Don't Get Burned By Bogus Furnace Repairmen

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A bitter chill isn't the only thing that winter brings to the Rim country. It also drags along the absolute need to have your furnace inspected and serviced.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, heating equipment accounts for about one-sixth of home fires, and all fuel-burning appliancesincluding furnaces, stoves, and clothes dryers can be subject to deadly carbon monoxide leaks which kill more than 200 people each year and send about 10,000 more to the emergency room.

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"It's always been a rule of thumb in this industry, nationwide, to have your furnace checked when the kids go back to school, and have your air conditioning checked when they get out of school," said Mike Riemersma, owner/operator of CTK Heating and Cooling in Payson.

But heating-related dangers aren't all one must consider when selecting a repairman.

There's also the repairman himself.

"There are a lot of repair scam artists and people who just don't know what they're doing out there right now," said Mike Riemersma, owner/operator of CTK Heating and Cooling in Payson (472-3181).

"What happens is, people turn on their furnace for the first time and discover little nitpicking things, like the pilot light won't stay lit all the time," he said. "So the people panic and they hire the first person who comes along and tells them, 'Yeah, I know what your problem is.' Then the guy will suggest a whole new gas valve. But that isn't necessarily what's needed. A $4 thermocouple from Ace Hardware, and a little bit of cleaning and vacuuming, will probably take care of the problem."

"I'm not saying you shouldn't put trust and faith in people," Riemersma added. "But you have to be leery. There are telltale signs that people have their hands in your pocket."

According to both Riemersma and the Better Business Bureau, most con artists prey on senior citizens, who are most vulnerable. But even the most vulnerable customer doesn't have to be a victim, provided these BBB rules of thumb are followed:

Beware of the phony "repairman" who offers to check your roof, chimney, gutters, furnace, etc. and tells you that something is seriously wrong and must be repaired immediately.

Be suspicious of any repairman whom you did not call.

Ask for identification. Legitimate repairmen and utility personnel will have proper identification and will not be offended if you ask to see it.

Don't be pressured into paying cash or signing a contract.

Before you agree to anything, discuss it with a family friend or relative.

If you are suspicious or have questions about any repairmen or any strangers at or near your home, get a license plate number and a description of the vehicle and call the police immediately.

Remember that you won't recognize a con artist or swindler by the way he or she looks. But they are usually experts in human psychology and behavior. They know how to win over your confidence with smooth talking and a self-assured manner.

If you are offered a deal that sounds too good to be true, chances are that is just the case it is too good to be true.

The need for service

"It's always been a rule of thumb in this industry, nationwide, to have your furnace checked when the kids go back to school, and have your air conditioning checked when they get out of school," Riemersma said. "Those are your targeted periods."

Between those two household appliances, and all others, the furnace ranks as the most perpetually ignored.

"If the burners haven't been cleaned in a while and the orifices are plugged, that furnace isn't going to be getting a sufficient volume of air. So when it comes on, what does it do? Ka-boom. The whole furnace can catch on fire."

Just recently, Riemersma said, that precise scenario unfolded in a home where the furnace was near a clothes dryer, which clogged the heating appliance with lint. "They could have lost the house. If it hadn't been for a little girl who wanted a glass of water in the middle of the night, they probably would have been cooked."

In essence, he said, "if a furnace is not properly tended to, what you have is a bomb."

According to Riemersma, a bonded, certified, insured, licensed professional should check out your furnace once each year. Filters should be changed or cleaned at least once at the beginning of winter. And he recommends that you check filters monthly during the heating season. Also, have the heating ducts cleaned on an as-needed basis.

Up a chimney

While you're at it, have your chimney checked and cleaned by a professional. Research performed by the Association of Chimney Professionals reveals that 42.68 percent of all residential structure fires occur within the chimneys and that 49.89 percent involve heat from fuel-powered objects such as wood stoves.

"All wood-burning appliances, including pellet burners, need to be serviced annually to reduce the potential for chimney fires," said Jim Gier of Ace Hardware's chimney-cleaning service (474-5238). "When the unit is used very seldom, it needs to be inspected for serviceability, generally after a cord or so of firewood has been burned."

The ideal time to have this done, Gier added, is June through August, "well before the heating season begins."

Still, it's never too late to follow the ACP's recommendation to inspect your fireplace and chimney at least once a year.

Look for cracks in the firebox, flue and chimney. Also check for build-up of soot and creosote inside the flue. Open the damper enough to allow the smoke and gases to escape up the chimney.

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