Whitehorse inspectors aren’t furnace experts

Police don't expect habitual lawbreakers to report themselves, but when it comes to the Yukon's oil-burner industry, building inspectors in Whitehorse count on information from the same contractors they're expected to regulate.

Police don’t expect habitual lawbreakers to report themselves, but when it comes to the Yukon’s oil-burner industry, building inspectors in Whitehorse count on information from the same contractors they’re expected to regulate.

That’s sobering, given the territorial government’s claim that minimum training standards aren’t needed in the industry, which helps heat four-fifths of the territory’s homes.

The oil-burner trade has been brought into the spotlight following the deaths of five Porter Creek residents from carbon monoxide poisoning in January.

According to the territory’s building safety officials, regulation isn’t needed, as long as homeowners follow the rules and have their new or upgraded furnaces inspected.

Territorial inspectors do this work in the communities. In Whitehorse, the job falls to city inspectors.

These inspectors are dedicated to keeping homes safe, but they face constraints, said Doug Thorseth, Whitehorse’s supervisor of building inspectors.

None of the city’s four building inspectors are oil-burner mechanics. “It’s just applying what we can from our side of things,” said Thorseth.

Rod Corea, of Ontario-based NRG Resources, provided training to city inspectors in 2010. He’s the same expert who, after inspecting more than 300 residential oil furnaces in the territory, called on the government to regulate the trade, as is done in Ontario, N.W.T., and other jurisdictions.

Since 2006, inspectors have asked oil furnace contractors to complete a four-page checklist, which helps demonstrate the work is up to the federal building code, said Thorseth.

But inspectors may not be able to tell if a checked item has been installed correctly, he said.

Inspectors also can’t tell how cleanly a furnace is burning.

“We don’t actually have the equipment to conduct fuel-gas analysis ourself. We leave that to the professionals,” said Thorseth.

“We expect it from the installers.”

Depending on building inspectors to keep furnaces safe leaves open a big vulnerability: inspectors rarely see units after they’ve been installed.

“The only time we’re called in, essentially, is for a burner replacement or a new installation of an appliance,” said Thorseth. “We don’t inspect after the fact.”

That means it’s up to homeowners to ensure their furnaces are being properly maintained. But many homeowners may not be able to assess whether their contractor is doing the job right.

When Corea looked at previously inspected homes in Whitehorse, Haines Junction and Teslin in 2010, he found code infractions to be rife, including ones that could create dangerous problems.

Perhaps most troubling, Corea found new installations to be “as poor as, or worse than, older installations,” according to his last report.

Of the 305 furnaces inspected by Corea, only four met the code.

Contact John Thompson at


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