Territory’s furnace legislation in need of repair

If you live in the Yukon and have an oil-fired furnace, it’s probably installed wrong. A government investigation into the state of the…

If you live in the Yukon and have an oil-fired furnace, it’s probably installed wrong.

A government investigation into the state of the territory’s oil-fired appliances turned up serious installation problems in every home it inspected.

The 12-page report cites a lack of legislation and lax standards as the source of the ubiquitous problems.

None were up to code.

And those lapses resulted in poor maintenance and installation and raised safety concerns.

The investigation also discovered an alarmingly small percentage of the territory’s technicians have the proper certification.

The government has been sitting on the document for more than six weeks.

The report summarizes two studies commissioned to discover why there were problems with oil-fired appliances in the territory.

Appliance owners were complaining of frequent and recurring failures.

“It looks at whether oil-burning stoves are properly installed and maintained regularly,” said Yukon Housing Corporation spokesperson Doug Caldwell.

“And it turns out that maintenance is the one thing that’s problematic across the board.”

The studies inspected 124 sites with oil burning equipment around Whitehorse.

The survey found 685 infractions of the B139 Installation Code for Oil-Burning Equipment.

More than half of these infractions posed an imminent health hazard or could be expected to develop into a problem in the future.

The code is not entirely in force in the Yukon, but is considered a reasonable standard for comparison across Canada.

Not one of the 124 furnaces that were checked completely complied with installation and maintenance provisions as set out in the code.

On average, there were 5.5 code infractions on each site.

Some of those infractions are minor, such as dirty filters and improper tank slope.

But more than half of the infractions indicated major problems, including combustibles piled up against furnaces and improperly installed exhaust chimneys.

These could lead to imminent health hazards and cause harm to persons or property, according to the report.

There was an average of three of these “significant” infractions per site.

Part of the problem results from homeowners not keeping their furnaces properly maintained.

Others try and fail to repair them themselves.

And 64 per cent of the 124 sites did not have annual maintenance performed.

 “Lots of people think they know how to get a furnace running and we find numerous occasions where we go in and there are safety controls that are bypassed because the person does not understand what they are there for,” said Don Fulmer, the owner of Fireweed Plumbing and Heating.

“Sooner or later it’s going to cause a problem. There’s going to be a fire or something serious along those lines.”

But even the installers and service technicians working in the territory may not know what they’re doing.

An informal survey of 100 heating technicians found that fewer than five per cent of technicians working on oil burning equipment hold an oil burner mechanic certificate.

The oil burner mechanic trade certification is a voluntary trade certification in the Yukon; there’s no legislation that says that workers must be certified.

“Which means anybody can work on anything,” said Fulmer.

“I mean we’re dealing with oil, gas, electricity — people’s lives — so it should be a regulated trade.”

Four of Fireweed’s six technicians have their oil burner mechanics certification.

But other heating companies may not have workers with the voluntary certification.

There are between 30 and 50 certified oil burner mechanics living in the Yukon, said Marc Perreault from Yukon Housing Corporation.

“But how many are available to do work on furnaces is questionable,” he said.

“As an example, I’m a journeyman but I work for the government now so I’m not available.”

“So I don’t know how many there are that are out in the field.”

The government has close to a dozen certified mechanics working for it, in schools and other public buildings.

Fulmer believes that many private technicians are working without their certification, he said.

“There’s got to be at least 20 companies and I’m sure there’s less than 20 certified oil burner mechanics left for private industry,” he said.

“I’m certain there are trades-people out there who aren’t qualified, and they should be.”

“The average consumer, when he calls up an established company, just sort of expects them to be certified,” he added.

The report made six recommendations to improve the safety and efficiency of oil burning equipment in the Yukon.

A third study has been proposed for furnaces outside of Whitehorse to see if there is a similar problem in the communities.

It recommended an advertising campaign to educate the public on the importance of regular maintenance and safety.

Other recommendations involve increased legislation around oil-burning equipment installation and maintenance, and requiring technicians have proper certification.

An Oil Fired Appliances Advisory Committee has been formed with representatives from both government and industry.

“Basically we’re just trying to get together a very level playing field for all heating contractors,” said Fulmer, who is an industry committee member.

“We want to bring all the installations and inspections up to a certain code level — up to the minimum code level is what they should be.

“And it’s in the interest of public safety.”

Ever since the government forced fuel providers to make the switch to low-sulphur fuel, consumers have been experiencing more problems with their furnaces.

However, the report did not look into the effects of low sulphur fuel.

“I don’t think the low sulphur fuel was a real major problem,” said Fulmer.

“Most of the concerns we have here are related around safety, I mean those are the things that we want to address.”

The report was supposed to be released last October.

On February 13, the News phoned the Energy Solutions Centre to ask about its whereabouts.

Doug McLean, a technical consultant who was handling the file for the centre, said he had the report and was having trouble co-ordinating its release with Rod Corea, the Ontario-based consultant who wrote it.

McLean said he was relieved nobody had asked for it.

The News filed an Access to Information request to get the report on February 12.

It was denied. The centre said its release was imminent.

The report was released on March 14. The report was dated February 19th, a week after the News’ ATIPP request was filed.

A copy of the report can now be found at the Yukon Housing Corporation website.

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