Out-Of-State Company Offering Free Flora and Ella Dinners
LABELLE, FL. -- Area homeowners have received a postcard invitation to a free dinner at Flora and Ella's Restaurant in LaBelle with a statement "There's nothing to buy..." In a promise to reduce your utility bills up to 55% with "no gimmicks, no pressure" we suspect many will be enticed to call the toll-free number to RSVP. The clue to what's going on is this offer is open only "for homeowner couples and first time guests. Couples need to attend the dinner and demonstration together." This is a sales presentation.
We checked out the company providing this "free dinner" offer and checked with the Better Business Bureau. It's revealing. Utility Management Association, a limited liability corporation, is based in Tupelo, Mississippi where it started in 1978. The BBB opened a file on the business owned by Gary Light in October of 2003 after numerous consumer complaints. On November 17, 2006 the company's membership in the BBB was revoked by the BBB's Board of Directors due to unauthorized use of the BBB name and/or logo.
The company sells a product called "Utility Shield" which customers have described as a thin aluminum-type reflective sheeting that is installed over your attic insulation which the company claims will result in energy savings. The company also sells water heater insulation and water saving shower heads.
Consumers have reported that their utility bills have risen or remained the same since the Utility Shield product was installed. Notwithstanding a "guarantee" offered by the company, customers say they did not receive a copy of the guarantee when purchasing the product. The BBB has received complaints about the company's selling practices, advertising, service, repairs, and warranty issues. The company says the number of complaints is small compared to the number of units sold, but has refused to provide the total number of units sold.
The BBB says company representatives have given "unqualified claims that the product will decrease energy consumption in a home by 25% or more." The BBB was unable to substantiate any energy savings. At the time, the company was advertising on its postcards to prospects "We can reduce your monthly energy bills by 20-50% Guaranteed!" The BBB challenged the usage of promises of "guaranteed" energy savings. Now the company has been advertising "up to 55% guaranteed."
Ironically, the company told the BBB in response to the complaints against them that "it does not guarantee specific results, and that any incidents involving promises of specific savings occurred as a result of errors, or independent action by sales representatives." Energy experts say that any energy savings are highly dependent on many variables because all homes are unique, for instance most older homes have openings where heat or cold air can pass through regardless of what insulation or reflective materials might be installed in attics. Newer homes are generally constructed as energy efficient as possible already.
The Florida Solar Energy Center has an extensive article on attic radiant heat barrier reflection systems for Florida homes and says any savings on energy bills will depend on the energy efficiency of your home now, bearing in mind that any possible savings on electric cooling costs may amount to about 10% as a roof is not the only location heat enters the home. The Center also points out that the cost of the reflective barrier including installation costs should be around $2 per foot to make it economically feasible to install a system like this. The aluminum reflecting type must be installed under the roof rafters and not on top of the attic insulation. The shiny side is installed facing down. If you pay too much, your payback time may be very long, stretching over many, many years.
In December 2006 the company signed an agreement with the BBB to cease use of the BBB name and other unauthorized statements in sales representations.
The bottom line: enjoy your "free" dinner but be very cautious about any claims made by this company's representatives.
Florida Solar Energy Center Report
Update May 2011: Due to the number of comments received to this 2007 story and in consultation with the company, it is requested readers make no comments here online however, please feel free to email the editor directly of your experiences and comments, so that any possible updates may be made to this story. - Editor