Comcast Upgrades Gigabit Pro from 3Gbps to 6Gbps!

Seems like I just wrote one of these articles, doesn’t it? It was only back in September 2021 when my Gigabit Pro connection received an upgrade from 2Gbps to 3Gbps, now, Comcast has officially bumped all Gigabit Pro customers up to 6Gbps!

Once I began hearing more rumors on Reddit, I investigated and found that Comcast’s support articles had been quietly upgraded to indicate that all Gigabit Pro customers would receive an upgrade to 6Gbps.

Since late last year, I have enjoyed speeds of “3Gbps+1Gbps” on my two handoffs. The service provides a 2Gbps fiber hand-off (10G fiber, rate limited to 3G), and a 1Gbps ethernet hand-off. Both circuits were able to be used simultaneously, as I demonstrated briefly at the end of my installation article.

With the upgrade in place, I now seem to have a “6Gbps+1Gbps” symmetrical service!

It’s genuinely hard to find a server that can do this connection justice. This test was run to Comcast’s own speedtest server.

I wanted to see if the 10% over-provisioning typical of Comcast’s fiber in the past was still in effect, seemed to top out for me at around 6200Mbps, but I was occasionally seeing some higher numbers on my router.

I set out to test the connection more thoroughly, which was not an easy task. I used multi-gig servers from 4 different datacenter locations to complete some iperf tests.

I was having some trouble getting the inbound and outbound maxed out at the same time, so for the sake of the most accurate test of “what is the rate limiting set to?”, I decided to test both directions of traffic flow separately.

Transmitting at full speed on both lines does indicate a 10% over-provisioning, and the ability to use both uplinks simultaneously for a total throughput of around 7Gbps.
Throughput during the test is a bit inconsistent, but this is likely just due to how difficult this test is to run. A lot of factors on the outside Internet make achieving this speed all the time difficult.
Receiving at full speed on both lines also works as expected, although for me, the receive test was a bit less consistent and harder to keep the bandwidth at expected levels. This is again most likely due to external factors, not how Comcast is rate limiting the connection.
You can see here that throughput during this test is a lot more inconsistent, even on the gigabit uplink, which is likely indicating some congestion coming from my test servers more than anything else.

Interestingly, in the tests you can see that the upload (TX) test was much more stable and consistent than the download (RX) test. It’s difficult to say for sure where the fluctuations are coming from, but the servers I was testing with or the networks they are connected to may have some capacity constraints. Datacenter traffic tends to be heavy outbound, so there is likely more free available inbound bandwidth at datacenters (for me to transmit to them), resulting in a smoother test.

I may re-conduct these tests again in the future if I gain access to faster servers to test with. For the time being, the results are still very impressive, and I have to comment Comcast for pushing the envelope with this, even though I suspect the only reason they did it is to give a petty jab at AT&T who just rolled out a 5Gbps residential fiber plan themselves.

In any case, I look forward to never maxing this connection out except when trying to stress test and speed test! 😉 Even the 3Gbps connection was basically impossible to fully utilize given the limitations of the servers you’re connecting to.

6Gbps is even pushing the limitations of a lot of common computer hardware (like SATA III disk drives which have a 6Gbps interface speed). It’s crazy to think that my Internet connection is capable of transferring data faster than most consumers currently are able to read\write data to a SATA SSD.

It will definitely be a long time before these speeds are needed by any residential customer, but I’m still quite pleased to have them now!

Porting a Landline Number to Google Voice, via TracFone

In 2021, an AT&T landline price increase finally gave my grandma the push she needed to get rid of her landline phone service. I have been encouraging my family to use their Google Voice lines for many years, but some of them have still held on to their expensive landline service. A hangup for my grandma was not wanting to lose her primary phone number, so I set off to see about porting it to Google Voice.

Google Voice, for some reason, will not port a landline number directly. I came across some other articles online, like this one from The Cord Cutting Report, which I found helpful throughout my process. So, I thought I’d document my experience for the future reference of myself and anyone else who may find it useful.

TracFone as a number porting intermediary.

