Get a second opinion when your furnace is shut off

For years, I’ve heard that Direct Energy technicians are quick to shut off furnaces during an inspection. The verdict is a cracked heat exchanger, a piece of metal that separates the furnace’s fire from the home’s air stream.

The company says it has to act speedily because of the danger of carbon monoxide leaking into the home. Critics says it’s because of the pressure to increase furnace sales.

Direct Energy is aware of the problem, as I said in my column. It is telling owners of shut-off furnaces that they can get a free second opinions to confirm the diagnosis.

Many people already go to other contractors to get a second opinion. And if they find the furnace really does need to be scrapped, they give their business to someone else.

Direct Energy hopes to win back furnace sales by offering second opinions. And if another inspection shows that a furnace works well, it hopes to gain customer loyalty.

Many heating contractors sell annual maintenance plans. Some aren’t as quick on the trigger as DE technicians are. So, I suggest that you look elsewhere for a second opinion, rather than rewarding bad behaviour.

Posted below are stories from readers about their own furnace inspections and re-inspections.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

47 thoughts on “Get a second opinion when your furnace is shut off”

  1. On reading your article, I’d like to clarify my earlier comments.

    I had said that our technicians earn a small amount of around $25 for their role in the process. I had understood that was the maximum, but I was wrong.

    I have since looked for myself through the current tech payments and we do pay up to $70 to a tech when we sell a replacement system.

    This isn’t a commission based on any percentage or anything, but my comment is not right. I am very sorry to get this wrong – and I apologise profusely.

    I don’t believe this modest sum in any way sways a technician to make a wrong diagnosis, so the incentive is not there for them.

    Typically, a tech is much more concerned about the risk of CO poisoning. This is why the new scheme is so much better for customers and techs alike. Thank you for giving it your focus.

  2. I purchased a home in Don Mills 11 years ago. The home inspector we hired said we will need a new furnace because of a cracked heat exchanger.

    The original homeowner and their real estate agent said the furnace is fine, so we agreed to get a second opinion from DE and paid a fee for a full inspection.

    Well, the grumpy old technician from DE did a full testing and said the heat exchanger was good with no cracks, so we bought our first house.

    Less than a month later, the furnace stopped working. We called DE and they red tagged us, saying there were cracks in our heat exchanger right around Jan. 1st(which was a very cold time).

    We called DE back and they said yes, it is cracked, and your heat exchanger is under warranty from York Furnaces. We will install the new heat exchanger in your old furnace for free, instead of making you get a new furnace.

    Well, last year (10 years later), a service tech came out for the annual furnace cleaning under the DE HIP program (homeowners insurance plan).

    He turned off the furnace again, saying there were cracks in the newer heat exchanger. His company DE would send over a sales guy right away for a quote.

    Their quote was thousands of dollars higher than that of two other companies, so I did not use them.

    When the old furnace was removed, we inspected it and could not see any cracks, so it makes me wonder if this is a sales thing or DE technicians not being trained properly.

    Either way, this is a very expensive piece of equipment to make such a quick judgment call on.

    I called the Canadian Standards Association to complain and decided not to deal with DE again. So heads up, homeowners!

  3. I love this story…DE can say what they want, but the cracked heat exchanger diagnosis is a really old story with many subplots and twists and turns.

    The real culprit here is the training, along with a scenario where some of the technicians are not familiar with enough of Canadian heating technologies.

    I too had a problem many years back. Had to shut my furnace off because it was causing the smoke detector beside it to activate. The CO monitor, also beside the furnace, did not activate.

    I called DE for service. It was a long wait, in the middle of cold snap in January, so on went the wood stove.

    The wood stove was put on efficiency mode [slow burn] later before service arrived. Unfortunately, I forgot to leave a small air intake open on the wood stove.

    Service arrives and out comes the CO tester. Presto, my heat exchanger is shot, because of trace amounts of CO in furnace ducts [I had a 2 speed blower and air was always moving through ducts].

    I knew something was wrong with the diagnosis because the furnace was a workhorse. The technician was about to shut off the gas.

    I asked him to show me the cracked heat exchanger. I told him to check the unit and show me the defect. No cracks. No shot heat exchanger.

    Then it clicked with me about the wood stove on slow burn and I mentioned it. The technician asked me to turn off the wood stove. I tried to explain to him that you can’t just “shut off” a wood stove, but he did not understand.

    In any case,I discovered the slow burn air valve closed, so I opened an adjacent window and within minutes the CO was zero.

    The CO monitor in the room with the wood stove did not activate, either.

    And the problem with the smoke detector going off? Unseen, a small piece of tape had fallen on the exhaust outlet from the furnace and was causing small amounts of smoke until it dried up. I found the tape later.

    It was a fight for my heat exchanger and gas service, and essentially I solved the problem myself.

    A heated exchange over a serviceable heat exchanger and possible loss of gas service — any tech with an understanding of wood burning technology, who was willing to look for the cause of CO, would have solved the problem.

    I also have a friend who is in the HVAC business, and at that time, the notorious “cracked heat exchanger” was a fairly common and known scam, apparently.

    Safety comes first, but let’s have decent and honest diagnostics, too.

    My furnace was an older model, Canadian built, and was bullet-proof. I had been told by one technician during prior service/cleaning that the heat exchanger in that particular furnace would outlast all of us…and I had a “grandfathered” maintenance insurance plan.

    The amount of pressure put on me by service people over the years to “up-grade” to a much higher efficiency model was comical. And yes, they just happened to have one in stock…

  4. The same thing happened to me with my furnace and Direct Energy several years back. I too was suspicious of their diagnosis!!

