Homeowners worry about warranties as heat pump installer faces investigation
Apprenticeship agency issues stop-work order to non-certified worker, examines Lower Sackville, N.S., company
Update, May 8, 2019: Dwayne Hunt received a call and e-mail from Ready Refrigeration after this story was published confirming his heat pump warranty is in effect. However, the installation has still not been checked by a Red Seal refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic.
A Nova Scotia company is being investigated for allegedly using a non-certified worker to install heat pumps in the southwestern part of the province, leaving some homeowners worried about whether the warranty that covers their devices is still in effect.
The Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency has issued a stop-work order against Sidney Mullen, who worked for Ready Refrigeration of Lower Sackville, and fined him almost $1,000 for installing the specialized heating and cooling units without the proper accreditation.
"That is the one concern I have after hearing all this is that the warranty may not be there," said Dwayne Hunt, who lives in Brass Hill near Barrington, N.S., and had his heat pump installed by Ready Refrigeration after seeing an ad on Facebook. He said the company installed heat pumps for a number of his subdivision neighbours, as well.
Provincial legislation requires heat pumps to be installed by two people: a Red Seal journeyperson electrician and a Red Seal journeyperson refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic, or an apprentice in those trades working under the guidance of a Red Seal journeyperson.
Ready Refrigeration, which bills itself as Nova Scotia's heating and cooling experts, hired Greg Giordani and Sidney Mullen in early 2018 to install Daikin-brand heat pumps in the southwestern part of the province.
The apprenticeship agency lists Giordani as a certified electrical journeyperson. Mullen is listed as an inactive refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic apprentice. He was supposed to work under the guidance of a Red Seal journeyperson in the same trade when employed by Ready Refrigeration.
It appears no such supervision was present when he installed at least 50 heat pumps for the company in 2018. It was only this February that Ready Refrigeration applied to the apprenticeship agency to have Mullen work as an apprentice for them. That request was denied because the company did not designate a journeyperson to oversee his work.
The heat pumps installed by Mullen were financed through Nova Scotia Power, where Ready Refrigeration is listed as one of its "qualified contractors."
"Nova Scotia Power has informed Ready Refrigeration that, in order for them to remain in our program, we expect them to ensure that each impacted customer is visited by a qualified Red Seal Certified Refrigeration Technician and to provide each customer with a letter that confirms their warranty remains valid," Nova Scotia Power spokesperson David Rodenhiser said in an email to CBC.
He said continuing to work with the company while the apprenticeship agency conducts its investigation provides Nova Scotia Power with the ability to ensure customer interests are protected.
CBC tried several times to contact Mullen by text and voice mail. He did not respond.
Ready Refrigeration did not return phone calls but it sent an unsigned email from its accounting department blaming Giordani, who it said "installed a number of units without our consent or with a Red Seal refrigeration technician."
However, Ready Refrigeration employed both men and it is the company's responsibility to ensure its workers are qualified.
Giordani, who was fired by Ready Refrigeration, said he is speaking with a lawyer about possible legal action against the company, claiming he is owed pay.
The email from the company also said: "The units in question have been inspected by one of our Red Seal technicians to verify that everything is to standard," and the company has confirmed with the manufacturer and distributor that all warranties are in place and registered.
However, Hunt and several other homeowners who had their units installed by Mullen said they have not been contacted by the company to have their heat pumps inspected, nor have they received a letter from anyone telling them the warranty is in effect.
Hunt's wife, Cathy, texted Ready Refrigeration on April 6 asking if the company was maintaining and servicing the heat pumps that were previously installed by Ready Refrigeration.
She was told yes. "We do not have anything to do with a former employee Greg. But our rep Sid is working with us and we can help you with any issues for service or warranty," said the return text.
The text from the company was sent after Ready Refrigeration was made aware Mullen was not qualified to install heat pumps and was under investigation.
The limited warranty for heat pumps manufactured by Daikin states, in part, that it does not apply to "units that are ordered over the internet, by telephone, or by other electronic means unless the unit is installed by a dealer adhering to all applicable federal, states and local codes, policies, and licensing requirements."
Daikin spokesperson Rex Anderson initially told CBC that all contractors who sell Daikin products are independent businesses and the matter should be discussed with them.
The company later said "if any of our products are registered following the terms provided on the limited warranty documents associated with specific equipment, then it would be in effect," but would not clarify what that meant for Ready Refrigeration customers.
Rodney Woodworth, compliance and enforcement supervisor with the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, would not speak about the Ready Refrigeration case because an investigation is underway.
However, he told CBC the chief complaint the agency has been receiving for a number of years is about uncertified people installing heat pumps.
He said heat pumps are so popular "there's a lot of people doing it on Kijiji and what not." Even though an installer is supposed to be a qualified refrigeration air conditioning mechanic, people can install them without particular training. The problem comes "when the unit breaks down that the person who installed it doesn't know how to fix it."
Seniors are vulnerable, and Woodworth said he worries some are "being taken advantage of because they don't have a lot of money to spend sometimes and they'll be sold a cheaper unit by someone not certified so they can keep their rates down. And sure enough, you know it's going to break down."
He said the agency has helped many Nova Scotians who take unqualified installers to small claims courts, where the homeowners have been "very successful."
The agency wants to hear from people who have concerns about unqualified tradespeople and "complaints are our priority." It receives about 50 complaints a year about the trades and each is investigated.
The agency uses various techniques including surveillance. When it discovers someone working in a trade is not qualified, Woodworth said the agency is "compliance first" and makes every effort to educate the person or company before taking enforcement action.
If that doesn't work, it can issue a summary offence ticket, a stop-work order or prosecute the offender.
Last fall, the province introduced new measures, including fines of up to $10,000 or three months in jail for a first offence and up to $50,000 and six months in jail for a second offence. The administrative penalties will not be in effect until regulations are written, but Woodworth said they're expected soon.
A spokesperson for the agency said the Mullen investigation confirmed three heat pumps were installed by an uncertified person in non-compliance with the Act. She said the agency notified the homeowners and Ready Refrigeration has assured it the company would also be contacting all affected homeowners to notify them.
The apprenticeship agency has a staff of three, including Woodworth, who do an estimated 600 drop-in inspections each year on the thousands of tradespeople in Nova Scotia. Woodworth wouldn't comment on whether more staff is needed, but he said they address every complaint they receive and they have an 87 per cent compliance rate.
Woodworth urges people who are having work done by a tradesperson to ask for their Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency card, which everyone who works in the 13 compulsory certified trades is required to carry.
He said homeowners should make sure the card is valid and for the right trade. If anyone wants to check on the status of a tradesperson they can call the apprenticeship agency.