Numerous guides I’d read online suggested using a prepaid cell phone carrier, such as Ting, to port the number away from the landline service. This process would transition the phone number into a mobile number, which Google Voice is willing and able to port over to their service.

I decided to use TracFone, since I have used them personally for many years, as has most of my family. As a result of my long time as a customer, I had an old Android phone laying around from a previous TracFone service term, and was able to get it activated on the network again – so I did not even have to buy a burner phone, I already had it!

I’ve read that others have experienced problems with their number porting due to information not matching up on the two accounts. It seems that things like the billing zip code on the credit card used to order the service, and other factors can impact the process. So, to attempt to minimize any such issues, I added my old phone to my grandma’s TracFone account, and we ordered the service using her credit card. This way, all of the billing and account information will match her AT&T landline service.

I began the process on a Thursday night, knowing it may take 1-2 business days, not knowing whether it would be done before the weekend or not. But, there was no rush here. I’d been informed through my research that it was a good idea to wait at least 1 full week between porting the number to TracFone and trying to port it again, so with this intention in mind, nobody was in any hurry.

The Porting Process – Initial Issues

Having personally never ported a number before, I wasn’t totally familiar with the process and what it would entail. I began the process on TracFone’s website, which asked me for the AT&T account number and password\PIN for the account I wanted to port the number from.

The account number could be found on the top right corner of the AT&T landline bill.

Example bill layout from AT&T’s website, note #6 Account Number.

It seemed completely clear, although there was some awkward spacing in the information. For the sake of this example so I can provide a workable example with a non-real account number, let’s say her phone number was (111) 222-3456. And let’s say the account PIN was 7654.

The information appearing as “Account Number” on the AT&T bill was formatted like this: 111 222-3456 765 4

I tried all possible combinations of these numbers on TracFone’s website, but it said everything I entered was an invalid account number. I came across this Reddit thread from someone else who had the same issue. The thread seemed to conclude that the account number would be 13 digits, so from our example, I assumed the correct account number would be 1112223456765. The thread noted it was necessary to select “Other” as the carrier, not “AT&T” because the account number was still not a “valid” AT&T account number, according to the form.

I figured I could call TracFone support, but I also figured there was no harm in trying this, and if it didn’t work I could fall back to calling support. So, I went ahead and did as suggested, entering the account number as 1112223456765 and the PIN as 7654.

The Wait Begins

After entering the information, TracFone appeared to accept the order and begin the porting process. They provided the following guidance:

The transfer process is in progress and should take a few hours to complete. In some cases, it could take as long as 2 business days. It may take longer for landline phone numbers. During this time, your current phone will still work.

After your CURRENT phone stops working:
1. Call *22890 from your NEW phone to initiate the Activation process.
2. When the activation is complete, make a call.
– If the activation or call fails, wait a few minutes and call * again.

For kicks, I tried to activate the phone several hours later, and unsurprisingly, the activation was not successful. The wait was now on to see how many days \ business days the transfer would take, and if it would even be successful at all.

Unexpected Issues

Unfortunately, there was a hangup in my plan. Tracfone called us the next day to notify us that the phone we were trying to activate was too old, and no longer supported by the network. I was somewhat surprised, considering I still know at least one person actively using the same model phone on Tracfone’s network, but since the temporary phone I had was a 3G phone, they probably are no longer activating 3G phones since that network is in the process of being decommissioned by major carriers, like AT&T.

I really didn’t want to buy a phone for the sole purpose of using for a week, so I started asking around, and was fortunate to find a friend with an old 4G unlocked phone they were no longer using. I was able to borrow their phone and use a very cheap TracFone BYOD SIM card to attempt to activate it on TracFone’s network.

The process of activating the second phone was difficult the first time, the first agent I called was unable to find the service card we had paid for on the previous phone, and told me that the account number I had from AT&T was invalid for the number port. (This turned out to not be true – the information outlined above IS correct.)

I called back a second time the next day, after calling AT&T to verify the account number, and got a different TracFone rep who was able to overcome all of the problems the first rep couldn’t. Finally, the transfer process was underway! I was told it would take 2 days to complete the porting process, since it was a landline. It sounded like they would have to actually communicate with AT&T via email and send over documentation, it would not be a quick automated process (maybe this is why Google refuses to do it!).