    Since it was the middle of winter, I did not have time to get a second estimate, so went along with Direct Energy’s plan.

    Two weeks after having the heat exchanger replaced (along with a large bill), my furnace failed again. Several service calls later, they finally fixed it!!

    I had asked them (prior to replacement of the heat exchanger) for a report, proving the heat exchanger was in fact cracked. They assured me I would receive it.

    Despite many attempts to get this report and complaining to Direct Energy’s head office, I got nowhere. In fact, I gave up.

    I cancelled my contract with Direct Energy and this year when I finally replaced my furnace, I did not call them.

    Direct Energy (in my opinion) cannot be trusted. I will never have any dealings with them again.

  5. As an owner of a small HVAC company, I have seen multiple cases of misdiagnosed problems by Direct Energy.

    Direct Energy will gladly send someone over to give you a quote for new equipment.

    The most disturbing part is the price they charge and the scare tactics they use to pressure buyers into purchasing the new equipment.

    Here’s an example. A savvy homeowner called me last winter. He initially called DE due to no heat.

    They sent someone over, who suggested it would be better to replace his furnace instead of fixing it. They also suggested that it would be in his best interest to replace the AC while they were there.

    Total quote was approximately $10K plus tax (he showed me the quote and I almost fell over…literally).

    My tech fixed the problem. Part $80. Labour 2 hours.

    The disgusting part is that the house was only 7 years old. The existing equipment will keep working for many years to come.

    The quote was insane too. I typically charge between $2,500 and $3,500 to supply and install a new furnace. Price for a new AC system is about the same, depending on size, model, etc.

    When people call DE, there is a certain expectation they will be treated fairly. The reality is that they are pirates of the worst kind, profiting from people who do not know any better.

  6. On Aug. 24, we had a visit for our yearly maintenance call for our 14 year old Lennox furnace.

    The DE technician did his cleaning and informed us that we needed a gas valve replaced. He did not have the part, but a service man would arrive the following day to install it for us.

    The service man came and told us that the heat exchanger had a crack and would cost between $1,200 to $1,500 to replace, since it was one of the parts not covered by our maintenance plan.

    He suggested we buy a new furnace and he would call a sales rep to visit with us. The broken gas valve was not fixed or replaced, but he did put a red tag on the furnace.

    The sales rep called within a half hour and was at our home within two hours of the service call.

    The sales rep was very convincing that we had to have a new furnace and suggested an Amana furnace at a price of $4,690.

    He also recommended that we change the hot water tank to a tankless hot water system for an additional $3,200. This could all be done through payments on our monthly bill through Enbridge Gas.

    We decided to get another estimate or two, since both of our sons have replaced furnaces this year and were satisfied with their providers.

    We called A-1 Air Conditioning & Heating to send a representative to see us. He made a good presentation for replacing the furnace with another Lennox Modulating furnace at a cost of $5,500, minus a rebate of $1,250, for a total of $4,250.

    In his presentation, he mentioned that Lennox furnaces have a lifetime guarantee on the heat exchanger. Interesting.

    We asked if that applied to our Lennox furnace. He said no. Ours was a builder’s model furnace and they don’t have the same guarantees.

    Our next furnace sales rep was from Special Gas Services Ltd. in Brampton, where we live. His first question when looking at the furnace: “Is the heat exchanger under warranty?” We said we don’t know, but we have been told it is not.

    He wanted to check that out before making any other recommendation and left. He called back the next day and said the heat exchanger was under warranty and it would cost $499 to install. We were stunned.

    My husband and I are seniors and not in a position to spend thousands of dollars unless it’s absolutely necessary.

    In the meantime, I was very upset that our maintenance plan was not covering any of this expense. I called DE to cancel and was told I can’t cancel the plan until the anniversary of when I joined, March 2011.

    I was allowed to switch to a cooling plan and continue to pay for that and not the heating plan. Which I did! My mistake!

    We called Direct Energy again to have the gas valve replaced, which should have been done at the first service call. The service man that came told us we were not covered any longer and he could not replace the valve.

    We tried to speak with Direct Energy management, but were told to send an email to the president if we weren’t satisfied!

    We called Special Gas Services again and they came and replaced the gas valve and gave us a new service contract for one year that includes maintenance for another $400. So our total to repair the furnace was under $1,000.

    Our furnace is running so quietly that you need to stand beside it to know if it is on and we have been spared the large cost of replacement.

    We have been telling our friends and family to cancel their DE maintenance contracts, as soon as they can.

  7. I had the same problem 3 years ago. The DE tech said I had a cracked heat exchanger and the furnace needed to be replaced.

    Several of my friends had the same experience at about the same time. I had another tech take my furnace apart and no problem was found.

    I learned from someone working for DE that there was a drive on to sell new furnaces.

    The homeowners, especially seniors, are at such a disadvantage when dealing with the monopoly-like companies. Thank you for your article.

  8. You talk about getting a second opinion and then your advice is to get that second opinion from the same company??!

    Direct Energy may wish to present itself as if they are the only option for consumers (naturally, as would anyone who has your ear), but they most assuredly are not.

    You seem to have fallen into the same trap that many others have in recent years, thinking that Direct Energy is the only game in town, believing maybe that they are the new incarnation of the old gas utility (Consumers Gas) which delivered reliable, trustworthy advice to customers (even if they did so through a network of authorized dealers).

    The reason many people have this impression, of course, is that Direct Energy, until recently, enjoyed an exclusive relationship to Enbridge by having access to utility bill.

