A Thanksgiving like no other

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A recent furnace contest ended up not only saving one local couple’s winter bills and frosty house headaches.

It might just have saved their lives too. Some family members were suffering serious ill effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“This story… could have turned out very different,” said Carmal Huppie, the business administrator of True North Heating and Cooling.

When the local company installed the new Lennox unit for Trevor Samchuk for winning the Heat Up contest, everyone thought that it was simply going to be a feel good way of helping out a struggling family. No one could have predicted that the colourless and odorless gas had been seeping into the Samchuks’ Grandin house for an unknown period of time. It turned out that their nearly 20-year-old furnace was a proverbial ticking time bomb.

According to Jess Samchuk, this marks what she believes to be a real change in the family’s fortunes.

“Honestly, it restored our faith in humanity,” she began, listing off what sounds like a Dante-like descent through monstrous living conditions.

“We went through just some real misfortunes in this house. Our hot water tank exploded. We had a couple floods, sewer backups… it just has been a lot for us. This was, for us, our turning point.”

They’ve gone through ice damming and a leaky roof too, not to mention all of the problems with the furnace. Nothing comes close to how dangerous the furnace was though. They’ve had servicing on it every year for the last half a decade, almost every year that they have lived in the house.

Other technicians indicated problems with the circuit board and the motor, “basically the whole thing,” she said. No one ever seemed to look at or mention the heat exchanger though.

When True North came in and they took it all apart, the guy came upstairs and showed them and said, “You might get upset.”

“He showed me the heat exchanger and it had a couple of really, really big cracks in it. He explained to me that it had been leaking carbon monoxide. I was pretty upset.”

“The significant amount of damage to their heat exchanger is something that most furnace technicians actually never see. It went undetected for a very long time,” Huppie added.

What’s worse is that Jess and one of her two children were experiencing migraines. Their son’s bedroom was in the basement, right next to the furnace room.

“I felt sick to my stomach, like I failed as a parent. Now I have five carbon monoxide detectors in my house.”

Cory Huppie, True North co-owner, needed to design some custom ductwork to ensure that the new furnace would be operating optimally as well. The company absorbed all of those extra costs for time and materials.

His company wasn’t the only one that wanted to chip in to make the day extra special for the Samchuks. An anonymous city resident offered a $250 gift card to Save On Foods, which the two St. Albert locations teamed up to match. Kodiak Carpet Care offered a voucher to clean their carpets and couches. Mainline Furnace Cleaning offered a free clean and Budget Blinds offered custom window coverings for all upper floor windows.

Carmal Huppie noted that the Samchuks had to recently replace their front window because water was coming in. Their new window didn’t have any drapes or blinds.

“It’s called Heat Up so we thought, ‘Let’s heat this right up.’ What a great opportunity to show what bringing a community together and having relationships with people can do. Some really great things happened.”

Local eateries Toast, DJs and the Bourbon Room offered their own feasts around the festive holiday atmosphere.

At the end of the day, True North decided to keep the outgoing furnace with the intent to make an instructional video about the dangers of not keeping up with regular maintenance.

“We could have been hearing about this family this winter in a very different way. It’s disturbing. We all lost sleep over it. We all had a good cry. There was a bigger reason for us to be there that day,” Carmal Huppie said.

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Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.