Tech Blech

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Working with a local company, Princeton Air

After a replacement of a smart thermostat recently, I was dissatisfied with the service and the product, but since my original post, Princeton Air has been in touch with me, has apologized and offered to make this matter right.  They came today, March 8, and replaced the Honeywell thermostat that we had been given with the 3rd generation Nest thermostat (a more expensive option), at no cost to us.  That is a decent apology, and I am accepting it, and we plan to keep our service contract going another year.

But, for the record, below is what happened (the original blog post):


I am generally a loyal customer, to plumbers, electricians, and HVAC companies, because the kinds of issues these companies help one with are paramount to comfort, and when you need them, it is often an emergency.   I tend to stick with the company for years, allow for their idiosyncracies, and even put up with not getting the lowest price, all for a sense of trust and reliability.

We have long had an annual service contract with an HVAC company called Princeton Air.  This contract costs about $280 per year, or more than $20 per month.  I consider it just another utility bill.  Although it gives us two checkup visits spring and fall, the real (and only) benefit of having this service contract is fast response in case of trouble.  

However, I've decided I will not be renewing this contract later this year, when it expires, and that I can no longer recommend this company to any of my friends.

On 2/9/2019, a Saturday morning, we called Princeton Air for help about 8 in the morning.  It was the second time we'd had a scare this month. Both times, the heat had started acting erratically. It would only turn on when the temps dropped below 70 (a bit cool for us) and did not respond when we changed the thermostat. Also, we had been having issues with the thermostat not working with Alexa most of the time, and sometimes also not responding to the app. 

The repairman came about 10 am, a young, friendly fellow whose first name was Luis. I described the problem and suggested that, probably, we were going to need a new smart wifi thermostat, and he agreed.  He offered us two possibilities for a replacement, either 1) a newer model Honeywell smart thermostat, or 2) a high-end Nest thermostat.

Luis quoted the Honeywell as costing $420 "with discount" (presumably from our contract), including installation, and the Nest was something like $560.  I was seriously considering the Nest, until Luis insisted that the Nest would not work with Alexa. Further, he implied that using apps and Alexa with thermostats could cause problems, and said we'd have to configure all that ourselves, which I readily agreed to.  I am used to managing a host of smart home technology by myself.

So, we picked the Honeywell.  Later I checked online and was appalled to learn to Luis had been wrong, and the Nest thermostat does respond to Alexa for status or to change the thermostat temperature.   That Luis had not known this is unacceptable.

He did the install in about 5 minutes and billed us for $517, including $420 for the thermostat, and the rest for the emergency service call.    It was not at all the latest Honeywell thermostat, but a fairly old model, which Honeywell sells on Amazon for $135, with expert installation of $112.   This excessive pricing is typical of the company, but that is not the half of my frustration.

First, a scarred area on the wall was visible because the newer thermostat had a smaller footprint.  From the manual later, I saw there was a face plate which could be installed underneath to hide an old, ugly thermostat footprint like the one we had. It was not offered to us.

I had explicitly asked Luis to set up three features, which I knew the Honeywell should support: 1) Auto Changeover which switches between heating and cooling as needed, 2) Circulate mode on the fan, so the fan sometimes runs even if no heating or cooling is necessary, and 3) a visible indication that the thermostat was on wi-fi.    Luis was unwilling to configure any of these features himself and left me to try and get them configured.  After reading the entire manual, plus a scary session of forcing the thermostat back into install mode and clicking past parameters whose meaning was obscure, I managed to get Changeover and Circulate mode, but not the wi-fi indicator.

Three days later, I took a deep breath, gathered my notes, and called Princeton Air.  After being on hold for a few minutes, listening to their taped boast about how they excel at personalized service, I got put through to a girl in the service department, who flatly refused to pass me on to a manager unless I told her what the call was about.  I tried to describe what had happened, and she wasn't very sympathetic, rather she kept arguing with me, and finally agreed to pass me on to her manager's voice mail.   I asked her instead if she would please relay what I'd already said (I was 15 minutes into the call by then), and she refused. "He'll call you back", she said. And I said I didn't want to have to go through this entire saga yet again, but she said, it's okay, he can listen to the recording of this call if he wants to. And I asked her please to ask him to do so, so he would know what I had said already. 

I got the manager's voice mail, explained I had already told her a bunch of stuff, and would like him to call me to discuss it. A day later, I came home to find a call-back from him, on my voicemail of course, mentioning that I wanted to speak with him. But it was pretty clear that he'd been only barely informed as to the reason for the call and felt no urgency about it. He did not give me an extension, so if I returned his call, I would have to go through the girl again.  By that point, none of my legitimate complaints had really registered with anyone at the company, and I had spent literally hours dealing with the entire problem, as well as having paid the exorbitant costs.

After some thought, I decided it was not going to be worth my time returning his call. 

I will be ending my contract with Princeton Air when it expires sometime this summer, after many years of using them. The high costs I could endure if the service was really good.  But, well, it's not.  


  • Pat - Thanks for taking the time to write up your experiences with them. I have not used Princeton Air except for an energy audit. After the audit, I had an uneasy feeling about them. However, a question in the back of my mind has been whether there is something about their service that makes it worth paying their high charges. You've answered that question.

    By Blogger Joe Budelis, at 11:23 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 9:13 PM  

  • Pat - I am sorry about your experience with us and I would like to thank you for being a loyal customer for such a long time. I appreciate your spending the time to articulate the details which are very helpful to me. Might you have some time to discuss this personally (I get it if you have invested too much time already and just want to move on)? I would be happy to:

    1) Send another Technician to evaluate the entire situation.
    2) Replace the newly installed thermostat with a new Nest thermostat (and set it up properly).
    3) Refund you your money if you feel that is the best next step.

    My direct line is 609-779-6502. In preparation for your call, I will listen to any/ all call recordings in advance.

    We do mess up occasionally and are always trying to improve our process. I am Sorry once again.

    Scott Needham

    By Blogger Scott Needham, at 9:21 PM  

  • For those following this thread, Princeton Air has been in touch with me, has apologized and offered to make this matter right, and I am working with them on the matter and will modify this post afterwards in light of all the new circumstances.

    By Blogger Pat Palmer, at 10:22 AM  

  • It is now several weeks later, and we are very happy with the Nest 3rd generation thermostat. And with Princeton Air for making things right.

    By Blogger Pat Palmer, at 2:59 PM  

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