    The fact is, Direct Energy is a heating and cooling company like any other, except that they are bigger and perhaps more “corporate” in their approach to business (plus they play in the energy commodities and water heater rentals business, which most others do not).

    Mr. Collier’s comments that “we keep systems running longer than average” and “we are, if anything, less sales oriented than the industry” are completely unsubstantiated, self-serving and, I suspect, untrue. Why would you take those comments at face value?

    There are roughly 3,000 registered heating contractors in the Province of Ontario.

    The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada has about 800 members in the province, all of them licensed and insured and committed to customer service and integrity.

    Direct Energy has plenty of legitimate competition out there, so I don’t understand why your advice wouldn’t be to seek a second (and third) opinion, from a different service provider.

    My point is not to slag Direct Energy. They are a legitimate player in the industry and ought to be recognized, alongside other legitimate competitors.

    I am only concerned that you have given them a platform to promote themselves to the exclusion of many other equally viable options available to consumers.

    The take-away message from your column today appears to be: “if you don’t like what you hear from Direct Energy, ask them again until you get what you want.”

    I should add that one thing that does distinguish DE from others in the industry is that (unlike most HVAC firms) they have a well funded PR department.

    And having said that, don’t you wonder whether this specific case would have been treated the same way if you hadn’t called on Mr. Collier?

  9. Over the past few months, I have heard a number of stories about people who were considering getting a new gas furnace and the kinds of things that go on when the heating company estimator comes to the house to do his thing.

    A household has installed a new digital setback thermostat within the recent past. The estimator says that their furnace will only work with a ‘new’ thermostat which he will supply (at a cost much above the $40-$60 units available at Home Depot, etc.).

    And then there is the ploy that the furnace warranty is not valid unless you buy additional coverage, which has the furnace guy coming to your house on a yearly basis to check your furnace.

    How the estimator writes up the estimate can result in total confusion. There’s lots of adding and subtracting, involving supplying the furnace and pipes and calculating so-called rebates. At the end, you’re not sure just how much you are actually paying.

    Going back even further, buying a furnace is difficult if you’re concerned about noise. Very few of these businesses have an operating unit so that you can attempt to assess the noise level.

    If you do find an operating unit in a showroom, that environment is not the same as your home and thus you do not get an accurate impression.

    With respect to Direct Energy, we had an experience with them in May. For the first time ever, our water tank ‘blew off’ water through the pipe attached to the water tank for that purpose when the valve failed. The water discharged to the outside of the house.

    When Mr. Direct Energy came, he said that that system of water discharge was wrong. Because of our house design, we have a pump into which the water distillate from the furnace is fed and then it is pumped into a drain about ten feet from the pump.

    Well, Mr. Direct Energy connected the blow-off hot water tank hose to the pump. I was uncomfortable with it at the time but, Direct Energy are the ‘experts’, are they not?

    A couple of months after that, I had to call a furnace guy
    to look at our furnace and he confirmed that I was justified in feeling uncomfortable with the hookup, as described above.

    He said, as I had concluded, that the pump was not designed to take hot water at that temperature. Further, the pump’s capacity handles a ‘drip’ from the furnace and not a ‘blast’ of gallons of water, which would overwhelm the pump and then overflow onto the floor.

    So, he reconnected the water heater blow-off valve to that of its original configuration, so that it will again discharge to outside should it blow off again.

    I think that the heating industry is rife with a variety of scams. I have only touched on a few. I am sure that more ‘creativity’ can also be found.

    People are naturally wary of fuels such as natural gas. All
    the heating guy has to do is allude to a cracked heat exchanger or a funny smell or, “Do you hear that noise?”

    That makes many people understandably uncomfortable and they want the problem fixed.

    And, if your furnace problem occurs during cold weather, the furnace guys have ‘gotcha’. They can really hype the panic and charge whatever they want for their work, no matter how well or poorly done that work is.

    At one time, the heating and AC companies were small family-owned businesses who made their reputation in the community. If you called them once and they did a reasonable job, they would be your ‘go to’ guys when problems developed thereafter.

    But that is no longer the case. I’ve been told that many family companies have been bought out by larger companies that still keep the original name of the operation, but often no longer have family ties. So, now many people deal with faceless (and care less) entities such as Direct Energy?

  10. I too have issues in trying to resolve a similar problem with Direct Energy. This has been going on since I discovered the “switch”.

    Since moving into my townhome in late November 2008, I have been billed by Reliance Home Comfort for a water heater that doesn’t exist.

    And why is that, you ask? Because Direct Energy removed it and never returned it to Reliance or provided me with an RMO (Return Material Order) to close my account.

    I have been a loyal customer of Direct Energy since I bought my first house in 1996. So, prior to moving into my townhome, I contacted Direct Energy to cancel service at my old address and arrange for new services and a furnace inspection and cleaning for a week after my closing date.

    I needed to be at work, so I made arrangements to have a friend at the house to let the service technician in.

    When I returned home that evening, I had discovered that my furnace had been red-tagged and my services completely shut off.

    When I called Direct Energy, they said a technician would be here in the morning to replace it. A truck arrived, the water heater was removed, a new one put in, new electrical services installed and $700 later, I’m good to go.

    The problem?

    The Direct Energy technicians removed and disposed of a water heater that was a rental from Reliance.

    My fault for not checking, yes. But I had just completed a difficult negotiation to buy this property while trying to finalize a separation agreement.

    When I came home to discover no heat, no water and an immediate requirement to spend another $700 to install a new system and requisite electrical services, I didn’t think to check details as to who the water heater was being rented from (not to mention that the previous owners didn’t leave any paperwork for me).

