We had a water heater fail on us, which is always a crisis situation and many companies including this one often capitalize on the crisis. Home Depot in our area farms out their installer referrals to Fast, and connected us to them by a store hotline while we were still in the Home Depot customer service area. The heater was still under manufacturer warranty - thank goodness we took care of this part ourselves at Home Depot (after several attempts), and didn't let Fast Water Heater do it for us. That would have really muddled things even more.
So, sitting at the Home Depot front desk, I asked Fast for a phone quote of an install with the new heater already sitting at our home, in our garage. Pretty simple: remove the old heater, replace with new one (same size and type and manufacturer). Their phone quote was $329 for the install and $112 for "pulling the permit" plus "whatever else is required to bring the installation up to code." Of course we want to do everything properly, right? If I had thought to check our city, the permit cost is only $50 for this work. So they're already padding the bill $60. FAIL. This should have been Red Flag #1. The installer arrived at our house, appearing to have worn the clothes he slept in and also ear buds. (Was he driving the company van wearing those ear buds? Oh well.) He looked like someone that was just arrived from continuation school. He did not look like a professional installer that does this for a living. If you're gonna try and rip me off, at least try to look the part. Red Flag #2. The first thing he did was plop down a folding chair and proceed to write down some things. Man, looks like he's gonna be there a while. "I need to come up with a list of things required for this install, if you'll just bear with me about 5 or 10 minutes i'll be ready." It takes that long to size up a straightfoward replacement water heater? Red Flag #3. After 10 mins, the Fast tech comes up with a nice itemized list, full of interesting, but possibly unnecessary, things. The estimate helpfully includes references to each section of the state code which most people will be intimidated from reading. We are a family of engineers and handypersons. I have taken the extra effort to scrutinize their list below, for the benefit of those who are not so inclined.
- two earthquake straps $79. We already had two straps, which meet the state code. Reference: http://www.seismic.ca.gov/HOG/waterheaterbracing_08-11-04.pdf. This is a current document with valid code plans, despite the somewhat misleading information on the Fast web site referring to 2007. The new earthquake straps at Home Depot are $13.97. Multiply by 2 = $28. Here is another $50 padding of the bill.
- double wall vent: $120. As it happens, we already had one of these too. It needed to be slightly adjusted for the height of the new heater, but didn't require replacement.
- water shut-off valve: $99. Yep, already had this too. Recall the old heater started leaking in the garage. How else do you think I could have shut the water off? Oops.
- install P&T relief drain: $158. Not a bad idea, for those with a heater inside the house, but ours is in the corner of the garage and on a slight downhill grade. Let's just say that when the water starts coming out, it's going to pile up against the garage door and then run down the driveway to the street. A judgement call, but not really needed in our case.
- install gas shut-off valve: $89. Yep already had one of these, otherwise how could we have.... never mind. It is getting ridiculous yet?
- install sediment trap: $39. It's a few dollars of pipe and maybe 15 mins labor, so this is a reasonable addition "for code." Probably the only reasonable thing about this estimate so far.
- Bond water and gas pipes with 6awg: $89. I'm not clear about the electrical requirements for a gas water heater, and this part wasn't explained very well by the tech. Bonding is not the same as grounding, and many techs are confused by this terminology especially plumbers that are being told to do electrical code. If its just a simple matter of connecting the two water pipes together with a wire, to short-circuit an accidental electrification going into the heater, I am sure that could be done for less than $89.
- 2x4 bracing: $19. Really? $19 for a piece of wood, and bracing a heater mounted on the floor in the corner of the garage?
So we're at $329 quoted install fee + $692 to "bring it up to code" + $112 for the "city permit". Total cost: $1133.
Needless to say we sent the Fast tech packing, after some heated negotiations and very high-pressure tactics and lots of "ya know what i means". I will give them credit for coming down to a "DIY price" that was a lot lower, but let's face it: would you want to do business with someone who tried to pull a fast one on you? The company is aptly-named, in this case :-) The lack of professionalism and slouchy demeanor usually means the work will be shoddy as well, requiring more phone calls to the contractor. It keeps on going, like a bad divorce. I wanted this relationship to end as soon as possible. My own family plumber, a licensed contractor, did the work for around $400 and used almost all the existing parts.
Judging from the other reports on this site regarding this company, I think my instincts were right that "getting things up to code" seems to be their business model, and so does excessively padding the charges for this. Of course you want to have a safe water heater installation, but quoting me $329 installation over the phone while i'm sitting at Home Depot is quite a different thing from getting to my house and quoting $1133. The entire "up-to-code" exercise could have happened for a lot less. The tech actually told us, "we can do the DIY price but you gotta do the earthquake straps or i walk!" Okay then, buh-bye...
I hope this report was enlightening. It's depressing that Home Depot does business with companies that shakedown like this. If you're a woman, that's an even scarier thought because women are much easier targets. The company does not list a mailing address on their web site, which says "When you're HOT turns to COLD, you'd better think FAST!" My advice to you is : don't be hasty, don't be desperate for hot water, take your time and analyze things without emotion. Good luck!