Successful TracFone Port!

After two days, as promised, the number was ported and I was able to activate the phone on TracFone’s network. I made a test call to myself and confirmed it came from the old landline number.

Various articles and forum threads I’d read online suggested that I should wait 1 week before trying to port the number again. So, I decided to wait a little extra. The port completed on a Wednesday, and I decided to do the second port the following Sunday, when I could go over to Grandma’s house and finish setting up her Obi200 box.

Porting to Google

The port to Google was a fairly straightforward process overall, but a lot of the information I’d found online concerning how to port out of TracFone had been incorrect.

I began here, on this Google KB post which provides the link to the page to start the number porting process.

The first step was to enter the phone number and check portability, this was where we failed before, since Google did not support porting the AT&T landline. This time, success! Google said the number was eligible for porting. Once on the next screen, they provide the following terms and details:

The next step was to fill out contact information for the phone number being ported (the billing address and details on the TracFone account). Note that the carrier shows up as Verizon, I was expecting this, since I used the Verizon compatible BYOD SIM.

This was where the slight issues began. Every piece of information I found online, including this article from Best Cellular, stated that the “Account Number” for a TracFone BYOD device was the last 15 digits of the SIM card. As far as the 4 digit PIN, information I found online varied from “TracFone doesn’t use PINs, so you should enter 0000” to “TracFone doesn’t use PINs, so you should enter any 4 digit number”. I decided to enter a 4 digit security PIN I knew existed on the account.

Unfortunately, the port request was immediately rejected due to a bad account number. I was provided the option to correct the account number, but didn’t know what the right information was. I really was not looking forward to calling TracFone and asking them how to port away the number they’d just ported in a week earlier, but I decided to give it a shot.

Fortunately, the agent I got at the TracFone number porting department was very helpful, and didn’t seem to care at all about what I was doing. They initially thought I was right to be using the last 15 digits of the SIM card too, but then found another account number in the system that I didn’t have. They provided it to me, and I entered it in the Google form, along with the 4 digit account security PIN. This time, the port was accepted!

I was disappointed that it was going to take another 24 hours, I thought the port would be fairly immediate now that it was a mobile number. I’m not sure if the delay was normal, because it was a landline, or because I made a mistake on the form the first time. Either way, Google was very timely and completed the port request exactly when they said they would. The next day, we received an email notifying us it was complete!

Closing Thoughts

This was my first time ever porting a phone number in any capacity, and I was trying to do something somewhat unsupported… All in all, this process was as easy as I could have asked for. There were certainly some snags along the way, which were learning experiences for me, but I would definitely do this again in the future if someone else in my family asks for assistance getting rid of their landline. Hopefully someone else out there will also find this information useful if you are trying to do the same process, or wondering what will be involved and how hard it will be. Happy porting!

Comcast Upgrades Gigabit Pro from 2Gbps to 3Gbps!

I have been a satisfied Comcast Gigabit Pro customer for almost two years now, since my original installation in November 2019. Although the price tag is high, I have always felt that the exceptionally perfect service quality I get in return is well worth the price. Now, it seems I have even more to be excited about!

Comcast does have a history of upgrading service tiers, such as earlier this year when they universally converted the 1Gbps (1.2Gbps provisioned) cable service to a 1.2Gbps (1.4Gbps provisioned) cable service. However, it was unclear if and when an upgrade for Gigabit Pro might follow.

It all started last month with some rumors on Reddit that Comcast would be upping the speed of Gigabit Pro, adding an additional gigabit of capacity to the fiber hand-off.

Up to this point, Gigabit Pro service has sort of been a “2Gbps+1Gbps” symmetrical service. The service provides a 2Gbps fiber hand-off (10G fiber, rate limited to 2G), and a 1Gbps ethernet hand-off. Both circuits were able to be used simultaneously, as I demonstrated briefly at the end of my installation article.