    Normally, I am a savvy consumer. But with the circumstances and the fact that the weather that year was already bone-chilling, I couldn’t be without a water heater or have no heat in my house.

    So, I trusted that Direct Energy took care of everything because they’re the experts and I made (the erroneous) assumption that the DE technician had my best interests in mind with respect to this critical safety issue.

    The upshot? I finally arranged for a Direct Energy service call this summer to determine whose equipment it was, so I could make arrangements to have an RMO (Return Material Order) sent to Reliance to cancel the billings.

    The problem? Direct Energy has no record of an RMO that they removed the equipment and cannot provide one.

    After almost weekly calls (for months now) with both Reliance and Direct Energy to resolve the issue, I am now facing a $1,050 (plus taxes) charge for a water heater that doesn’t exist. Nor am I getting any credit for payments I’ve made to date.

    This is escalating to a credit issue the longer I try to get Reliance not to report me for non-payment of services. (I’ve paid every bill except the last one in September.)

    Direct Energy had not offered me any of the options you noted in your article.

  11. Last fall, I phoned DE for a yearly furnace inspection and they made an appointment with me.

    The technician arrived Saturday morning and told me that my boiler furnace was very old. Then he reached into the furnace and gouged the fire wall off the side.

    He did this repeatedly. (Why did I let him do it more than once? Maybe it’s because I thought he knew what he was doing – I wish I could answer that.)

    He explained that the maintenance plan that DE sold me didn’t cover my furnace because it was too old and no parts would be available.

    Then, the technician graciously offered to connect me with a furnace salesperson and called them in front of me.

    Well, without making accusations, you can guess what my thoughts were about why he was so eager to connect me with a furnace place that he recommended.

    He said that since the fire wall was crumbling, it was dangerous. He shut down my furnace in late November and left.

    I called for estimates. To replace my tiny furnace, it would cost me between $6,500 and $9,000. This was money that as a single parent I didn’t have.

    Since I had a boiler and no ductwork, it would cost a fortune to change furnaces as well. Boilers are very expensive to purchase and very expensive to install.

    After he left, I turned on 3 electric heaters (2 of which I borrowed) in the house and prayed the plumbing wouldn’t freeze.

    I called DE to complain on Tuesday. I asked them how I was supposed to come up with that kind of money and why they’d shut off a furnace when the temperature was already below freezing.

    I also told them that if the boiler pipes or plumbing pipes froze, I would hold DE responsible for any damage.

    They first told me it would take a fews days to send someone out. Then after I said I was holding DE responsible for damages, I was assured a supervisor would call me back.

    The supervisor called Wednesday morning and made an appointment to arrive that afternoon. I had to leave work in order to meet him and take pictures of the damage before he arrived (pictures I still have).

    The supervisor said the furnace was okay and turned it back on. He called another technician, who basically said that it was his job to “fix” these situations.

    I don’t wish to get the second technician in trouble because he was excellent and did the best cleaning job of my furnace and repaired the firewall with a patch.

    I will never use DE for any work in my house and I called and told them so.

    I have also told anyone I talk to not to let a technician look at their furance alone and to be very careful who they let touch their property.

    My furnace is still working fine this year and so far the repair is still in place. But as a woman alone, I’m terrified to call anyone into the house to clean the furnace again.

    I am also worried that since the furnace is now compromised that it has a lower lifespan.

    I want people warned that a second opinion is more than worth it, but even before that make sure of who you trust with your property.

    I also don’t think this issue is necessarily a DE issue. It “might” be an industry issue, as DE says they hire contractors to perform their maintenance and repairs.

    I hope more people are made aware and that no one else is caught in the same situation.

  12. It is undisputed that mistakes can happen. It is undisputed that customers should get a second opinion whenever they are faced with the possibility of an unexpected expensive upgrade.

    What seems to be at issue is the level of customer service is being provided and the integrity of our team. To that end, and as a member of Field Operations Management Team, here is what needs to be clarified and brought to the forefront.

    HVAC technicians are a specialized trade. They study and gain work experience over a protracted period of time, are issued licensed based on that study and work experience. They are closely regulated group of professionals and when concerns over the competencies are brought to question, they know all to well the fall out should they be found negligent. Their license or ticket as it is often times referred to, is taken away and with it goes their livelihood. The suggestion that any HVAC technician in any company would be willing to compromise their professional accreditation is ludicrous.

    Direct Energy is a customer centric organization. While it is true that sometimes furnaces and air conditioning units must be replaced, we take every conceivable precaution to ensure we are taking the very best care of our customer and always working to his/her best interest. Every customer is given minimally three options and these options are clearly articulated to each and every customer. This practice is known in-house as “The Perfect Visit”. These options are as follows:

    – Replace the “defective” or “broken” part
    – Seek out a second opinion from another qualified in-house technician
    – Replace the system with a new one

    The decision to tag a furnace is one that is made only when the technician feels there is an inherent danger to the members of that household, and the community at large. Further, members of the Field Operations Management Team conduct regular ride alongs with our technicians to ensure they are presenting these options and are able to clearly articulate them to the customer.

  13. As a member of Direct Energy’s field staff I’d like to explain a little around why a heat exchanger diagnosis might result in a furnace being tagged:

    CAN/CSA- B149
    Defective h/exch code 4.21.1

    “Where the heat exchanger of a furnace installed in a dwelling unit is found to be defective, it shall be replaced ”

    As this is a code requirement, our technicians must apply the utmost due diligence for the protection of his/her license and for the safety of the customer .

