When her new oil-burning furnace quit at minus 45 Celsius, Colleen Tyrner wasn’t surprised.
The thing had been working intermittently since day one.
Tyrner’s kids bought their mom the new furnace in August.
“I am living in this 1975 trailer and the furnace was 35 years old,” said the 64-year-old widow.
“The kids bought me a new one because I don’t have enough money.”
The $3,500 furnace was purchased from Griffiths Heating and Sheet Metal LTD. at a trade fair.
A couple weeks later, Griffiths showed up with the furnace and installed it.
It didn’t work.
“They came back the next day and got it going,” said Tyrner.
But it kept on quitting.
For the next three days, Griffiths came by to work on the furnace every time Tyrner phoned.
On the fifth day, Griffiths didn’t return her calls, she said.
At a loss, Tyrner called Northland Trailer Park manager Don Brewster, who recommended she call the city inspector.
The inspector came out the same day.
“He said the furnace wouldn’t pass the inspection,” said Tyrner.
Brewster recommended Lance Couch from Certified Heating and Services.
He came out the same day, took one look at the copper piping, nine small segments fitted together with valves, and replaced it with one solid piece.
“He was worried about an airlock,” said Tyrner.
“It looked like someone was just trying to use up scrap pipe.”
With her furnace working, Tyrner decided not to buy the new tank she’d ordered from Griffiths and used Certified instead.
Certified also replaced the oil line that runs from the tank to the house.
“After Lance made all these repairs, he called the inspector, who came and inspected it,” said Tyrner.
It passed and things ran relatively smoothly until the cold snap in February, when the furnace quit again.
“I took the top of the furnace off and started pushing the manual button to make it come on again,” said Tyrner.
Certified checked “the sparker,” she said.
It didn’t fix the problem.
So, they called Great Northern Oil to make sure there was no water in the tank or lines.
“We did go and dip the tank for water and there was no water at that time,” said Great Northern manager Don Foster.
“(Great Northern) was great,” said Tyrner.
“They said if they found water they’d cover all my bills.”
But water wasn’t the problem.
A new pump got the furnace going, but two weeks later it quit again, and Tyrner woke up cold.
“It was 3 a.m. and I was freezing my butt off,” she said.
“I got up, pushed the button, called Lance (Couch) and I was just crying so hard I could hardly tell him it wasn’t working.”
Couch came at 6:30 a.m., set the furnace and put in a new thermostat and “a new flicker thing,” she said.
The problems continued but Couch was on holiday, so Fireweed Plumbing and Heating came and put in a new sensor.
Following her warranty instructions, Tyrner took the old pump to Griffiths.
“The guy at the counter said that owner Terry Atkins ‘will never pay you a cent for that,’” said Tyrner.
But Atkins took the pump, and told Tyrner it would be sent to the manufacturer to be processed.
That was more than two months ago, she said.
“And he has never once called me.”
If Griffiths had said it wouldn’t pay, Tyrner could have taken Atkins to small claims court and explained it all to a judge, she said.
“Or I could have sent the pump to the manufacturer myself and said, ‘Can you please pay for this because Griffiths is not honouring the warranty.’”
“As it is, I’m never going to get paid,” she said.
Tyrner, who’s spent over $1,100 dollars on repairs since Griffiths installed the furnace, doesn’t expect to see the money again.
“I have no faith I’ll ever get my money back and I will have to sell the trailer before the pipes burst.”
Unable to retire because of unpaid bills accrued following the sudden death of her husband of 41 years, Tyrner is a single mom trying to help four of her five children get through university.
She can’t afford the furnace repairs, she said.
At wits end, Tyrner phoned the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, to see if there was the equivalent of a better business bureau in town.
But consumers are on their own, she said.
“There’s no better business bureau, no business affiliation or facility,” she said.
“There’s nothing like the Yukon Medical Association, for example, where you can go and gripe about a doctor, and if there’s something to it, they’ll investigate that doctor.”