With the upgrade in place, I now have a “3Gbps+1Gbps” symmetrical service! test of the 3Gbps fiber hand-off.

I have tested and verified that both circuits are able to be used simultaneously, at full speed, for an extended time. A screenshot from my router follows:

IPERF load testing, with both circuits running at maximum capacity in both directions.

This testing was not perfect, I was testing to a single multi-gig cloud server at a single Internet provider. I have no doubt that this is the reason for the slight fluctuations in achieved throughput. It may also have fluctuated a bit since I was capping everything out in both directions, which may have caused some increased TCP ACK latency and may have degraded the performance slightly.

Regardless, I believe this demonstrates clearly the additional value provided by the Gigabit Pro service tier upgrade!

At the time of this writing, Comcast has not updated all of their marketing materials, and some markets (particularly Western US) may not receive this upgrade until October or November 2021. But, if you are a Gigabit Pro subscriber, rest assured that your upgrade should be coming soon! 🙂

I hope that a price increase does not follow… but I am quite excited and pleased by my upgrade!

Update on 10/7/2021:

I finally received the official email from Comcast announcing my speed increase. 😛

My Negative Review of ARS Rescue Rooter

It’s winter, and the heater is not starting up!

Living near Chicago, it can get quite cold in the winter time. Just last week, the temperatures dropped below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. My furnace was working overtime keeping my house warm.

I’m a pretty warm blooded person, I usually run my winter thermostat around 64 degrees, a temperature that would be too cold for most people, but works well for me. As anyone who reads my blog knows, I have a lot of computer equipment, and as anyone who has owned computer equipment knows, it creates a lot of heat. Keeping my thermostat low helps keep my computer room comfortable and my server rack cool.

Despite this low setpoint, my furnace was struggling last week. Luckily, it made it to the finish line, but this week when temperatures rose to almost 40 degrees Fahrenheit, problems emerged.

I am a night shifter, and usually stay up until at least 4 or 5AM most nights. On one particular night earlier this week, as I was getting ready for bed, I emerged from my warm computer room and noticed the downstairs of my house felt chillier than usual. Sure enough, I checked the thermostat, and I was at 61 degrees, 3 degrees below setpoint. Uh oh.

I went down to the basement to check the furnace, it was running, but blowing cold air out the vents. I noticed a flashing indicator light blinking a 4 blink pattern, and after checking the inside panel, diagnosed that it was a “sensor over limit” error. I assumed this meant there was a bad sensor, probably reading 0 or infinity. I did not assume this would be a major repair.

However, by this time, it’s almost 6AM. I need to get to bed so I can get up for work, even for me, it’s now getting to be past my bedtime. But, although it’s 40 degrees outside, there are 20 degree lows in the forecast, I am not sure how my house will handle without a furnace as temps drop below freezing, and I know that when I get up and go to the office, I will not likely have a lot of time to talk to HVAC companies while they’re open. I think, it’s already almost the start of the business day, I can probably call someone now.

So I began to quickly try and find someone to call, I checked around online, but so many HVAC contractors feel shady or scammy to me from the get-go, I want someone trustworthy. My grandma recently had her system repaired, so although it’s early, I give her a quick call. She can’t recommend her guy because he doesn’t come out to my area, so the search continues.

After some deliberation, we decided to call the phone number on the last service sticker. Evidently the previous owner of the house had the system serviced in 2011 by Anderson Heating (ARS). Grandma thought that they were a good company, and they’d worked on the system in the past, so I decided they were my best bet. I gave them a call, and they were able to schedule an appointment for me that would work fairly well with my work schedule. I’d miss out on a few hours of sleep, but be able to address the issue that afternoon before going into the office.

The ARS Tech Appointment

The next morning, quite a bit earlier than the time we’d agreed upon, I received a call that ARS was on the way. I’d only slept about 2 hours at this point and I was not super thrilled, but at least I’d have this situation behind me soon, or so I thought.