    With this as a guide, and our top motivation is to keep our customers safe.

    The 2nd opinion is always the best route to take for all if you require further information.

    Crystal Jongeward
    Public Relations
    Direct Energy
    P: 416.590.3248
    C: 416.436.3103

  14. The “Heating Contractor” who posted above me has clearly never changed a heat exchanger in his life. I have worked with DE for 8 years as a service tech and have changed hundreds of heat exchangers.

    The plenum doesnt have to be “jacked up” and the return air does not have to be disconnected. The furnace does not have to be physically removed.

    All of the components, i.e inducer motor, gas valve, pressure switches, do have to be removed and the screws holding the HX (heat exchanger) to the cabinet are removed and the HX is slid out and replaced. Then the components go back in and the furnace is tested, 3-4 hrs tops.

    Some manufactures are providing lifetime warranties and companies such as Goodman will replace the whole furnace if the HX cracks, but there is always a labour cost. The HIP plan does not cover new or old HX’s. If a 6 yr old furnace’s HX goes, there is still a labour charge same as if it’s an 18 yr old furnace.

    I do about 7-8 furnace calls a day, some maintenance, some no heat and others nuisance calls. I would say I find a cracked heat exchanger in 1 of every 10 furnaces.

    It’s knowing the brand of furnace, i.e Lennox, Keeprite, Heil, and knowing the weak points of the heat exchanger and where they tend to crack.

    If you disagree, always ask for a supervisor to come out and take a second look.

  15. I live in Montreal and had a similar problem about two years back.

    Sears had taken over the furnace inspection from Esso. After the furnace inspection, the Sears technician said that he would be noting the furnace needs replacement.

    As the cleaning included an annual maintenance and not wanting to void the guarantee, I agreed to him sending the Sears sale rep to give me a quote for a new furnace.

    I ended up purchasing a new (energy efficient) furnace that has given me endless problems with cutting off and combustion problems involving frequent chimney cleaning. Its problems are still ongoing, but alleviated by fitting and induced fan.

    My previous furnace gave me clean combustion and no problems and a clean chimney.

  16. In the first week of September 2010, I called Direct Energy to change my hot water tank.

    The technician sent to me quoted $280 to cut the drywall around the area he had to work in. He also said I had to install a low cut-off water switch for an additional $685 and change all the piping to stainless steel pipes.

    This, to me, was unreasonable, so I refused. He got upset, and said that he would have to leave a tag in my furnace as well.

    I called another company a while later and they came to replace the hot water tank without any problem.

    Now we are trying to cope with the tag and so far have spent $2,500 replacing pipes to stainless steel, etc.

    We are satisfying all the unknown requirements of the corrupted technician and his company. Can someone advise me whom or where to call to find a solution to this mess? I am still without heat.

  17. A tech here, many companies promote sales and want their techs to become ‘salesmen’ instead of staying as techs or mechanics, DE is one of them from what I hear. As mentioned, to properly check a heat exchanger the supply plenum woud need to be suspended and even the blower housing would need to be removed, this isnt a 2 minute job. I for one would not even touch a heat exchanger check for less then $250.

  18. I have no idea how this company can be legal – and I’m positive I’m not alone.

    We’ve endured the countless door to door scams they operate, but now we’ve had the misfortune to deal with them regarding our furnace. We called to schedule a regular maintenance check on the furnace. My wife was at home with our 3 month old baby. The technician came and claimed our heat exchanger was cracked and shut off our furnace at 4pm on a cold night – making us vulnerable and putting us in an emergency situation. They left us with a number to call should we want immediate attention. Such a scam!

    When a technician comes to the house and sees an older furnace – they should warn the home owner that if they service the furnace, they might have to shut off the heat and tag the furnace – if the home owner isn’t prepared, they could return in a week. That gives the home owner an option, and doesn’t force them into an emergency situation. The homeowner would still have to pay for the service call, but could have a week to do some market research so that they aren’t powerless in the situation. Direct Energy wouldn’t have any legal obligations because they never inspected the furnace and the home owner refused service.

    In our situation, the technician left and failed to let us know that he had also turned off our water heater. Instead, he placed an official looking sticker on our water heater with a number to call for service. Another scam.

    Luckily, our Uncle is the best home inspector in the city – he sent over his HVAC guy to check out the situation. The heat exchanger is not cracked, and is not leaking – the furnace was working perfectly.

    We’re lucky we have access to people we trust – what about the countless other vulnerable people out there who get scammed all the time by Direct Energy?

    They are an unethical company taking advantage of innocent and vulnerable people and they should be exposed.

  19. Homeowner – LOL, I’m sorry but I had to laugh at your comment. Give the homeowner time to prepare and come back in a week?

    How long to do think you can sustain CO poisoning if there was a crack? I guarantee it’s a lot less then a week.

    Once a tech walks in your house holding a gas license. he is responsible for your furnace, even if he only came by to drop flowers off for your wife. This is a TSSA policy/law. Last man in is reponsible.

    The other thing I noticed from your comment is that you had bad experiences with DE’s door to door tactics and you still called them for service. I’ve learned that most homeowners bring the problems on to themselves,as they always go back to the person/company who abused them the most.

    DE is a big company that charges a lot of money to pay their office staff and real estate holdings,. Give a smaller company a shot and you’ll be surprised by what you get.

  20. Hi – I have read (with interest) all of the comments regarding DE and what appear to be their practices and policies for dealing/preying on customers.

    I would like to know if anyone has suggestions for companies who are reputable and offer similar HIP-type plans in York Region? There are no shortages of anti-DE comments out there, but where are the compliments and recommendations for the good guys?

