Airtronic’s Bill Bradley mounts a complimentary Aprilaire carbon monoxide (CO) detector in the Illingworth home. The CO detectors were donated by Research Products.
REDFORD, MI — A holiday season tradition continued in metropolitan Detroit on Dec. 7 as HVACR contractors from the Northwest Heating and Cooling Dealers Association (NWHCDA) provided free furnace tuneups to over 50 senior citizen homeowners. The program, entitled “Al Keats Day — Project Heat,” was first initiated in 1987. It is named for its founder.

NWHCDA contractors met at the office of Day & Night Heating & Cooling Co. in Novi, MI. Company owner Cliff McCourt, former president of NWHCDA, provided coffee and donuts for the group and manned the phones throughout the morning to take care of the needs of the field crews. He was joined by Craig Jones, owner of Slasor Heating & Cooling Inc. (Livonia, MI). Jones is the current president of NWHCDA.

As an extra bonus this year, Research Products (Madison, WI) and Behler-Young Co. in Livonia donated carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, which crews gave to homeowners who needed replacements or who didn’t have a CO detector installed in their homes. Research Products was represented by Detroit-area distributor Ken Erdody.

Erdody took time to explain how the Aprilaire CO detector worked and how techs should test existing CO detectors by using a can of CO gas. A small shot of the gas is sprayed within a “shower cap” enclosure placed around the detector. If the alarm sounds after 10-15 minutes, the detector is functioning correctly, according to Erdody.

“Just because the alarm sounds, it doesn’t mean the detector works,” added Erdody. “It only means that the sounding device works. You don’t want people to get a false sense of security if they hear the noise.”

A total of 15 contractors sent crews out to 56 homes, which were identified by two area agencies: Senior’s Alliance of Wayne County and the Area Agency on Aging from Oakland County.

The News met crews from two Redford, MI-based companies, Airtronic Heating & Cooling and Liberty Total Comfort Systems, at two area homes that morning.

Howard Dupont of Liberty Total Comfort Systems was happy to pitch in and conduct free service calls for Project Heat.


Sue and George Illingworth have lived in their home for 40 years. Both are legally blind. On this Saturday, they were visited by Bill Bradley and Kevin McPherson, the co-owners of Airtronic. The company employs seven workers and does mostly residential service and replacement.

While Bradley talked with the Illingworths about the CO detector, McPherson went in the basement to inspect the 12-year-old Heil furnace. McPherson was impressed with how clean the unit was. He proceeded to clean and inspect the components and ran tests to ensure that the system was working properly.

He noted that the furnace was piped to a nearby chimney with a liner. “It’s nice to see a furnace with a chimney liner, because there are so many homes around here that don’t have that,” McPherson said.

When the homeowners responded that they had never permanently installed a CO detector, Bradley offered to hang a new one. He also explained its operating procedures. The Illingworths joked that they always sleep with a window slightly open, even in the winter, because “they like fresh air in the home.”

The Illingworths normally have their furnace and A/C compressor inspected every year by a local contractor, but they said the free Project Heat service was a big help this year. George Illingworth said he only deals with reputable companies and always thoroughly interviews contractors when work is needed on his home. He was “very pleased” with Airtronic’s work.

Detroit-area contractors and crew members assemble for the 15th annual “Project Heat.” The effort, which helps senior citizens by providing free furnace tuneups, HVAC system repairs, and carbon monoxide detectors, was named for its founder, Al Keats.


Later in the day, Howard Dupont, representing Liberty Total Comfort Systems, pulled up to Martha Coatsworth’s home. Dupont’s partner was sick and could not make the rounds. The company employs 11 workers and “does a little bit of everything,” according to Dupont. His company is down the street from Airtronic.

Coatsworth’s furnace was an 11-year-old York Diamond, which needed almost no surface cleaning. She had received normal inspections by local utility Michigan Consolidated Gas up until 2000. Despite the fact that it had not been serviced in two years, the furnace was “in remarkably good shape,” according to Dupont. The only exception was the filter for the electronic air cleaner.

Fortunately, Dupont had a replacement filter on his truck, which he installed free of charge. Dupont had given out his last free CO detector at a previous stop and arranged to send one out to Coatsworth the following week.

As he was wrapping up the call, Coatsworth mentioned that her husband had died four years ago and she would be alone this Christmas. A niece, who had been living with her, had recently moved out. Without skipping a beat, Dupont told her he would arrange for a local church to drop off a Christmas gift basket to her.

Howard Dupont checks the burners on Mrs. Coatsworth’s 11-year old York Furnace.


Jones said that the 56 stops conducted that day revealed five furnaces that needed replacing. He said that the NWHCDA would work with supplier members to donate the furnaces and the labor to install them.

The response was almost immediate. Behler-Young donated a Bryant furnace. Carrier Great Lakes, also in Livonia, donated two furnaces. Potter Distributing (Wixom, MI) donated two Trane furnaces and Lennox supplied another furnace, which the NWHCDA had on hand from a previous donation. Calverly Supply (Sterling Heights, MI) donated five chimney liners. Foster-Kilby Supply Co. (Pontiac, MI), an American Standard distributor, also donated equipment.

Jones asked all contractors to put a 30- to 60-day warranty on their work and requested that they perform any repairs which would be needed “down the road” on the spot. He said the NWHCDA would reimburse contractors for the parts.

“When you give something away for free, you can’t afford to have a bad experience,” Jones said. “Then it might have the opposite effect on what you are doing.”

Jones recalled a story from last year’s Project Heat. An elderly woman had a damaged heat exchanger, which Jones described as “having the appearance of a shotgun blast going off inside.”

The technician on the scene recommended an immediate replacement. The woman was ill and on oxygen. Jones and McCourt rushed into action and, with the help of their technicians, installed a donated furnace that day.

A coordinator for a local senior citizen’s agency met with the contractors a few days later and, in a tearful thank you, told them they had saved the woman’s life.

A little extra care, security, and comfort were early Christmas presents for that homeowner, as they were for the 56 senior citizens helped this year by Project Heat.

Publication date: 12/23/2002