When the truck pulled up, I immediately got some weird vibes. I noticed the name of the company was ARS Rescue Rooter, and the logo was different than the one on my service sticker from 2011. Had I called the right company? Was this one of those scams I had heard about where a company buys up a bunch of out of business contractor’s phone numbers to scoop up leads? (Fear of this type of scam was one reason I was so skeptical of calling someone off of Google.) My suspicion was high. I guess some of this is on me for not researching them ahead of time, but it was late and I was tired, and at the time I was doing what I thought was best.

The technician came inside, and he seemed like a nice guy, things seemed to be off to a reasonably good start. Though, I did notice, he immediately seemed negative about the outcome before even opening the panel, telling me that since the unit was 12 years old, we could be having problems.

Upon arriving at the furnace, he opened the panel up, and told me he would take a look at everything and should have some information in about 15 minutes, somewhat encouraging me to leave the area so he could work. I wish I hadn’t left him alone with the furnace now in hindsight, but that’s a totally normal thing to do when people are working on your appliances, and I still thought this was just an honest service call. So I went and got a drink, waiting around to hear some results.

When he called me back, he showed me some video from a small flexible camera. He pointed out some lines in a metal panel, stating that they were cracks in the heat exchanger. He proceeded to explain that replacing the heat exchanger is usually not worthwhile, because of the labor-intensiveness, and that his company is not legally allowed to turn the furnace back on with a defective heat exchanger.

A Cracked Heat Exchanger, Huh?

I now know that this is a common scam, so common in fact, that it appears on multiple websites about avoiding HVAC scams.

Here’s a quote from another contractor, Hot Point Heating and Air Conditioning LLC’s website, on the subject of avoiding HVAC scams:

Perhaps the most common furnace repair scam is the “cracked heat exchanger” scam. A shady repair technician may try to trick you into believing the heat exchanger in your furnace is cracked and leaking deadly amounts of carbon monoxide into your home. They will push you hard to either get it fixed immediately or replace the unit entirely on the spot.

Remember: it is possible for your heat exchanger to be cracked and it is a dangerous problem needing immediate attention. However, it is also very rare.

If your repairman claims to have found a crack in your heat exchanger, insist on seeing the crack for yourself—particularly if it took very little time for the repair technician to make the diagnosis.

If you cannot see the crack, do not take it on faith that only the expert’s eyes can see it. Get another opinion as soon as possible to make sure you aren’t getting scammed.

So, let’s do a litmus test here. Was I shown the crack?

Well, I was shown something. The technician had a live camera feed (I know for a 100% fact it was a real camera feed, not pre-recorded, because the technician accidentally dropped the camera at one point and I saw stuff going by as he did).

The camera feed did show some kind of black formation that appeared to be along a crease in the metal. Was it a dangerous crack in the heat exchanger, with the potential to release carbon monoxide? I’m not qualified to tell, this is why I have HVAC technicians working for me.

I suppose it might be a small hairline crack, I suppose it might also be soot buildup. Who knows?

But do I have a carbon monoxide leak? My carbon monoxide detector says: No!

ARS definitely provided some evidence of their diagnosis, and I am not saying that this evidence is fabricated. But, I think the diagnosis that the unit is dangerous is dubious at best.

A high pressure sales situation?

So now ARS had me backed into a corner. Obviously, I need to get my furnace running. The cold temperatures are coming back, next week is going to be even colder. They are essentially telling me that repair is not worthwhile.

The technician told me that my unit was unsafe to operate, and that I had to sign a form acknowledging this fact so that they would not be liable. He did not clearly communicate to me that I had the option to not disable the unit, and pointed to a section on the form and told me to sign it.

Later, when I reviewed the form closer, there was a second section I could have signed that said I accept responsibility and do NOT disable my unit. But, thanks to the pressure, and lack of sleep, I’d just authorized the gas to be shut off, the power to be shut off, and the unit to receive a big red sticker declaring it dangerous.

In the end, I feel that my choice to not disable the unit was not made clear, and that I was coerced into agreeing to disable it.

Furnace scare tactics at work.

