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Elderly man winds up with $19,000 HVAC system that he won't pay off until he's nearly 100 years old

Robert Nolan w/ Air Conditioner
Posted at 5:11 PM, Dec 14, 2021

GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Most of us do not know much about our heating and air conditioning systems. So when they break, we usually have to rely on what the repairman tells us is wrong and what needs fixing or replacing.

That's what a Goodlettsville man did. But he says that because he trusted the repairman, he was left with a huge bill that he probably won't ever be able to pay off.

For nearly 50 years, Robert Nolen and his wife have called a 1,500 square foot house their home. And for as long as he can remember, he's used just one heating and air conditioning company.

"I’ve been with Donelson Air for 35, 40, or more years and I just couldn’t imagine them taking some kind of advantage of me, you know?" Nolen told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

But now, he's not so sure.

Donelson Air Service Experts website

Donelson Air Service Experts came out to do its most recent annual inspection several months ago.

"How was your air conditioner? Was your air conditioner working?" we asked.

"It was working fine. Wasn’t nothing wrong with it," he replied.

But Nolen said the crew told him they found a problem.

"They said the air conditioner, my air conditioner, was low on gas and I’ve had it about 10 years and they said, 'Well the warranty is out and you need to just go ahead and get a new air conditioner.' Well, I thought they knew what they were doing and what I should do so I said, 'Well, OK,'" Nolen explained.

So instead of just filling his existing unit with gas, the company sold him a new air conditioner plus a new furnace and electronic thermostat. According to Donelson Air, it's a high-efficiency system that not only heats and cools the air, but cleans it as well. It's also their most expensive system.

Nolan's Air Conditioner

"So he told you it was going to be $275 a month?" we asked Nolen.

"Yes," he replied.

"Did he tell you how many months you were going to have to pay?" we inquired further.

"No, he didn’t, but it’s in this paper. It’s 117 months," Nolen said as he showed us his statement from Donelson Air.

"How old are you now?" we wondered.

"I will be 90 in March," Nolen answered.

"And, so, in 117 months, that’s almost 10 years from now, how old will you be when you pay this off?" we asked.

Nolen laughed.

"That’s something else, yeah. I would be over 100," he said.

Nolen insists the Donelson Air employee never told him that he'd be paying nearly $19,000 for his new air conditioning and heating system and another $13,000 for their highest level service plan for a grand total of $32,275.

"I didn’t have any idea. You know $275 a month doesn’t sound too bad and it wasn’t going to really hurt us that bad. But when you see how they’ve got it set up, so many years and then what the total adds up to, it really shakes me up because I probably won’t ever live long enough to pay it off," Nolen said wistfully.

Now if you're thinking, wait, nearly $19,000 for a heating and air system?! Well, so did we. So we called the manufacturer who told us Nolen got their top-tier system that comes with all of the bells and whistles.

We also called several of Donelson's competitors in town who told us it's a really nice system, but they don't typically sell that sort of unit because most people don't need anything that extravagant and don't want anything that expensive.

"The last air conditioner, I found through my bills, the last air conditioner we installed I think was like $6,222," Nolen said.

His new unit, according to the manufacturer, can be totally operated through a special app, but Nolen is not even sure how to use his programmable thermostat. When we were there, it was 90+ degrees outside and set to 79 degrees inside and he had no idea how to make it any cooler.

Robert Nolan with Thermostat

"I hate to say this, but I think because they knew I was almost 90 years old and anything we tell him, he’ll accept it," Nolen told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Donelson Air and their parent company, Service Experts, told us in a statement that, "We at Service Experts take any complaints of this nature very seriously and our goal is to provide one hundred percent satisfaction to our customers... We are working to resolve this matter with him."

Although Nolen said the company refused to work with him until we started asking questions, we are happy to report the two appear to have reached an agreement in the last few days that will allow Nolen to buy the system for $13,000 and let him out of the expensive service plan. He's also asking the company to remove a lien the company placed on his home as part of service agreement.