Tyrner is speaking out because she feels she’s not alone, she said.
“I had a leaky hot-water faucet,” said Tyrner.
“And the plumber quoted me $700 to fix it.”
The trailer park manager came by and fixed it for 50 cents, said Tyrner.
“I feel there are a lot of stories like this,” she said.
The furnace didn’t work because there was water in her fuel, said Atkins, Griffiths’ owner, on Tuesday.
The fuel tank was old and buried underground, he said.
“We put a new furnace in, but we hooked it to her existing fuel tank and lines, and it was a buried tank that had been in for years, and there was quite a bit of water in it.”
The furnace worked the first day, said Atkins.
“I think the second day it was installed it went out,” he said.
“We went back, tightened up the line, fired it up and everything worked fine.
“The following day, I believe, it went down again.
“She called us — I’m not sure the exact dates and times — but for some reason she didn’t get through to us right away, and after that she went and hired somebody else.”
So, Tyrner is out of luck, said Atkins.
“She never did come back to us ever again, so unfortunately for her, because she didn’t contact us, she hired somebody else, they came out and found the tank was full of water, her lines had lots of joints in it — nothing to do with us.”
Once she got a new tank, everything worked fine, he added.
“But her old fuel was pumped into the new tank and it had water in it,” said Atkins.
The water rusted out the fuel pump, said Atkins.
“It didn’t have anything to do with us, because she went somewhere else.
“Originally, if she had just called us, it wouldn’t have cost her a dime — well, until we found water in the tank.”
She’s claiming she’s not getting warranty, but she had water in her fuel tank, which voids the warranty, said Atkins.
When he learned Great Northern inspected it, Akins denied it.
“Great Northern wouldn’t have inspected it,” he said.
“And don’t take anything they said for granted.”
Griffiths sent the pump back to the manufacturer.
“And once they take it apart on their test bench and it’s all rusty, you can’t get rust from fuel, it’s from water,” said Atkins.
“So it’s not that we wouldn’t look after her; we sent the pump to the factory for her, and once they saw water/rust, they denied her warranty.”
And did Atkins call Tyrner and tell her this?
“She just called on Monday, and now she’s had some other problem, but same thing, she hasn’t asked us to come back. “And the warranty item she’s talking about is not covered under warranty because she had water in her fuel.”
Great Northern’s manager had never heard of such a thing.
“Never have I heard a furnace has lost its life due to water in the fuel,” he said, adding that although he doesn’t deal in furnaces, he hears a lot about them.
“All water usually does is damage the nozzle — that costs $10 to replace,” he said.
Although Whitehorse doesn’t have a better business bureau, there is consumer affairs, said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.
“Our mandate is to educate and advise consumers and businesses on the rights and obligations under the Consumer Protection Act,” said Community Services consumer relations officer Roberta Allen.
“We have offices here and we assist when problems occur in regard to purchases, sales and services.
“We can help resolve disputes and if we can’t, we’ll advise the customer of the avenues of recourse and help them in any way we can.”
A recent Yukon government-sponsored investigation of oil-burning furnaces discovered significant problems with the units throughout Whitehorse.
Of 124 inspections conducted, “a large percentage” are not properly installed or maintained “in accordance with the minimum standards established in the B139 Installation Code for Oil-burning Equipment.”
Not one of the 124 sites completely complied with the code.
“The average number of code infractions per site was 5.5 and the number of significant infractions that either posed an imminent hazard (12 cases) or could reasonably be expected to develop into a hazard in the future was three per site.”
It found a “very low percentage of installers or service technicians are trained and certified as oil burner mechanics.”
The government lacks regulations forcing technicians to hold such a certificate, said the report.
And there’s no government enforcement agency or permit process that requires technicians to be certified, said the report, which was done by NRG Resources Inc.
It cited a lack of government regulations forcing technicians to hold such a certificate as a reason they don’t.