After signing this waiver, I am provided an enormous quote of around $2,500 (around what my grandma paid for her entire furnace when she had it installed) for all of the repairs that ARS says would be necessary to make my furnace safe again, including:

  • Replace heat exchanger (~$1,500)
  • Replace pressure switch (~$400)
  • Replace run capacitor (~$250)
  • Replace gas union (~$185)
  • Parts acquisition fee (~$125)

Obviously, when these numbers start to add up, purchasing a furnace seems like a pretty good idea. Fortunately, my ARS technician is able to schedule a sales rep to come out that day and spec out my new system.

In the heat of the moment, with 2 hours of sleep under my belt, this felt like a good choice. I could get a quote, then think about it later at work. So I went ahead and scheduled the next visit. We schedule an appointment between 2-4PM, which is when my original tech visit was supposed to be scheduled.

I attempted to go back to sleep, and sent the repair quote to my parents along with a request to investigate if they feel like the company is legitimate while I’m trying to sleep before my second appointment.

The Sales Consultation

Later in the day, I was awoken at around 3:15PM by the phone. I’d set a last-minute alarm for 3:30PM, which would be just enough time for me to get to work, but expected to be awoken by the phone much earlier than that. I was surprised by how late it was.

The sales rep had gotten held up at another job and wanted to know if he could come at 5PM. Since I had to leave almost immediately for work, I told him that this wouldn’t work.

This turned out to be the best scheduling mishap that could ever happen, because had he come to my house that day, it’s quite likely I may have unnecessarily spent over $5,000 on a new furnace and A\C installation (of course, they pushed A\C too).

We agreed to reschedule to 10AM the next morning. This is too early for my liking, but we picked this time because it might allow for them to do an installation the same day if necessary and get my heat back up and running.

Reconsidering, A Second Opinion

In the time that’s passed, both myself and my parents who I’d enlisted to help research had begun to grow skeptical of the diagnosis from ARS. We decided that since I would already have to go a night without heat anyway, we may as well take our time and get another opinion. Afterall, we still had a few days of nearly 40 degree temps on the forecast, and if I could make it one night, surely I could make it two or three if I had to.

We called another local HVAC contractor who my dad had found, and scheduled for an appointment the next day at noon. (Remember, ARS was scheduled at 10AM).

I decided that it was best to not sacrifice sleep, and growing more and more skeptical whether I wanted to buy a furnace from these folks, so I called up the number I’d called originally to schedule my first appointment. I went through the phone prompts to update my appointment status, and spoke to a very kind dispatcher who informed me that as requested, my appointment had been cancelled. I told him thanks, and I’d create a new appointment soon if I decided to move forward.

An Unexpected Visit

After I cancelled my appointment, I assumed I might receive a call the next day to try to follow up. This would be a fairly standard practice I think for any business. But, I knew I needed my phone turned up so I could receive a heads-up call from my other contractor. So as a temporary measure, I blocked the office number of ARS, so their call would go to voicemail. I figured this would allow me to follow up later without my sleep being interrupted by a sales pitch.

Much to my shock, I received an awakening at 10AM in the form of a phone call from the sales rep. I answered the call and my Google Voice call screening confirmed his identity, but I let the call go to voicemail and went into the bathroom. I was considering what to do, I didn’t ask for this appointment to be completed, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do business with this company after all.

I decided to call my mom quickly and decide how I should proceed. While I was on the phone with her, there was constant pounding on my front door and multiple calls spamming my phone.

I can forgive this excessive attempt at making noise — I do know the sales rep assumed that I was sleeping (I’d told him my schedule), and I assume he was trying to wake me up. But throughout the course of this, it seems like he realized that one of their numbers was going to voicemail, and proceeded to call me from two other numbers.

He’s now called me from both office numbers and his cell phone number, but doesn’t realize that the appointment is cancelled? How does the office not know this? You would think at some point during this situation, he would check the status of the appointment. Maybe something unexpectedly came up, maybe I wasn’t home, the whole situation just felt very off.

It became quite clear I needed to address the sales rep, but my mom told me I should not let him in the house, and she was beginning to get freaked out by all the noise while we were on the phone. I agreed and didn’t want to answer the door, this was starting to feel a bit too aggressive for my comfort. Especially when I looked at some voicemail transcripts, and I saw that he’d said “I can hear you in the house, why aren’t you answering the door?”.

