Monday, July 1, 2013

Better Business Bureau Rates Wood Stove Companies



Few consumers probably check the Better Business Bureau before buying a wood or pellet stove or boiler.  But they should. Most wood stove experts will probably not be surprised by the rankings on the chart below. The good news for the wood stove industry is that the majority manufacturers we found on BBB received an A+ or A-. 

It’s important to understand the limitations of the BBB – and to rely on multiple sources. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports has done only a very limited review of pellet stoves and nothing on wood stoves. There is this good review of pellet stove reliability. Hearth.com is also a great resource and the Alliance for Green Heat reviews some other sites here.

The volume of complaints alone does not heavily impact a company’s grade.  Otherwise, the largest manufacturers would have the worst grades and the companies that only sold a few thousand stoves a year would have the best.  The BBB tracks consumer complaints and monitors if they have been resolved.  In their grading method, different point values are assigned to 16 weighted criteria. They include complaint volume, unanswered complaints, unresolved complaints, serious complaints, failure to address a complaint pattern and advertising review. Failure to respond to consumer complaints and to resolve them are weighted heavily.

We searched the BBB site for all major stove companies and found many of them there. We could find only one European stove company (Jotul) and several Canadian ones. For companies that own several brands such as Hearth & Home Technologies, we found one of their brands, Harman, separately listed but could not find another, Quadra-fire, for example.



* Prior to July 2013, when this blog was published, US Stove has "a history of violating BBB name and logo policy and has falsely stated BBB accreditation," according to the BBB. As of August, 2013, US Stove, "responded the BBB by removing all reference of BBB's name/logo from their website."  The BBB website still says, "There is an alert for this company."  

Series 1 marks the number of resolved complaints. Series 2 marks the number of complaints that received no response. It is promising to see that many stove manufacturers receive very few consumer complaints. Also, the complaints they do receive appear to be responded to and resolved professionally and effectively.

The points are added up and a letter grade (A as the highest, F as the lowest) is assigned accordingly. In order to receive a good score, the volume of consumer complaints that are not responded to must remain low. The BBB takes into consideration whether the business makes a speedy and honest effort to fix the problem and resolve the complaint. The response of the business can mean the difference between an A and a B score. For example, as seen in the graph, Central Boiler received 33 consumer complaints. Despite this large number, the manufacturers response and resolution of these complaints still earned it an A-. Click here to read a full overview of the BBB grading method.

Only a small fraction of consumer complaints are handled by the BBB. Usually consumers first go directly the manufacturer and only if that proves unsuccessful do consumers approach the BBB.  Instead of BBB, or in addition to it, consumers can go to their the State Attorney General’s Office. A full index listed by state is provided here. At the federal level, the Office of United States Attorneys maintains a consumer complaint file to track allegations of consumer fraud.

The BBB has been criticized for their apparent subjectivity and preferential grading of BBB accredited businesses.  It is the consistency and the transparency of the test that determines its ethical merit and credibility. The Los Angeles BBB was the branch responsible for the preferential grading of businesses, and has since been disassociated from the national council.

While wood stove companies fare relatively well on BBB, some other products in the hearth industry do not. Heat Surge, the Amish "miracle heater" that is heavily advertised and is also a exhibitor at HPBA trade shows gets a c minus rating and has hundreds of complaints filed against it. The Alliance for Green Heat has previously written about it here.


Update: (7/15/13) US Stove's BBB rating has changed from Not Rated to a B rating. The company is still not BBB accredited.

Update: (8/20/13) US Stove responded to BBB by removing all reference of BBB's name/logo from their website. BBB has closed this advertising challenge as resolved.

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