Cowboy contractor and dodgy data

Last week the furnace industry took a slight beating in the hands of an inscrutable furnace contractor, but also from the poor reporting, and misinterpretation of data by CTV. The story related to a sting operation to catch a furnace contractor, Pro Ace Heating & Cooling in Burnaby. BC Furnace strives to operate at the highest level of integrity and honesty, and the exposure of companies who may be deemed as ‘cowboys’ in the industry is certainly a good thing as they bring disrepute to us all. However the manner and reporting of the Pro Ace sting probably left a sour taste in most contractors’ mouths, including companies like BC Furnace who operate a much more ethical business practice.


I’m by no means defending Pro Ace, the very opposite, we take great lengths to distance ourselves from any company that brings doubt and mistrust from consumers into our industry, however the follow up stories that CTV ran were poorly reported, and included huge oversights in terms of how data should be interpreted.


The original story / footage showed CTV ‘s hired expert purposely pulling a wire from their furnace, an easy, inexpensive repair for any qualified heating technician. They then called Pro Ace to come and repair the issue under the all seeing eye of the hidden cameras.  The Pro Ace heating technician that arrived at the ‘bait home’, was certainly not qualified enough, or perhaps it was a case of greedy enough to suggested the replacement of a hugely expensive part was needed, he also had the audacity to suggest the customer replace a perfectly working thermostat, this all took place in full view of the reporter’s hidden camera in their lapel.  As I watched this unfold you had the initial pleasure of knowing one cowboy had been exposed, but as the video continued I became more intrigued and actually concerned about the direction and angle the reporter was taking. Although there was certainly the intent from the technician to overcharge, once the CTV reported states on the video that they would like to confer with their husband, the technician then repaired the furnace correctly at a nominal and standard rate. This for me then became a bit of a non-story, like reporting how someone suggested a criminal act but then not actually committing it. I can only assume that CTV had invested too much into the bait house to leave the story in the pile of “oh wells, we didn’t really achieve anything news worthy with this piece, you win some you lose some”, instead CTV follows up with a second story that paints a picture of distrust and wide spread unethical practices in the furnace industry, ironically the source and catalyst of this originates from an extremely embarrassed owner of Pro Ace Heating who is seen speaking to the CTV reporters in their office with his cowering and disgraced technician behind him.

I’m paraphrasing, but “there lots of companies that do this, we’re actually very honest” seem to be the main response from the owner, a statement which added fuel to CTV’s dwindling story.


The following day CTV ran a follow-up story entitled ‘Almost half of people don’t trust contractors’, the title alone was not only shocking to all potential contractors, regardless of their trade, but also so high that it instantly gave me doubt into the source of the claim. I’m certainly no statistician, but I know that all data and the interpretation of it should not always be taken at face value, and this report is a prime, if not textbook example of this. According to the article ‘46% believe that the contractors working in their home are working in their best interest’, this statistic can not be reversed to provide the conclusion that over half don’t trust the contractors in the home – that’s not how data can be analyzed. Unless there was a question asking how many people don’t trust contractors, they can make a statistical conclusion based on a different question – the remaining 55% may have been neutral or have no opinion on the matter which is normally the case. If a questionnaire survey included a question asking if you like eating oranges, and 70% said yes, your can then say that only 30% of people like apples.


The article continues by stating that ‘3% found out that work completed by a contractor was not necessary” – firstly 3% is small, and not statistically robust as the small print at the bottom regarding the survey states there is a +/- 3% margin for error. Therefore anything must be above 4% and above to be statistically viable. The data used to follow up the Pro Ace non-event sting is not robust enough to support any of the sweeping ‘new worthy’ claims the article tries to make. Just to make matters worse, the articles quotes that furnace contractors are number 10 in The Better Business Bureau’s list of complaints, so why is CTV not investigating the industries which account for 1 – 9?


The day the follow-up article was posted online, I added my comments regarding the data to establish if it had truly been misinterpreted to the degree that it had appeared to have. I also suggested that the next follow-up report be with a reputable company such as BC Furnace.  However no sooner after my feedback was sent for ‘review’ prior to being added to comments under the story, the comments section was closed.


In conclusion, BC Furnace advocates anything that helps develop and maintain a level of professionalism, trust and ethical work practices in the furnace industry, however like any court case, regardless of the accused, there needs to be substantial, robust, and correctly presented evidence. In the case of CTV vs. The Furnace Industry, the case would collapse due to insufficient evidence, and unfortunately a potentially guilty defendant would go free.