    Thanks in advance.

  21. I had a service man come in to fix furnace. Wife was home and he said furnace could blow up any time and was giving off high levels of gas, ducts were dirty and probably coil for a/c.

    Coil would be $1,000+ since we dropped our a/c plan. Everything was wrong, ducts installed wrong, would have to shut down furnace till fixed.

    I said I’d call my a/c man, since in the 5+ years, none of their past technicians ever stated these problems before. I had concerns regarding this guy.

    After hanging up with me, suddenly the gas was gone, the a/c coil was not dirty but clean, so he replaced a small part and my furnace has worked fine since.

    The fear of an outside technician coming in and checking his findings to be false scared him off and he no longer pushed us to replace furnace.

    His name is on the service call and he will never ever step in my house again.

    People beware, get another opinion and tell them you’re calling someone immediately for a second opinion. Watch them squirm.

  22. I just discovered, to my shock, that my natural gas bill was so expensive because I have been paying 44.9 cents/cu. metre for the last 5 years.

    Unbeknownest to me, I allegedly signed a contract with Superior Energy in Dec. ’05 but did not own the house till April ’06. Obviously, the contract was grandfathered from the previous owner. Is this legal and if not do I have any recourse?

  23. If you have a cracked heat exchanger, you have two options: replace the heat exchanger or replace the furnace.

    I can’t fault any company that finds a crack in a heat exchanger for asking me if I want to replace the furnace or replace the heat exchanger. Sure, get a second opinion.

    The company that came to my house had an infra red camera and the three cracks were clearly visible.

    I don’t know how you can even find a crack to show a homeowner when your diagnostic tool is a flashlight and a dentist’s mirror, frankly.

    The company I dealt with shut off the gas, but left me with temporary heat while we decided whether to buy a furnace or replace the heat exchanger.

    In our case, the furnace was 13 years old and the cost for heat exchanger replacement was going to be $859.

    We reasoned that at the end of the day, we could either get a new furnace with warranties and guarantees or we could replace the heat exchanger and still have an older inefficient furnace that would eventually have to be replaced.

    We opted to get a new furnace. We’re saving on our gas bill and it has a lifetime heat exchanger warranty.

    Seriously, it’s not a scam if they find a crack – contractors are just doing their job. Asking if you want a new furnace or a repair seems like a pretty sound business practice from where I sit.

    The comments on this topic seem to suggest that companies deliberately look for cracks so they can sell you a new furnace. What’s wrong with that?

    If they find a crack, haven’t they done you a service by pointing out that you have carbon monoxide leaking into your home? Why shouldn’t they ask for your business?

  24. I know this is an old subject, but a good one. I am a mechanical contractor that just plain hates companies that make up reasons to sell new furnaces.

    I see it all of the time mostly from the large contractors with lots of overhead.

    I find it really easy to say there is a crack in the heat exchanger, but try saying there isn’t one after another company says differently. They’re neary impossible to see, especially when they’re not there.

  25. I have run into similar in Ottawa and would like to know if there any are reputable heating contractors that I could get second opinion on in Ottawa. You can email me at

    Thank you – excellent article and subject

  26. I would change my furnace anyway just in case, rather than take my chances with Carbon monoxide poisoning.

    I have a friend that died of it. You don’t even notice something is wrong until it’s too late.

    I agree with you that Direct Energy’s behaviour should not be rewarded, though.

  27. Our company has run well over 14 second opinion calls for diagnosis of cracked heat exchangers that proved to be wrong.

    Roughly over 80% of our second opinion cracked heat exchanger calls this winter have turned out to be wrong.

    Some of the tactics used to try to force a homeowner into a new furnace sale are downright shameful.

    We have just published a blog addressing this matter and telling homeowners how to protect themselves.

  28. I just like to share with you a battle that I am having with Direct Energy at this moment.

    I have been paying about $20.99/month for Direct Energy’s Home Heating Protection for the last maybe 5 years or so. That cost included a once a year maintenance on my furnace. That cost went up to $21.99 last year.

    Anyway, just before Christmas time, I have been having problems with
    my furnace. There was a problem with the valve that controls the gas
    flow to the furnace.

    I called Direct Energy about the problem and they sent a tech. He told me what the problem was and he shut the gas off and put a tag on the furnace. He said someone will call the next day.

    Well, 5 days went by and no one has called us. I got on the phone with them and explained what has happened. I told them I have a family and our house is cold and you guys are just doing nothing about repairing my furnace.

    They sent out another tech who was at my house first thing in the morning. I spoke to him over the phone. He explained that the gas valve is defective and he has to remove it to see if he can locate and replace it with either a new one or a replacement.

    I asked him why the first tech did not remove the valve and he was at a loss for words. He told me that he should have removed it when he was making the visit.

    A few hours later, he called me and he said that that part now is OBSOLETE and no longer available.

    My furnace was over 25 years old and worked great all these years. But, he told me it was time to replace it with a High Efficiency furnace.

    With the help of this tech and his connections, I replaced my old furnace with a new one the next day and never looked back. But the furnace was NOT purchased from Direct Energy. I found them too expensive and did not give them any of my money.

    After the new furnace was installed, the tech came back and removed the tag and he checked the furnace over to make sure it was installed and working properly. He also, as a courtesy, checked my water heater.

    All was good and he told me to cancel my heating contract with Direct Energy since there is a 5 – 10 year parts and labour warranty on the new furnace.

    This is where the fun begins. When I called D.E. customer service and explained what has happened, a rep advised me that I cannot cancel since this is a yearly contract and I can face a penalty.

