Yukon gov’t defends building inspectors

The Yukon's oil-burner mechanics don't need additional regulation, says the Yukon's director of building safety, Doug Badry.

The Yukon’s oil-burner mechanics don’t need additional regulation, says the Yukon’s director of building safety, Doug Badry.

The NDP is calling for minimum training standards for the trade, following the deaths of five Porter Creek residents from what is believed to be carbon monoxide poisoning.

But oversight is already provided by building inspectors, whose job is to ensure that new or upgraded furnaces meet the federal building code, said Badry.

“The permit is one of the key things,” he said. “As Yukon building inspectors, we take our jobs seriously, and we’re confident there’s a building permitting and inspection system in place to ensure public safety.”

The territorial government’s building inspectors are charged with checking furnace installations outside of the capital. The City of Whitehorse’s inspectors handle this role within municipal limits.

But it’s hard to reconcile Badry’s call for calm with the findings of three government-commissioned reports, written from 2007 to 2010.

Rod Corea, of Ontario-based NRG Resources, evaluated a total of 305 Yukon oil-burning furnaces during that period. Only four met the code.

Twenty-three problems were considered “imminent hazards” that needed to be fixed immediately. That included units that leaked exhaust gases into basements, furnaces so gummed up with soot that “chunks of carbon” were visible, and one improperly-vented furnace that was leaking carbon monoxide into a home, making the owner feel ill.

Badry suggested the study was skewed by focusing on older furnaces or those installed without a permit.

“I’m confident that a report based on newer installations, where permits and inspections have been done, would find very few deficiencies,” he said.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Corea found new installations to be “as poor as, or worse than, older installations.”

In 2010, Corea checked 77 furnaces that had been installed within the last two years in Whitehorse, Haines Junction and Teslin. Those homes were “selected from a list of completed building permit inspections,” according to Corea’s report.

That suggests building code infractions aren’t being caught by the territory’s building inspectors. But Corea’s reports don’t mention the role played by building inspectors and he didn’t return a call to the News.

In 2007 and 2008, Corea inspected the furnace systems of homeowners who responded to an advertisement, so his survey isn’t of a random sample. In 2010, he re-inspected homes he had visited and evaluated new furnace installations.

Most of the inspected homes were in Whitehorse or Haines Junction. Homes in Dawson City and Teslin were also inspected.

For older furnaces, Corea applied the building code in place at the time of installation.

Corea’s reports state he overlooked minor code infractions, only reporting those “that could reasonably be considered as safety or efficiency issues.”

The territory’s building inspectors are certified journeymen in their field. They receive regular training, said Badry.

Homeowners are ultimately responsible for ensuring their furnaces are properly installed and maintained, he said.

Building inspectors only visit if a permit has been requested – something that doesn’t always happen.

Regular upkeep of a furnace is important to keep it working properly. Often, that doesn’t happen either.

And it’s important that a furnace contractor is qualified. Badry asserts it’s the job of the homeowner to suss this out.

“They have to ask for credentials,” said Badry. “There’s lots of kinds of training. But any training is better than no training.”

Two years ago, government officials said they’d push to see the oil-burning furnace trade regulated if conditions didn’t improve.

They didn’t.

Corea’s last report concluded that “self-regulation has failed to provide the level of safety and environmental protection that is the aim of the … code. The evidence – especially from the current survey regarding problems at re-inspected sites and new installations strongly indicates that action must be taken as soon as possible to prevent an incident causing harm to person or property.”

Yet officials are still evaluating the situation, said Marc Perreault, director of program delivery for the Yukon Housing Corporation.

“We don’t have a response to that right now,” he said. “That continues to be assessed.”

In 2008, Corea estimated that just five per cent of the territory’s oil-burner mechanics are certified. No territorial agency has a tally of current numbers, so it’s impossible to say whether the government is making any headway in its aim to boost the number of qualified furnace contractors.

In 2009 and 2010, the college offered a pilot program, which aimed to produce oil-burner technicians. The program produced 10 graduates.

Of those, six went on to complete apprenticeships and pass their nationally recognized exam to become journeyman mechanics.

But the college course they took is no longer offered. A new course is now in the works.

Oil-burner mechanics need to be certified to work in Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the N.W.T., according to the website of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada.

“My understanding was that it was mandatory everywhere,” said vice-president Martin Luymes. “To me, it’s astonishing they wouldn’t.”

Provinces that appear to have left the trade unregulated, probably did so as an “oversight,” said Luymes.

“It’s a previous generation of technology,” he said. “When gas was brought in, certification standards were brought in across the country.”

The federal government’s own list of jurisdictions where the trade is regulated is even shorter than the institute’s. It misses Ontario, where oil-burner mechanics are regulated.

The Yukon Party government says it’s waiting for a report from the fire marshal on the Porter Creek deaths before it considers changing any laws or regulations.

The Liberals are calling on the government to reinstate an advisory committee that looked at the state of the territory’s oil-burning furnaces. It last met in 2010.

The committee will meet again “in the near future,” said Perreault.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com

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