Furnace company practices in question after CTV probe
A Steele on Your Side undercover investigation exposing questionable tactics used by furnace contractors is raising concerns about the industry.
New Westminster homeowner Brian Mott contacted CTV News after he said a Burnaby furnace company tried to talk him into paying for expensive parts and repairs he didn't need.
During a recent inspection, Mott was given a written estimate from Pro Ace Heating and Cooling in Burnaby, saying that his furnace needed to have its gas valve replaced – a $460 fix.
But a second furnace company he called in to do the installation told him it was unnecessary, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the valve.
"I was a little surprised actually to find out essentially that the valve -- it was an old valve but it was working fine -- it was working within specifications," Mott said.
After learning that the Better Business Bureau pulled the accreditation for Pro Ace Heating and Cooling in December, 2011, Steele on Your Side decided to put the Burnaby furnace company to the test with an undercover investigation.
First, we enlisted the help of a gas service and furnace expert to inspect a six-year-old furnace at the North Vancouver home of a CTV staff member.
Derek Babcock of Babcock Gas Services said that the furnace was a little dirty, but nothing was broken or needed replacing and it was "in great working condition."
Babcock then deliberately broke a wire that controls the heat signal from the thermostat. He said it would be a simple and obvious fix for a repair person.
"When [the repairman] comes here and hits that switch and the thermostat's been turned up it'll tell him right away that the very first thing to do is to check the wiring to the board," Babcock explained.
CTV producer Darcy Wintonyk, posing as the North Vancouver homeowner, then called in technicians from Pro Ace Heating and Cooling, saying the furnace "isn't working at all."
After inspecting it for several minutes, the lead technician announced he's discovered the problem.
He told Wintonyk there was a problem with a part: "Gas control valve. Right there, it's not working. It's gonna cost you around 500 bucks HST and labour."
It was a $500 fix for a furnace that an industry expert declared in good working order just minutes earlier.
Wintonyk asked the technician about the possibility that the problem could be something that has disconnected: "Could it be a possible it's just a wire that's loose or something?"
"No," he answered, "because I jumped it."
The term jumped means the technician had to manipulate the furnace wires. If that's true, Babcock said he should have seen that one was broken.
The technician asked Wintonyk to show him where the digital thermostat was upstairs.
He then suggested another expensive part: "Let me just first change this thermostat for you. It's going to cost you $129."
When Wintonyk refused to authorize any of the repairs without her husband's permission, the technician fixed the broken wire without telling her, and charged the standard call-out fee.
The technician told her that the problem was a dirty flame rod, and it was resolved when he cleaned it.
The owner of Pro Ace Heating and Cooling, Ali Soroush, came to CTV's Vancouver studios to view our hidden camera footage and he brought along the technician.
After viewing the video, Soroush asked the technician if he tried to cheat the customer.
"Did you try to take advantage of the situation and charge them more?" he asked.
"No I didn't. I didn't," the technician answered.
Soroush ultimately told us he's not happy with his employee, saying he was unprofessional and unclear -- but not unethical because he fixed the problem and never charged unnecessary fees.
"We are a super fair company… very honest company," he said.
Soroush said his company does not cheat customers: "Not at all. And if I find anyone in my company is cheating he's going to be out of there," he said.
Soroush insists he has thousands of clients and very few complaints, but the BBB recently suspended the company's accreditation.
"The accreditation was suspended due to failure to eliminate the underlying cause of complaints on file with the BBB and failure to maintain minimum BBB Rating," an explanation on its website reads.
Pro Ace has appealed that decision, and will have its appeal heard in February, 2012.
The Better Business Bureau of the Lower Mainland said it's hearing from a lot more unhappy furnace customers this year.
Even Soroush from Pro Ace Heating claims his industry is filled with people who try to cheat consumers into paying for things they don't need.
Watch CTV News for the full undercover investigation with Lynda Steele. And tune in tomorrow for the second part of our furnace industry probe…