The cold winds of winter are blowing, the white stuff's falling and that means our staff begins receiving calls and complaints related to problems with heating equipment in homes and apartments throughout the city.
This should go without saying, but it's critical for both homeowners and rental property owners to have their heating systems thoroughly checked out. Severe illness and even death from long-term carbon monoxide exposure caused by faulty heating equipment that hasn't been serviced properly remains an issue across the nation.
We are always concerned that city property owners, especially those with rental units, are not as vigilant as they should be making certain that heating equipment is properly serviced and repaired prior to the heating season, based on the number of calls we receive each winter in regards to inoperable and sometimes dangerous equipment in a home or apartment. Some of the furnaces, boilers and space heaters we see during our inspections are, to be blunt, in horrible condition.
Here are the basic legal requirements as set forth by the state and city codes:
All primary fuel-fired heating equipment installed in a residential unit, such as a furnace or space heater, must be able to maintain an interior temperature of at least 68 degrees at all times and is properly vented to the outside of the building, either by using a chimney, external stack piping that meets specific requirements, or a power vent.
As for unvented, wall-mounted heating units, yes, they are legal for residential use in New York state, but are only permitted as a supplement to the primary heating source. Too often, rental property owners looking to save money have one of these installed in an apartment and are knowingly or unknowingly putting their tenants at serious risk of possible carbon monoxide poisoning if they fail to operate properly.
We have been called in to inspect dwellings where this problem has been discovered, either by a tenant, the police department, fire department, etc., and if we see one of these units, we may be forced to shut that living unit down and remove the occupants until a proper heating system is installed.
Let's be clear - it's never a pleasant duty for us to remove individuals or families from their homes, but when someone's personal health, safety and well-being is put in serious jeopardy, we are required by law to take this type of action.
For those living in rental units, your first call should be to the property owner when you have a heating problem before you contact our department. We've often found that owners are sometimes totally unaware that an issue has come up in one of their units and most would have gladly taken care of the matter quickly had they known about it. Only when the owner won't respond or ignores a reported problem should a tenant call the department. But in doing so, the tenant should keep in mind that if an inspector finds a dangerous condition, it's likely they will be ordered to leave the dwelling immediately, no matter what the weather conditions are and the home or apartment posted.
Those heating with wall-mounted electric strip heaters don't have carbon monoxide concerns, but our experience shows that many of these units take a lot of punishment, sometimes operating only part of the time, spark when turned on or are being used or are missing thermostats.
Again, tenants should contact the property owner immediately and if there is no response from the owner within a few hours, then contact our department to request an inspection.
Staying with the electrical front, we strongly discourage the use of small, portable electric heaters. They are designed for brief, temporary use in a limited area. Too often, people try to use them as a primary source if their regular system is inoperable. This practice not only will send your electric bills to the moon, it's potentially dangerous if your electrical service cannot withstand the load. Ask any inspector or member of the fire department what they think of electric space heaters and you'll get a pretty passionate response.
Finally, the use of a gas-fired or an electric range to heat any area is horrifically dangerous. With natural gas you have a potential carbon monoxide problem and both electric and gas ranges can create a fire hazard.
Public safety is our first concern when it comes to heating equipment. If simple, preventative measures are taken to keep systems maintained and in good working order, then our jobs are much easier and residents can live in safe and secure homes and apartment units.
Taking shortcuts can lead to tremendous liability issues and owners who take them risk having their units posted.
As always, if you wish to file a property complaint or have a question, please contact the Department of Development at 483-7541, Monday through Friday. You may also file a complaint by visiting the city's website at www.jamestownny.net and click on the Department of Development tab.