Further, he was implying in the voicemails that he’d set aside his entire day for me and had no other appointments. It had a tone to it that seemed like he meant to make me feel bad. But did I feel bad? No. I cancelled the appointment, I provided notice, so why was this guy here waking me up pounding on my door? Is this not ultimately my decision whether to proceed with the sale?

Finally I got off the phone with my mom, and called the sales rep on his cell phone. I explained that I’d felt pressured into buying a furnace yesterday, and after having time to think, I wanted time to get a second opinion. He seemed OK with this, but reiterated how I was wasting his whole day and blowing him off. I explained that I’d cancelled the appointment, he claimed to know nothing about this, and he asked why I didn’t tell him directly.

Well, I’d never met this guy. He was scheduled to come out the day before, but how am I to know the company is sending the same rep? I spoke to him once on the phone and the conversation was about him being late. I didn’t realize he had personal attachment to this sale, companies send out different people for different jobs all the time, so I notified the company properly through their phone system and speaking to a representative. The fact this guy seemed to think I should feel obligated to tell him personally, and almost offended that I didn’t, felt off to me.

Was this just an attempt to manipulate me with guilt? Was the appointment cancellation genuinely not communicated to him by his company?

Either way, I decided this is not my problem, and this is not a company I want to be doing business with. At worst, maybe they attempted to manipulate me into a purchase I didn’t need. At best, maybe their internal communication between departments sucks. Regardless, why do I want to be involved?

The sales rep and I spent about 15 minutes talking on the phone, mostly he defended his company, asserting that they do things by the book and appealing to authority a little bit regarding how they are affiliated with Home Depot. We did leave things on good terms, at least I felt so, and he seemed to be genuinely surprised that I’d felt the way I did. I was quite up front with him about how I felt coerced and pressured.

A Real Repair

Later in the day, the alternative contractor we hired arrived. I did not tell them directly any details about the previous diagnosis, but they did know that another company had investigated and we were seeking a second opinion.

Before he arrived, I removed the “DO NOT OPERATE” sticker that I’d been coerced to have stuck on there. I wanted to let this tech make his own, unbiased, assessments.

He opened up the furnace, and I went through the same details with him that I did with the ARS rep, about what error code I was getting, the fact the furnace was blowing cold air, and questioning if a sensor could be bad.

Within 5 minutes, he had a jumper on the sensor, and the furnace ignited! We had heat blowing out the ducts.

After his investigation, he informed me that the error code was caused by a bad sensor, and that the sensor may have overheated due to restricted air flow. He believed that the filters I was using were too thick, and suggested using a filter with a lower MERS rating to prevent future sensor burn outs.

This company quoted me a total of under $300 to correct the problem. Of course I jumped on this, and the problem was fixed in under an hour.

As an added bonus, he told me that he could increase my blower motor speed, and that this might offset the thicker filter and prevent a future sensor burnout. I had absolutely no idea that this was something you could do! My air pressure on the second floor has always been lackluster, so I jumped on this offer. Now my air pressure throughout the house is remarkable. I look forward to seeing if this helps the A\C in the summer time.

After he was done repairing the problem, he seemed to do other tasks related to checking sensors and components of the furnace. He spent quite awhile checking things and I felt he was quite thorough. He spent a lot more time than ARS did before they declared the furnace a lost cause.

After he was finished, I asked him what his assessment was of the lifespan. As a 12 year old unit with an expected lifespan of 15-20 years, it’s not a young furnace. He said it looked like things were mostly in good shape, and he’d expect it to last closer to 20 years (so, I might get another 8 years out of it!).

I waited until after the transaction was over and I’d paid to ask him about the heat exchanger. ARS had made me so terrified to even say anything about it, because they told me that, in a nutshell, no legitimate company would repair a furnace with this defect and any company that would was risking serious liability.

He told me that if the heat exchanger were cracked, we should see flame rolling, or see carbon monoxide leaking. He observed neither of these things, and had measured the carbon monoxide himself during the diagnosis.