    He advised me to downgrade from heating to plumbing and I did at no extra charge. He said before the year is up, I can call to renew OR cancel. Great, that is what I wanted to hear.

    Anyway, I received my first bill from Enbridge and everything was OK with the Direct Energy home services charges. Then, when I got my February statement, I see a charge of $75 on the Direct Energy home services charges.

    When I called their customer service, they told me because I downgraded from heating to plumbing in January, the maintenance that was done on my old furnace in January was charged to me. I told them they are full of it!

    I was paying the $21.99/month charges, which included the maintenance. I asked them about it & they said that they cannot do anything about it. It is just the way their policy is.

    I called a week later and I spoke to another CSR, who told me that he will look into this and get back to me as soon as he investigates.

    Well, it has been over a month and still no call. I called again and spoken to another CSR and I told them that once my Plumbing / Drain protection plan is expiring, I will not renew with them any more for any
    service whatsoever.

    I also said that D.E. is getting from bad to worse for customer satisfaction. I told them that there are more reliable companies out there than them.

    When I read your article in today’s Toronto Star, I was so happy and cheerful that they are getting a bad reputation all over again. I think that when they move to Houston, Texas, they should take all of their crap down there with them and good riddance!

  29. If any homeowner thinks Direct Energy is the only company out there SUPPOSEDLY doing this practice of tagging heat exchangers, think again.

    Being a licensed gas fitter for 25 years, I have found many dishonest HVAC contractors.

    If your furnace is tagged for a cracked heat exchanger, ask to see where. If you don’t agree, I suggest 2 second opinions.

    I know in the middle of winter it’s not easy to do, but 2 second opinions will determine the next course of action.

    Too many stories to comment on, so I tried to give my honest opinion. Just my 2 cents.

  30. This is the newest scenario:

    The DE technician shows up for the yearly inspection, prods the inside of the furnace with a camera and a carbon monoxide detector, and then, like a surgeon complete with deep frowns on his forehead, standing over a patient, starts making noises about the worrisome CO2 reading (41 points removed from 100….), probably caused by the crack he has detected in the heat exchanger.


    “But you know what”, he – with 25 years of experience – says, “let me call a colleague to confirm I don’t see ghosts”.

    Ten minutes later the colleague arrives with…a salesman in his wake. Colleague does the camera and detector thing and exclaims it’s not a crack (yet), but a “scratch”. However, the CO2 reading is creeping up which should be a cause of real concern (I have two brand new CO2 detectors in my home) and the pipes inside are grey which means the furnace is practically on its way out. And this would be the right time to replace it.

    And that’s where our friendly salesman – who was coincidentally tagging along with the serviceman to observe what he’s doing – comes in handily.

    After all sorts of rebates, for a cool $ 4,800 plus tax I could get a nice Trane and automatically would be married for the next 12 years to DE, which will take care of the included yearly maintenance.

    Fortunately, my spouse, looking at my starry eyes, woke me up and announced that we will buy a new furnace when the present one kicks the bucket.

    Thank you, honey.

    NOTE: Maybe the first technician was genuine and wanted a second opinion from a colleague. And maybe it was just a coincidence a salesman materialized out of nowhere.

    But I just thought I’d mention this experience for you folks to watch out for similar scenarios.

  31. Hi there,

    Is it possible that a C4H4 heat pump was working properly for 3.5 years (cooling and heating) without any visible symptoms or warning signs about its performance and then suddenly came to stall, requiring emergency repair and leading to complete replacement due to improper installation?

    Four years ago, we sold a house with newly installed HP and A/C. Installation was performed by a certified technician and inspected twice by a home inspector of the buyers’ choice prior to sale.

    No note was provided to us at that time, nor were any concerns raised that something was wrong after they took ownership, until after this emergency repair was done.

    All installation manuals, user manuals and manufacturer warranties have been left behind to the new owner.

    We strongly believe the defect occurred due to improper maintenance or misuse. However, the buyer is holding us responsible, saying the inspection at the time of system failure discovered that installation was wrong in the first place.

    We would like to know if there is any possible scenario that that could be the truth. We are located in Ottawa/Gatineau area, Canada.

    We would appreciate your help in this matter. Thanks in advance,


  32. My furnace was red tagged by DE just last month due to a defective heat exchanger. They suggested to not replace the heat exchanger because the labour alone would cost $1,000 and the part was only warrantied for 90 days, so it would be better to just get a new furnace.

    Within an hour, a salesperson called and within a day was trying to sell me a new furnace for $6 000. I was in tears about this.

    I called another company for a second opinion and they came and my furnace got a clean bill of health. DE said that if they came again to look at my furnace and found it faulty they would just red tag it again. They were not sorry at all.

    Ironically, the 2nd opinion person who the salesperson recommended was Randy from DE and guess who called me for the follow up and threatened me with tagging my furnace again if he came by?

    Not impressed. I pay for a yearly heating/ cooling plan and it cost $120 just to correct this mistake that DE did nothing about, except try to charge me more money.

  33. OMG I the DE guys just left my house and I just went through the exact same experience as everybody else on here: “heat exchange broken, you’re in danger, we have to shut down the furnace” Even though I said, look if you find anything wrong I just want you to know that you will not be doing the work because I have a brother in law in the business. The supervisor insisted that they can offer a financial plan….I cut him off and said: “You will not be doing the work”. What a scam! I would suggest not getting your furnace cleaned by DE even if it’s covered in the HIP. They are looking for more income. For years I had a private company come in to do my cleaning and they were polite, gracious, neat and professional. They cleaned the furnace, inspected it and left the house. I will cancel my policy as soon as it expires and I will never deal with them again. I am looking to cancel my parents’ plan too. I will convince everyone I know to leave them and especially not to fall for their HIP. I have been paying for 20 years. That amounts to $6000. No way I would have paid that much for service in 20 years. My brother in law will replace the whole furnace for $3000. I could have bought 2 furnaces for that money!

