How To Avoid Furnace, Chimney Scams This Fall/Winter

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Howard Schwartz of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau talks about scams to avoid this fall and winter when it comes to furnaces and chimneys.

Here’s a release from the Connecticut Better Business Bureau about what to look out for. Read more at www.ct.bbb.org.

“Connecticut Better Business Bureau is alerting consumers to seasonal scams related to chimney inspection and furnace maintenance.

“These inspections and maintenance concern the safety of your property and family,” according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau President, Paulette Scarpetti.  “Unfortunately, disreputable operators may use fear to convince property owners that they need to make a major investment that may not be necessary.”

More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes.  Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.  In fact, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year.  Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes, and are preventable.

Scam artists may offer a chimney inspection at an exceptionally low price, and once they are in your home, may make unnecessary claims for expensive and immediate repairs and create a sense of urgency with warnings of an imminent house fire or carbon monoxide leaks – threats intended to frighten you into action.

Before scheduling an inspection, ensure the business is registered with the state and ask for proof of valid liability insurance to protect your home and furnishings in case of an accident.  Check the business’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org to see whether there is any consumer complaint pattern or unanswered complaints.

Furnace Maintenance Fraud
Disreputable businesses or individuals may also use fear to pressure consumers into replacing a furnace that is deemed “faulty” or “dangerous.”  In this scam, a furnace maintenance technician may claim that there is a crack inside the furnace that makes it dangerous to operate and presents a fire hazard.

They may even turn off the furnace and recommend keeping it off unless it is replaced.  In some cases, they will offer to waive the cost of the inspection and maintenance if you purchase a new furnace through them within a given “special promotional” time period.

See example of fraudulent maintenance report:  http://ct.bbb.org/storage/29/images/Fake%20furnace%20report.jpg

A furnace that is cracked or releases dangerous fumes may cause headaches, a runny nose, watery eyes, a build-up of soot around heat registers and the furnace itself, or set-off carbon monoxide detectors.  If you see these signs, have the furnace inspected immediately by a qualified professional.

Connecticut BBB recommends consumers avoid home heating repair fraud by considering the following:

Get a second opinion and several bids if you are told a component of your home heating system needs repair or replacement.  Avoid agreeing to same day installation.

If repairs are suggested, ask for photo/video proof of the recommended repairs, and do not feel pressured into allowing work to begin immediately.  Ask for photos with enough background so that you can clearly tell that they were taken in your home.

Don’t accept broken debris as evidence of a needed chimney repair. That rubble may not be from your chimney. Ask to see what is broken or collapsed.  If they can see the damage – so can you!

Do your homework. Educate yourself about products and repairs specific to furnaces, fireplaces and chimneys before the service person arrives.  For example, if the company representative is going to install a double wall liner (which sounds pretty sturdy), a single wall stainless steel liner is actually more durable and corrosion resistant.

For more home maintenance and repair tips, visit www.bbb.org/.”

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