I told him all about my experience with ARS, and if anything, he spent most of the time rolling his eyes. I told him what they said about liability, and that I’d never find anyone legitimate to fix it. He seemed almost in shock at this.

The Takeaway

For me personally, ARS is not the type of company I want to do further business with, and I will not be calling them again. I will be calling the contractor who did fix my problem for my future needs.

So what’s the deal, is ARS scamming people with heat exchanger ghost stories? There seem to be a lot of reviews by other ARS customers mentioning bad heat exchangers. But, these customers seem mostly satisfied, having the tone of “maybe ARS caught a serious problem I didn’t know about”.

I won’t make a hard claim one way or another. Perhaps there might be a hairline crack in my heat exchanger. But if it is not leaking, is it a serious problem? My furnace is up and running, and a competent HVAC technician gave it a clean bill of health.

I can understand that ARS may be technically correct, while also being morally in the wrong. I feel that they exaggerated a minor, age and wear related, symptom that is common in furnaces and blew it up into a major life or death situation in order to use the cold winter temperatures to force a quick sale.

I also feel that they must do this a lot… not just because of the reviews we read, but also because of how readily the tech whipped out these forms and went through his script.

I think about how someone with less knowledge and experience might react to these tactics. The previous owner of my house was an elderly lady, and I wonder if the furnace that is now in my house was installed as a result of this kind of sales tactic. I hope she was treated fairly by them in 2009.

Could this have been one bad apple, one bad technician? It seems unlikely, because my sales rep, while defending the technician, expressed to me that he is one of their senior technicians, and that he trained the technician personally. So, if their senior technicians are operating this way, it’s likely they are training their subordinates to do so as well.


ARS got $95 of my money for a service call where they did nothing but show up, did not disclose to me what the actual problem was (at no point during that visit did the tech mention the bad sensor), and I feel used scare tactics to try to sell me a new furnace which I clearly do not need.

Still, I saved big by not falling into the trap.

I decided to use my extra money I saved by not buying a furnace to buy a new carbon monoxide detector which I will install in the basement, just in case. My existing detectors were over 5 years old.

I feel much better about this solution than trying to do an emergency replacement of the entire system in the middle of winter.

If you believe the heat exchanger fear hype, perhaps I’m now at a higher risk of a carbon monoxide leak? But, this has caused me to ramp up my protection by buying a new detector, so I feel that I am now MORE safe and LESS likely to be poisoned by carbon monoxide. Any appliance that burns fuel can spring a leak, “hairline crack” or not. Monitoring is the key to not succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning.

I feel that the other contractor I hired was competent, fixed the problem correctly, and did a thorough inspection of the furnace. My furnace now operates better than before it broke, thanks to the increased air pressure, and the problem is fixed for much less money than ARS quoted me, if I had elected to repair with them.

Ultimately, I think everyone’s takeaway here should be, if you get an astronomical quote from any appliance repair company or if you feel that you are being pressured into a sale, second guess them! Get another opinion! You may come out very far ahead.

10Gbps Home Network Tour Video Follow-up!

Recently, I was contacted by Lon Seidman from Lon.TV on YouTube about my home network and my Gigabit Pro setup. He found me through my article here on Binary Impulse: What It Was Like Getting Comcast Gigabit Pro.

Interviewing with Lon was quite a fun experience, and I enjoyed the opportunity to both show off my setup and talk shop with him, as a prospective Gigabit Pro customer himself who is just at the start of his journey.

Not too long ago, I posted an article entitled 10Gbps Home Network Tour, detailing my setup behind the scenes and going into detail about the equipment I am running on my home network, in my home lab, and how I am taking advantage of Comcast’s multi-gigabit Internet service.

The video with Lon is a great follow-up to this post, as I got to show on video and talk about aspects of my setup that would have been too in-depth for the scope of that post, so I wanted to post it here for anyone who might stumble on my blog and maybe did not see the YouTube video. If you enjoyed my network tour article, are curious about Gigabit Pro, or just like looking at other people’s networks, then this is well worth a watch!