West / Regional Reports

Tens of Thousands of Furnaces Recalled in California

July 23, 2001
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LOS ANGELES, CA — According to a recent announcement from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, defective attic furnaces blamed for scores of home fires around California in the last decade have been recalled. And, according to the commission, this means that tens of thousands of the potentially hazardous units can be repaired or replaced at the expense of the distributors. The recall — and a pair of recent class-action legal settlements — promise relief for homeowners who have units made by the now-bankrupt Consolidated Industries. Many consumers had balked at paying $2,000 to $3,000 to replace the furnaces, even though they had been warned that the aging units could overheat and touch off fires.

According to a report published in the July 10 issue of the Los Angeles Times, the federal consumer agency recalled about 30,000 units, roughly one-fifth of those made by Consolidated Industries and installed in attics around the state from 1983 to 1995. The Los Angeles Times reported that the consumer agency knew about the problem furnaces, but failed to warn residents. As part of the action, seven companies that distributed Consolidated units in the state will voluntarily repair or replace the gas-fired attic furnaces, sold under at least 30 brand names in parts of Northern and Southern California.

The Times article, authored by staff writer Jennifer Oldham, said reports by federal safety engineers who tested the furnaces show they cause fires because of alterations Consolidated made to comply with California’s regional smog control rules. The problem furnaces were installed in air quality management districts in Southern California and the Bay Area, it said.



TIMES TELLS ALL; BRINGS ABOUT RECALL

The recall comes about 10 months after a Times investigation revealed that thousands of California residents were unaware that they owned defective attic furnaces believed to have caused at least 50 fires in the state since 1990. Investigators said the furnaces are virtually guaranteed to fail, particularly after they have been in use for a decade or longer.

According to the most recent Times article, no deaths or injuries have been reported, but the furnaces ignited dozens of fires at both ends of the state, including a blaze in north Tustin that destroyed a Ferrari and a closet full of evening gowns and another fire that so traumatized a Porter Ranch family that they sought counseling for months.

The Los Angeles newspaper’s stories prompted hundreds of calls from consumers, including one who said a heating and air conditioning contractor commented that his furnace would have acted like “a big blow torch” in his attic if he had turned it on last winter.

The consumer safety agency issued a warning on the same day the initial Times story was published, which was in September of last year. The agency, which the L.A. Times said knew about the faulty furnaces since the mid-1990s, said it didn’t issue a warning earlier because it was trying to negotiate an agreement with Consolidated to finance a recall.

When the company declared bankruptcy last year, it wiped out any hope of such an agreement, it noted in the report. The agency has been negotiating with various Consolidated distributors for months to reach the recall settlement, the Times reported.

According to the newspaper’s account, Trane distributed about 10,400 Consolidated furnaces in California. Quoted in the July 10 issue is Jeff Bleich, an attorney with Munger, Tolles & Olson, which represents The Trane Company.

“We’ve entered into this voluntary action because we believe if people have a Trane label on their unit they should have real confidence in it,” Bleich told the L.A. Times.

Fire inspectors and hvacr contractors contacted by the Los Angeles newspaper said they were heartened by the recall, after years of fielding questions from hundreds of consumers anxious about the safety of their furnaces. But they said it might take years to be rid of all the problem furnaces.

Quoted in the Times article is Michael Freige, a senior fire inspector for the Torrance Fire Department. “It’s a start,” said Freige, who has led the charge to inform Southland residents about the faulty appliances. “But I can guarantee in the next couple of winters, the fire service and the insurance industry will receive phone calls and inquiries from startled people who say, ‘I’ve never heard about this problem.’”



SIDEBAR: Recall Includes Free Inspection, Repairs, or New Unit

LOS ANGELES, CA — The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent recall includes 30,000 attic furnaces distributed by Amana Co., Bard Manufacturing, Carrier Corp., Goettl Air Conditioning Inc., Goodman Manufacturing Co., Heat Controller, and The Trane Company.

The units all have devices known as NOx rods, or steel rods installed on top of the burner to absorb greater amounts of nitrogen oxide. According to the July 10 issue of the Los Angeles Times, investigators found the rods increase the temperature inside the furnace, eventually warping the burner and surrounding parts, allowing the flame to escape.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent recall program offers free inspection and furnace repairs to homeowners who have Consolidated furnaces distributed by the above-mentioned companies. As part of the safety agency’s recall, consumers can elect to have parts of their furnace replaced or have a new unit installed. Homeowners will be required to pay installation costs.

The distributors also have agreed to repair any heat-related damage found adjacent to furnaces at no cost to homeowners. According to the Times, the recall covers furnaces with various heating capacities. In the L.A. newspaper’s report, the consumer safety agency said, in the past, it didn’t have any data to indicate that smaller furnaces — with ratings of 50,000 BTUs or less — presented a fire hazard.

To participate, homeowners must fill out an inspection request form that can be obtained on the Internet at www.furnaceinspect.com, or by calling 877-347-6456. Inspectors will follow up on the calls.

According to the Times, about 120,000 Consolidated furnaces distributed directly by the company under the brand names Premier and Consolidated are not covered by the recall because of the company’s bankruptcy.

Attorneys representing California homeowners in a class-action lawsuit filed against Consolidated in 1994 hope to help those homeowners replace their units or recover costs. A hearing on the case is scheduled at the end of this month, the Times reported.

For consumers who have already had their furnaces replaced, a recent settlement will offer a measure of relief. Settling a portion of the suit filed against several Consolidated distributors in 1994, the Amana Co., Bard Manufacturing, Goettl Air Conditioning Inc., and Trane Co. will reimburse homeowners up to $450, Rob MacDonald, an attorney who represents California homeowners in the class-action lawsuit, informed the Times.

In yet another settlement agreement, MacDonald told the Times that Addison Products Co., which is no longer in business, has set up a $7-million fund for residents who own attic furnaces distributed by the company. These homeowners will be reimbursed $600 to $700, according to the newspaper’s report.

Consumers who want to file a claim with any of those distributors are being asked to call Richard G. White Inc., the law firm handling the litigation, at 408-808-1410.

Publicationn date: 07/23/2001

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