Strata property narrowly averts fireplace fiasco

“It’s great to feel safe and warm in your own home,” says Anita Poonawala.

Anita knows what she’s talking about.

Several years ago she and her neighbours were looking forward to home improvements to their townhouse complex in Richmond that would provide them more warmth during the cold months.

The strata council had decided to replace the wood-burning fireplaces in the 48-unit complex with electrical fireplaces and had called in workers to do the installations.

As the work was being done in her townhouse, Anita, who is a Client Services Representative for BC Safety Authority (BCSA), felt uneasy with what she saw.

“In my work, I get calls from homeowners wanting to verify if the contractor they’re dealing with is in fact licensed and qualified. So I did a little checking on my own,” said Anita.

“One of the workers was welding while another was at the electrical panel resetting the power as it kept going off. So I asked them if they knew what they were doing. One of them said he did but that their employer did not give them good machines to work with. That made me think that there was something wrong.”

She was also told by the strata council that a permit had not been taken out because it wasn’t necessary.

Anita informed BCSA and electrical safety officer Carlo Turra went to see the work being done.

He noted that “unpermitted electrical work was being done by an unqualified individual and the work was not in accordance to the Canadian electrical code.”

“For example, each electrical fireplace insert should have its own dedicated circuit," said Carlo. "In this case, that wasn’t being done and circuits were being overloaded. This would have caused tripping or worse, a fire.”

He immediately had the work stopped and, together with Anita, convinced the strata council to hire a licensed contractor.

The council agreed, a licensed contractor was called in, permits were taken out and the work was done safely and according to code. During the course of work, the contractor also corrected other non-compliances that had been done for only a small additional fee.

“A licensed electrical contractor will know what type of work will require an electrical permit and will do the work safely and according to code,” said Carlo.

According to Anita, there’s a lesson here for all homeowners.

“If we hadn’t found out, the work done would have been illegal; it wouldn’t be covered by insurance and it could have started a fire. And it ended up causing delays and costing the homeowners more than anticipated. It’s best to get a qualified and licensed contractor to do this kind of work from the very start.”

She and her neighbours now look forward to keeping warm and safe in the coming months.

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