Nova Scotia

Halifax man questions furnace quotes

A Halifax man says a little research went a long way when he faced a huge bill to get his furnace serviced for winter.

A Halifax man says a little research went a long way when he faced a huge bill to get his furnace serviced for winter.

All Caleb Fishman wanted to do was get his furnace serviced, something the company he's with offers yearly. He said his 50-year-old boiler works still like a charm.

But when a technician came over to take a look, Fishman got some bad news.
Caleb Fishman said he received a quote for thousands of dollars if he wanted to have his furnace serviced. (CBC)

"He said 'Oh, I can't touch this. I'll lose my licence,'" Fishman said. "I thought he was kidding."

The technician wasn't.

So Fishman asked the company for an estimate on a new furnace.

He said he was told he'd probably also have to replace his chimney liner and get rid of asbestos that was likely in the boiler.

"$5,000 for the furnance and the burner. If I needed a stainless steel liner, that would be about $1,200. If I needed the asbestos abatement company, that would be another $450, so somewhere between $5,000 and $7,000. That's what I was told."

Surprise and suspicion

Fishman was surprised and suspicious. The same technician had serviced the burner and boiler two years earlier and found the furnace operating at 83 per cent efficiency. So Fishman started asking questions.

He called a second oil company and was told the same thing the first company had said.

So Fishman called Dale Stewart, the chief inspector of fuel safety for the province.

"He started to chuckle," Fishman said. "That made me feel a bit better."

Stewart told him to go online and find the fuel safety bulletin, a checklist by which furnaces meet certification. "He said it's a simple checklist and they could do it in a few minutes."

He also called in home heating consultant Art Irwin.

"Some companies are too anxious to sell products, some get a commission, but here was a case that it certainly wasn't necessary to put in a new one," Irwin said.

Irwin said it's true Fishman's burner isn't certified when it's used with the type of boiler he has. But he said there's a simple solution technicians can use.
Art Irwin says consider the performance of a furnace, not just the age. (CBC)

"They should be aware of the fact they can go to the office of the fire marshal. They have forms you can fill out and all they want to know is that it's properly installed and it's safe, which this is very safe," Irwin said.

"Yes it's very old," Irwin said. "But you have to go by performance, not by age."

Irwin said consumers should get a number of quotes before taking action.

"In the end, it didn't cost me anything from the fuel company because I have a plan with them to service annually and to come and fix it if there's anything wrong," Fishman said.