Last updated: December 27. 2013 11:18AM - 1236 Views
CHERYL PARSON Better Business Bureau

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Winter is here. I like winter and the snow, but I am not a fan of the bitter cold. The ideal temperature for me is above 30 degrees. The office needs to be cozy and warm, along with my home. This time of the year, your furnace seems like it’s running 24/7. You want the security of knowing your family’s home is snug and safe.

This is also the time when disreputable furnace repair services and chimney inspectors prey on your concern for the safety of your property and family. Often these disreputable operators use fear to convince you that your heating system is in dire need of repair or replacement, and you must make a major investment before misfortune or tragedy strikes.

In today’s world, with more than one-third of Americans using fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as heat sources in their homes, we often hear about such tragedies in the news and seek to prevent them.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes, and they are preventable.

This is where the unscrupulous prey on the well-meaning homeowner. For example, scam artists may offer a chimney inspection at an exceptionally low price, and once in your home, make bogus claims, warning of an imminent possibility of house fire or carbon monoxide leaks. These are expensive repairs that must be done immediately, they say. They work to create a frightening sense of urgency with threats designed to spur you into action.

For real peace of mind regarding your home’s heating system, we offer these tips:

•Before you schedule an inspection, make sure the business is registered with the state.

•To protect your home and furnishings, in case of an accident, ask them to furnish proof of valid liability insurance.

•Check www.bbb.org for the company’s business review to see if there are any unanswered consumer complaints.

Furnace Maintenance Fraud

Another favorite scam disreputable businesses may use is to claim a furnace is “faulty” or “dangerous,” again using fear to pressure consumers into an expensive replacement. In this scam, a furnace maintenance technician often claims that there is a crack inside the furnace that makes it dangerous to operate and presents a fire hazard.

To further heighten your apprehension, they may even turn the furnace off, recommending you keep it off unless it is replaced. Often times, if you purchase a new furnace through them within a given “special promotional” time period, they offer to waive the cost of the inspection and maintenance.

Have the furnace inspected immediately by a qualified professional if you or your family members are suffering from headaches, a runny nose, or watery eyes. Watch for a build-up of soot around heat registers and the furnace itself, or carbon monoxide detectors being set-off.

•If repairs are suggested, ask for photo/video proof of the recommended repairs. Ask for photos with enough background so that you can clearly tell that they were taken in your home.

•If you are told a component of your home heating system needs repair or replacement, get a second opinion and several bids. Do not feel pressured. Avoid agreeing to same-day installation.

•If they show you debris and rubble, ask to see what is broken or collapsed. If they can see the damage, so can you!

•Before the service person arrives, educate yourself about repairs of furnaces, fireplaces and chimneys. For example, a single-wall stainless steel liner is actually more durable and corrosion resistant than a sturdier-sounding double wall liner.

So, stay warm and enjoy winter.

Cheryl Parson is the president of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.

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