My Trane air handler recently stopped working and after the couple of visits arranged by the home warranty service company failed to resolve the issue, I managed to identify the control board parts that needed to be replaced. I wanted to get an estimate of the prices for the involved parts, but guess what none of the distributors in my area would sell them to me citing the fact that I do not have a HVAC license. They would not provide me a quote even (as I was not trying to repair this myself, but to get an idea of the costs that I need to allocate to get this fixed). I was told that they would provide the quote only to the HVAC technician that I engage and that they needed to have an account with them. Is this not short of collusion/racketeering ? I understand that the distributor wants to sell direct to the HVAC repair companies so that they can markup the prices and make a margin on the same. Finally I managed to get the prices from authorized Trane dealers online. And I was shocked to find that the prices quoted by one of the repair companies "recommended" by the distributor were three and a half times more than what I would have paid had I bought the parts directly from the distributor (which is what I eventually did.. ended up paying around $395 including expedited shipping, while the repair company quoted me a price of $1,400/- for the same damn parts. I do not know where I can take this up with..
There are two separate issues going on here:
- There is a general problem that many distributors of technical products (whether HVAC, electrical, plumbing) are reluctant to sell to DIY. That is a combination of varying amounts of:
- Don't want to provide the pre-sales help/training/support that typical ordinary users would require compared to trained technicians
- Avoiding a higher-than-usual rate of product return (due to buyers either buying the wrong thing or damage in attempted installation)
- Manufacturer restrictions (not as much of a problem as it used to be, but some manufacturers try to limit end-user sales to officially authorized/trained technicians)
These problems can often be overcome by going in as an educated consumer (e.g., know exact part #s and terminology) and by explaining the situation (e.g., I'm having at technician install it but he told me to pick up the parts to save him charging me for the time it would take him to get the parts).
- There is a specific problem with HVAC. Due to various government regulations, only trained/certified technicians can handle refrigerant (often referred to by the trade name Freon). Arguably, that should limit sales of refrigerant, recovery equipment and related items, but not electronics, motors, etc. However, some distributors may play it safe by restricting all sales of HVAC parts to certified technicians.
See Can a homeowner without a Section 608 EPA license legally connect his own gauges to his own air conditioner if the unit uses 410a refrigerant? for a little more on this topic.
Grainger will let you set up a business as a contractor. They sell almost anything you need from HVAC - to the point if they don't have it, you really shouldn't be repairing it. (Other than freon)
I have also used https://www.repairclinic.com/ and a few sites like them. I have found on a few occasions grainger had a compatible part but using that part might include a slight rewiring which for me to learn the electrical layout of a new system is 1-2 hours.
Big box will never sell these.
There are too many brands and parts.
There will be too many returns since most people buying there won't know how to install them or will break the part during install.
- you buy your circuit board.
- cause a slight short somewhere on the board by installing incorrectly at first.
- get it installed right.
- now board works but has a defect caused by you
- defect is small and since the board never fully worked you deem the board to be defective on arrival.
- you return board.
- manufacturer has to send out another board
- too many returns and the manufacturer starts asking "who the hell are you selling to"
HVAC stuff is a pretty easy example of this but many many many different trades have places where you can only get their parts from specialty stores.
There is a national distributor from whom I buy telecom-related parts (fiber optics, conduit, etc). Before I opened an account with them I always just paid "cash" at the counter. As I contemplated formally opening an account with them I complained to my sales rep, almost literally with these words, that "I buy from you when I want to pay 30% more for stuff I could have bought anywhere, or when I need something I just couldn't find anywhere else." The explanation I received is that they price this way "to protect their contractor customers." Huh.. well, ok. The pricing did indeed improve when I started buying on account. It seems like a weak excuse though given that home centers and other electrical distributors largely sell the same things without the customer-repelling markup.
There is another distributor in town from whom I've attempted to buy HVAC parts a few times. Stuff like a hot surface ignitor or an inducer blower motor. Despite my having the exact part number in hand, this distributor steadfastly refuses to sell to the public. They're extremely strict about their wholesale-only approach.
Maybe some day they'll be "forced" to change because Internet sales are taking money they could have had. But probably not: in HVAC especially there will always be a market for "I need it fixed ASAP and could do it myself, but if I have to hire a contractor because he has access to local parts distribution then that's what I'll do."