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Furnace in a funk? Technicians, plumbers backed up with repair demands

Because of the sudden and extreme cold, wait times for furnace and pipe repairs have skyrocketed.  (Monty Kruger/CBC - image credit)
Because of the sudden and extreme cold, wait times for furnace and pipe repairs have skyrocketed. (Monty Kruger/CBC - image credit)

Plumbers and heating technicians around southern Alberta are working around the clock to respond to chaos caused by the cold snap — from faulty furnaces to frozen pipes, people and their homes have been hit hard by the weather.

Pete Archdekin — owner of Pete the Plumber, a Calgary plumbing and heating company —  said his crews are working almost 24 hours a day to keep up with service and repair demands.

"The tow truck guys are busy … we are busier. People can walk away from their vehicle and say, 'I'll get that in a week.' They can't walk away from their house and let it freeze up," he said.

Proper heat is crucial for Canadian winters, but a majority of Pete the Plumber's calls have been about furnace concerns.

But wait times for repairs have skyrocketed.

Because of the sudden and extreme cold, Archdekin says he's booking appointments at least three days out for first-time customers.

The cold really hits home

Patricia O'Donnell lives on a ranch near Lethbridge. She said her family hasn't had any heat since Thursday morning.

Around 4 a.m., the family was woken up by an abnormally cold house.

"So we spent the day on the phone. We called about six or seven different HVAC companies, and they weren't able to come out to us until that evening," she said.

When a technician eventually came, they discovered that the whole furnace needed to be replaced, meaning more days without heat.

Over the weekend, Lethbridge saw temperatures as low as -41 C, according to Environment Canada.

"It was unbelievably cold [in our house]," said O'Donnell, adding her neighbours were able to bring by supplies.

"We had about 10 space heaters going, one in each room. You had to be very strategic about where you would plug something in. You'd have to unplug one of the space heaters to plug in, say, the toaster, so that you didn't blow every breaker in the house."

Patricia O'Donnell from southern Alberta, pictured with her husband and three daughters, says her furnace gave out during the cold snap.
Patricia O'Donnell from southern Alberta, pictured with her husband and three daughters, says her furnace gave out during the cold snap.

Patricia O'Donnell from southern Alberta, pictured with her husband and three daughters, says her furnace gave out during the cold snap. (Submitted by Patricia O'Donnell)

With three young daughters all under the age of eight, O'Donnell says her family had to spend lots of time snuggling up by whatever heat was available.

"The only really stressful part, I would say, is when our water ended up freezing. We weren't able to flush toilets, or tub, or cook, or wash dishes or anything like that."

O'Donnell said, thankfully, her new furnace was up and running on Monday evening.

Don't despair — prepare

So how can Albertans plan ahead and winterize their homes?

Archdekin has some advice for people to help avoid pipe predicaments and furnace failures during a cold snap:

  • If you skip town to escape the cold, make sure to have someone go by your house to check on things.

  • Keep your water moving by taking a shower, flushing the toilet.

  • Turn off your home's outside water line that leads to the hose spigot before the cold hits.

  • Check your furnace's air filters regularly and keep up on maintenance.

  • If icicles form on a vent, gently knock them off.

While Archdekin and his team are busy and tired, he offered up some free advice should your furnace flatline during a deep freeze:

"Don't panic. Get the heaters in there. Get two or three quotes."