"Consumers, more often than not, just don't bother to shop around, they don't bother to get one extra price even," said Checkbook.org Executive Editor Kevin Brasler.
The failure to investigate and get multiple price estimates means many customers end up with less-than-top-quality work.
"They'll buy a new furnace or heat pump, without getting a second price," Brasler explained. "And so that's why we see just wild fluctuations in prices. Some companies charge three times as much as a competitor."
In one price comparison, Checkbook asked for the cost to install a new gas furnace igniter. Quotes ranged from a low of $130, with the average quote coming in at $239. The highest quote was $415 -- all for the same work. Prices quoted for replacing the defrost control circuit board on a heat pump ranged from a low of $229 to a high of $758.
"And the reason is, companies themselves know people don't shop around that much," said Brasler.
Of the 75 heating and cooling contractors rated by local customers, only 9 got Checkbook's top ratings for both quality and price. And while many companies rated fairly highly with most of their customers, some might be embarrassed at the exceptionally low ratings they received.
As a courtesy to KOMO viewers, a link to the subscriber-based report on heating and air conditioning services will be available on the KOMO website through July 16, 2013. Open the link, enter your email address then continue to the full report and rating results.