9 Investigates: Homeowners claim builder installed fireplaces wrong

CHARLOTTE — Several customers told Action 9 a major Charlotte-area homebuilder installed their fireplaces incorrectly, leaving them with safety concerns -- and the repair bill.

Kathy Kushmider said she didn’t expect to deal with such a big problem in a brand new house.

“My carpets were turning gray. My blinds were turning gray,” she told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke. “There was like black soot inside my refrigerator and inside my microwave and all my garbage cans, and, for the life of me, I just didn’t know what it was.”

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Kushmider said her insurance company hired an engineer who wrote a report, saying the soot from the fireplace was “due to improper installation of the fireplace glass panel latches.”

She told her neighbor, Loreen Walter, who hired a company to inspect her own fireplace.

“As it turned out, the components were not installed properly,” she told Stoogenke.

Walter said the inspection determined her unit was “improperly set up,” that it had “gravel on the burner,” that the “glass front was not sealed properly,” and that the “logs were set up wrong.”

“Disappointed is my biggest … my biggest word I can use is disappointed,” she said.

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Kushmider, Walter, and a third homeowner who told Stoogenke his fireplace was also installed wrong, all complained to the homebuilder, D.R. Horton. They said the company told them they were too late -- that the 1-year warranty had expired.

“There was no sign of taking responsibility or recognizing that, ‘Oh, this is a problem, maybe we better go back and check all the homes,’” Walter said.

They all told Action 9 that D.R. Horton told them to get in touch with the subcontractor that installed the fireplaces, Hearth & Home Technologies.

Kushmider said the company gave her a legal document, acknowledging it installed the fireplace structure, but said it didn’t install the burner, artificial logs, or decorative rocks, and that it didn’t perform the final securing of the glass.

Hearth & Home said D.R. Horton employees -- or its subcontractors -- did all of that, and that they did it wrong.

“I want to hold D.R. Horton accountable for what they have done to me,” Kushmider said. “Right your mistake, make it right.”

Kushmider said Hearth & Home replaced her fireplace as a gesture of goodwill. Walter said she paid the company that inspected her fireplace $112 to fix it. The third homeowner said he paid about $250 to get his fixed.

A gas fireplace that’s installed wrong can pose a safety issue. That said, it’s not clear if there was a safety issue in these three cases.

Action 9 tried to contact D.R. Horton multiple ways over the last two and a half weeks, but no one has responded in time for this report.

What customers need to know

Here’s some advice to homeowners from Action 9:

  • A lot of homebuilder warranties expire after one year, like in this case. It may sound extreme, but you may want to hire an inspector to go through your home before that date, so you can make a list of all the issues.
  • If the warranty expires and you have problems, see if your homeowners insurance or home warranty (if you have one) will help.
  • Specifically, for fireplace issues, make sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors, not just smoke detectors.

Piedmont Natural Gas offers this safety advice:

  • When choosing a contractor for repair or replacement of your natural gas appliances, make sure the contractor is licensed, committed to safety and follows all manufacturer safety guidelines.
  • You can choose to work with Piedmont Natural Gas, one of their approved Gas Advantage Dealers, or any other licensed contractor to repair or replace damaged appliances.
  • View a list of Piedmont’s Gas Advantage Dealers.
  • Note that unauthorized repairs can be unsafe and may void your warranty, according to manufacturer guidelines.
  • Call your appliance manufacturer if you are unsure that the work being performed is an approved repair.

How to recognize a natural gas leak

Natural gas leaks can happen anywhere. A natural gas leak can impact you even if you don’t have natural gas service at your home or business. It’s possible for natural gas to migrate into neighboring buildings, including those without natural gas service, so even if you’re not a Piedmont Natural Gas customer, leaks from nearby facilities and/or pipelines could affect you. Natural gas leaks can be handled quickly and easily if you know what to look for and what to do if you find one.

Here’s how you can identify a natural gas leak:

  • SMELL - Natural gas smells like rotten eggs.
  • LOOK - Natural gas leaks often cause bubbling water, blowing dirt or dead plants. You may also see sinkholes and/or exposed pipe.
  • LISTEN - Natural gas leaks often cause a hissing sound near a natural gas line or meter.

If you smell natural gas or suspect a leak:

  • Leave the area immediately.
  • After leaving the area, call Piedmont at 800-752-7504 or call 911. Call from a neighbor’s house or from another location far from the smell of natural gas.
  • DO NOT use anything electrical that may create a spark; this includes cellphones.
  • DO NOT operate any light switches.
  • DO NOT light a match.
  • DO NOT attempt to locate the source of a leak.
  • DO NOT attempt to stop a leak.
  • DO NOT return to the area until Piedmont Natural Gas or the emergency services have declared the area safe.
  • DO NOT attempt to operate pipeline valves yourself. You may inadvertently cause more danger or additional damage.
  • DO NOT attempt to extinguish a natural gas fire.

Protect yourself against carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can result as a byproduct of incomplete burning of natural gas or other fossil fuels.

  • Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Make sure all gas appliances are installed correctly and checked annually.
  • Have chimneys cleaned and checked every year for obstructions.
  • Don’t use outdoor appliances or equipment indoors for space heating or cooking.

(Watch the video below: Mother warns about fireplace glass danger after daughter burns hands)