  34. Well here ya go, I went to a house the other day and put a lady’s finger in the hole above her pilot light. She agreed it was a hole in her heat exchanger.

    After a week of her trying to get a govt grant for a free furnace to no avail because she had money….

    Now I am a bad bad furnace guy because she finally found someone to say that crack doesn’t hurt anything. But of course this phantom furnace guy has no name but has been in the business for 70 years. So she can now explain it to the gas company and I will NOT be putting her in a furnace, even if she begs for it.

    Or another one about 4 blocks from her, we can ask him about his crack in his heat exchanger, but we have to wait till Friday because he is still in the hospital recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

    If you have a crack or you have CO, you have a bad furnace. You don’t necessarily need some hack to say it’s ok, just to make you feel good.

    CO detectors in houses go off at 40 ppm in 8 hours.. That is accute poisoning at that time. You do what you want, but is your life worth all this?

  35. Re: Direct Energy scam going on. Called for Maintenance and was told we had a cracked heat exchanger. Furnace shut off immediately.

    Called 2 licensed technicians and both of them said that there was no carbon monoxide leak. Even the three alarms of the CO never went off. We purchased 2 new carbon monoxide detectors for about $80 and plugged one near the furnace.

    Direct Energy called to say they were sending their salesperson right away. Direct Energy wants business and it is a “rip-off” company.

    We are senior citizens and now have to purchase a new furnace ($3,000 to $4,000 tab). Why is the Ministry of Consumer Relations not checking whether the meters are calibrated and that they are not using the enviromental meters?

    They need to check the meters of Direct Energy. The meters that some technicians are using should be taken away by the police and sent for checking out.

  36. Re: Direct Energy scam going on. Called for Maintenance and was told we had a cracked heat exchanger. Furnace shut off immediately.

    Called 2 licensed technicians and both of them said that there was no carbon monoxide leak. Even the three alarms of the CO never went off. We purchased 2 new carbon monoxide detectors for about $80 and plugged one near the furnace.

    Direct Energy called to say they were sending their salesperson right away. Direct Energy wants business and it is a “rip-off” company.

    We are senior citizens and now have to purchase a new furnace ($3,000 to $4,000 tab). Why is the Ministry of Consumer Relations not checking whether the meters are calibrated and that they are not using the enviromental meters?

    They need to check the meters of Direct Energy. The meters that some technicians are using should be taken away by the police and sent for checking out.

  37. Oct 27 2014

    Re: Direct Energy scam going on. Called for Maintenance and was told we had a cracked heat exchanger. Furnace shut off immediately.

    Called 2 licensed technicians and both of them said that there was no carbon monoxide leak. Even the three alarms of the CO never went off. We purchased 2 new carbon monoxide detectors for about $80 and plugged one near the furnace.

    Direct Energy called to say they were sending their salesperson right away. Direct Energy wants business and it is a “rip-off” company.

    We are senior citizens and now have to purchase a new furnace ($3,000 to $4,000 tab). Why is the Ministry of Consumer Relations not checking whether the meters are calibrated and that they are not using the enviromental meters?

    They need to check the meters of Direct Energy. The meters that some technicians are using should be taken away by the police and sent for checking out.

  38. They tried that on me 10 years ago. Direct Energy shut off my furnace in February, thinking I would deal with them afterwards. Wrong.

    I went to a local supplier and had to get a new furnace, high efficiency at that. I wouldn’t deal with their scams and their door to door salesmen.

    Just Google Enercare and Direct Energy. There are tons of complaints across both borders, US and Canada. They’ve already been fined $25 million in Canada for deceptive practices, fraud and even forging customer signatures.

    Do your research and deal with local reputable companies, not American ones. They are liars and will charge you way more than your contract states. They’re doing this across Canada, so don’t let them in your door. Don’t sign anything.

  39. I have been doing residential Heating and Cooling for the past 15 years.

    It’s common knowledge among us pros and an almost daily occurrence in winter that Direct Energy red tags furnaces for “cracked heat exchangers” for no real reason.

    I must have been in 100 of these red tags to provide a second opinion and I can say from my personal experience that less than 5% are for real!

    Same with gas leak red tags. They’re just passing liability to the next guy who is called there to restore service.

  40. You guys are nuts, I work for the company and we are not rewarded at all for shutting off your furnace. We use fibre optic cameras to look between heat exchanger cells. There are books published that show you where each manufacturer’s flaws are, so we know the weak points.

    It really bothers me to hear that people believe we want to shut people’s furnaces off. It’s a terrible thing to have to do. If someone says there’s a cracked heat exchanger, I think you should ask to be shown the crack and its proximity on the cell.

    Don’t leave it a mystery. The crack is there or not. If it is there, then you will be able to see exactly what the technician is seeing.

    We NEVER red tag furnaces for no reason, at least I don’t, and I would have a hard time believing that anyone would just turn your furnace off for no reason.

  41. Belyea red tagged my boiler while they were doing a water heater replacement. There is a real conflict of interest problem when gas appliance sales businesses also have the right to unilaterally shut down existing equipment. The temptation to be unscrupulous or overzealous is too great.

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