $250 in work, but the bill came to more than $2,700, including more than $1,700 for chemical treatment. He said the check was cashed 15 minutes after it was given to the technicians.
An 81-year-old missionary from South St. Louis County said she, too, responded to a $49 advertising mailer, but ultimately was charged $1,799 for furnace and duct work.
“I told him right there that there was no way I could pay that,” she said. “But he wanted the money right then.”
The missionary said she turned over $600 she recently had received for her missionary work. The money had been earmarked to pay utility bills. She told him she would have to make payments on the rest. “He was very upset about that,” she said.
A dentist from Town and Country who also responded to a $49 ad said the company tried to charge her $3,000 for cleaning and other work. When she balked, the company dropped the charge to $2,000.
Another carpet and duct cleaning business that inspected the US Air Ducts’ work at the dentist's home raised questions about the company’s work. That company said returns that were supposed to have been cleaned still contained a large amount of dust and debris.
The second company also discovered dirt and debris on the fan blades of three blower motors, which also were supposed to have been cleaned. The second company said it pulled “enough lint to fill a five-gallon bucket” from a clothes dryer vent even though the vent was supposed to have been cleaned.
A US Air Ducts mailer distributed in the St. Louis area last month offers $370 in services for $40. The ad says, “Best offer in St. Louis Guaranteed!” and lists a website, www.usducts.com.
The company’s bill to the Town and Country dentist states that US Air Ducts has been in business more than 16 years, but documents on file with the Missouri secretary of state indicate that the business was created in October 2010.
In addition to Missouri and Illinois, BBB complaints involving US Air Ducts have come from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
The company also advertises carpet cleaning, gutter cleaning and chimney sweeping.
BBBs in St. Louis and across the nation have issued numerous news alerts on duct-cleaning companies. Law enforcement agencies have sued some firms for defrauding consumers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges consumers to be wary of any company that makes sweeping promises that air duct cleaning will improve residents’ health. The EPA suggests cleaning in cases where there is visible mold growth, vermin infestation or if the ducts are clogged with excessive dust and debris. It also says that homeowners need to fully understand the pros and cons of using chemical treatments.
Palatnik, the company’s owner and president, has not returned BBB phone calls.
The BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking to hire a duct-cleaning firm:
- Deal only with reputable companies, preferably businesses in your area with a good track record. Ask for references from homeowners in your neighborhood. Always contact the BBB for a BBB Business Review by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
- Beware of advertising that offers what seem to be extremely low prices for air duct cleaning. Often, these ads are used by businesses expecting to sell additional services once they get inside your home.
- If a company discovers a potential problem in your furnace or ducts, do not be pressured into paying for additional services until you have contacted a heating and air conditioning professional for a second opinion. While the second company may charge you for a service call to check out the problem, the call may save you money if no service is needed.
- Try to have a friend or family member with you during a scheduled appointment with a salesman or service technician. If that is not possible and you feel threatened or intimidated during the visit, ask the person or persons to leave your home immediately. If they refuse or hesitate, call police.
Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-584-6800, firstname.lastname@example.org
; or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743 or 314-681-4719 (cell), email@example.com
; or Bill Smith, Investigator, 314-584-6727, firstname.lastname@example.org