Bamboozled: Fixing the repairs

Earline Turner, 71, tries to keep her Plainfield home in proper working order. One of her annual tasks is to have her home’s BB brandingchimney inspected.

When workers knocked on her door in October 2008, saying they were there to check the chimney, she welcomed them.

“They said I needed a top to the chimney because animals could get in,’’ Turner said.

She also agreed to some work on her chimney’s venting system. The total bill was $1,300.

The work was done, and she paid the bill. In the summer of 2009, she received another visit from a different chimney company — the one she had been using for years. That’s when she realized her mistake. The $1,300 of work Turner had agreed to was from a new company that just happened to knock on her door.

When her regular company came calling, workers said her new chimney cap was installed incorrectly. Installers used tar instead of cement.

Turner was told the cap might not hold, so she called the installers, Masters Touch Maintenance.

Every time she called, she got voice mail. She left messages. No one called her back. Finally, after half-dozen calls, someone answered the phone. Turner was told that Masters Touch was out of business and a new company, Tri-County Maintenance, had taken over.

121509‘‘I told her the problem, and when she put this man on the phone he told me that everything was fine and if I had a problem I could call them,’’ Turner said.

Turner waited. Then the “problem” happened.

A storm blew the chimney cap off the house and it landed in Turner’s backyard.
Turner called Tri-County, and after leaving many voice mails, she reached a representative, who promised to send someone to fix the cap.
Weeks passed, and no one showed.

That’s when Turner contacted Bamboozled.

The new company

Bamboozled reached out to Tri-County Maintenance to see if it would make good on its word to Turner.

Manager Fran Martin said there was a delay because the company tries to schedule its jobs geographically, and they hadn’t been back to Turner’s area. She said the company wasn’t contractually bound to do the repairs, but she’d send someone within the next week anyway.

Martin agreed the workmanship done on Turner’s chimney wasn’t right.

Chimney caps “are either bolted or cemented,’’ Martin said. ‘‘A few years ago, they had some workers here that weren’t great, and that’s why they shut down.’’

She promised her workers would do a better job.

Within a week, a Tri-County contractor was at Turner’s house to inspect the damage. He told Turner he didn’t have the right cement for the repair, but he’d return in a few days with the correct supplies.
He did.

‘‘He put on a different chimney top because the old top had a broken piece,’’ said Turner. ‘‘They put cement around it.’’

Thanks to Tri-County for fixing Turner’s chimney.

Another company, another mishap

Shortly after the Turner case was resolved, Bamboozled received an e-mail from an exasperated Joan Muller.

The Pompton Plains woman said in March 2008, she called AAA Reliable, a Fair Lawn chimney company, because her chimney top had blown off.

Muller said workers told her the inside of her chimney was rotting and needed to be fixed. Muller agreed, and for $4,100 the company installed a stainless steel liner and did some other work.

Because it was spring, Muller didn’t use the fireplace for months, not until New Year’s Day 2009.

‘‘As my son-in law started the kindling, all black smoke came into our living room, but nothing was going up the chimney. And yes, the flue was open,’’ she said.

She made several calls to AAA Reliable. When a worker finally arrived, Muller said he recommended a glass front for the fireplace to block the smoke. Muller didn’t agree, saying that wasn’t a real solution, and asked that the work already done on the chimney be fixed. She said she called an additional half-dozen times, was promised someone would come, but no one came.

Muller then had other contractors assess the job.

‘‘They said he installed too small a steel pipe and never finished the job properly, and I still cannot use the fireplace,’’ she said.

Muller contacted the Better Business Bureau of New Jersey, the fraud unit of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, and finally, Bamboozled.

‘‘We don’t want any problems. We just want it fixed,’’ Muller said. ‘‘We’ve been here 55 years and used it beautifully, then the wind blew the cover off and they said we needed all this fixing, and they left us in a lurch. That’s not good business.’’

Bamboozled talked to AAA Reliable manager Tammy Alexander, who sent a crew that week.

The crew placed a turbine on the roof to suck up the smoke, which Muller said made her home look like a restaurant. But when the crew built a fire to test the turbine, no luck.

‘‘The smoke started coming in and we opened all the windows,’’ Muller said. ‘‘Then he picked up the logs and threw them, burning, out the window onto the lawn.”

That was after walking 4 feet across the carpet, she added.

The worker told Muller he’d have to dismantle her chimney to make the needed fixes, and he’d return the following week.

But Muller’s confidence in the company was shot. She told Bamboozled she’d prefer a refund and she’d get someone else to repair the chimney.

Bamboozled talked to AAA Reliable owner Lee Lita, who immediately agreed to return Muller’s money.

Lita said the company takes 50 service calls a day, and it services about 15,000 customers a year, with perhaps 10 complaints a year.

‘‘At the end of the day I have to make sure the customer is happy, because if the customer isn’t happy, it doesn’t help me,’’ he said.

Muller can expect her refund check sometime this week — we’ll let you know when she receives it — and Lita offered to service the chimney if Muller changes her mind.

Thanks to Lita and AAA for doing the right thing by Muller.

Your chimney

Before you hire a chimney contractor to do any work on your home, make sure you understand the basics of your chimney and what work it might need.

To learn, the Chimney Safety Institute of American ( offers online tutorials to teach you about how chimneys work, what kind of maintenance chimneys require and what you should look for in a chimney contractor.