burakkarademir / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Contractormag 12780 In Writing

Got That in Writing?

April 17, 2019
Ever search through five years of texts, emails, notes, proposals, letters written and any other correspondence? What a huge PITA.

Remember the Polar Vortex back in January/February 2019? No doubt you busted your butt working crazy hours striving to keep up with your customers’ demands. Seems like every time we have a Polar Vortex or Siberian Express weather event, there’s at least one boiler or furnace that becomes its own nightmare event. Like you need more stress in your life!

This time it was a boiler, a single boiler serving a large public space. The first hard lockout occurred on the third day of the extreme cold, which coincides with all you-know-what breaking out after three solid days of sub-artic freezing weather days. Pipes break, flooding occurs, and heating systems go on the fritz or give up the ghost. Hang the phone up: it rings. No fault codes, so the boiler was reset, fired right off, and was cycled ON/OFF repeatedly. Showing no signs of another tantrum, we left to move on to the next crisis. Two hours later, OFF again and once more the same results. Wash, rinse, repeat. The carbide ignitor checked out, the safeties all checked out and the control board passed with flying colors, so ring-ring – hello tech service.

This single boiler should have, at a bare minimum, been two boilers for a commercial public space that serves as a wedding venue and restaurant. We had provided the prior owner with a proposal to install four modulating/condensing boilers in place of the failed behemoth it’s ON or OFF low efficiency chimney-vented boiler. They obviously chose the lower priced chimney-vented low efficiency single boiler bidder, which we discovered when the new owner began using our services.

An added twist

One wing of the restaurant has glass walls and twelve ancient hydronic fan/coil units. We discovered six out of the twelve were not working shortly after the new owner hired us to service the heating system in 2015. As it turned out, they were obsolete with no parts available. Each passing year another one or more units gave up the ghost. By 2017, the new owner was complaining that the glass-walled wing was not heating properly. In spite of repeated warnings, as more and more of the hydronic fan/coil units failed, that the comfort of their guests would suffer and potential for freeze damage loomed larger with each expired unit, the owner told us he had more pressing matters and we should move on to other tasks. I wrote the owner and his management team a letter outlining the issues and the fact that they were down to just one functional hydronic fan/coil unit in that area.

Back to the boiler

After several days of hard lockout calls, the control board now gave a fault code indicating the carbide ignitor was faulty. We always keep an extra on site because no one locally stocks parts or this brand of boiler and a new ignitor is needed roughly every six months. Would they agree to scheduled routine maintenance on this boiler, or the other mechanical systems? No. Tech service – on speaker phone – explicitly stated (with one member of the management team present) that cleaning the gas-fired boiler was now mandatory. To say the heat exchanger was fouled would be a gross understatement. However, after a thorough cleaning, the hard lockouts continued sporadically with no fault codes. By now all involved parties were frustrated with frayed nerves on our part.

Control board

Another fault code for another carbide ignitor, which we had just received the day prior. Installed the replacement only to obtain another fault code – this time for the control board itself. Same tech service, same test as before, only this time it is the control board that proves to be defective. We order the control board through our wholesaler only to be told the boiler manufacturer is out of stock and that it will be weeks before they will have a control board to ship. Not acceptable!

Scour the country! Our wholesaler locates a control board half way across the country, and we order it next day air ($170.00 shipping cost!). The new control board arrives, we hot foot it to the job site, install the new control board, only to discover it is defective – right out of the box! Another control board is shipped next day air, we rush back to the job, install the control board and all’s well that ends well. NOT!

Remember the glass walled wing of the restaurant? Three of the inoperable convectors and a sprinkler line froze, split, and created water damage. We capped off the convectors and, once again, warned the owner/management team – in writing – that they need to replace the defective units. This time they asked for a proposal.

The letter

A short time later, we received a latter from the lawyer who represents the insurance company who insures the boiler. After accusing us of every heinous crime he could list, and stating we pretty much took our sweet time responding to the client’s distress calls, and refusal to provide the correct parts in a timely fashion, their intent was to sue us for recovery of damages! Good grief. I get it that he’s a hired gun, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Records search! The first thing to do was contact our insurance company who contacted their lawyer who I knew would ask for anything we had in writing because if it was only he-said she-said we would be toast. Ever search through five years of texts, emails, notes, proposals, letters written and any other correspondence? What a huge PITA. But, there was the 2017 letter detailing the glass wall wing’s heating issues and a 2015 text exchange regarding the cost to add a second boiler for redundancy or two high efficiency modulating/condensing boilers. The owner and his management team never wanted to follow through on our recommendations and then there was the long letter regarding the lack of maintenance and their refusal to consider starting routine scheduled maintenance with those issues detailed in writing. As our insurance company’s lawyer said “I was praying you had something in writing. What you have provided is perfect!”

If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist. CYA! Who knows, maybe the owner’s insurance company will turn back on them and refuse to pay for the property damages? Or, if they’ve already paid the owner for the damages, seek to recover all monies paid. 

Dave Yates material both in print and online is protected by Copyright 2019. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must have the express written permission of Dave Yates and CONTRACTOR magazine. Please contact via email at [email protected].

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Contractor, create an account today!