MAHONING COUNTY Permits can be key to safety, area heating board urges

Without official oversight, homeowners are at the mercy of contractors, board members say.
AUSTINTOWN -- The Mahoning County Heating Board has existed since the 1950s, but board officials say people still aren't sure what they do.
Basically, they're a board of contractors, engineers and fire officials who meet monthly to discuss procedures and codes pertaining to heating regulations. Members are appointed to three-year terms by Mahoning County commissioners and make recommendations to chief building officials or commissioners on regulations.
But now they have a recommendation for anyone building within the county: Obtain permits when working on home heating systems.
Safety concerns: Anything from a furnace to a fireplace should be properly inspected to ensure it's safe, board officials said.
"You're dealing with something that could burn your house down or could kill you," said Michael Fagert, board member.
And though heating permits usually cost about $50 -- chump change compared to the cost of a home or a life -- Fagert said many contractors and do-it-yourself homeowners fail to follow proper procedure.
Ignoring permits also puts future homeowners' lives at risk.
Board member and Austintown Fire Chief Andrew Frost has seen the results of faulty construction up close.
In one instance, he said, a New Road couple lost half their new family room to a fire. An investigation found that the contractor never lined a fireplace with brick; the chimney interior was bare wood.
"That could've burned the entire house down," Frost said.
He said the homeowner had no idea about the faulty work.
Saving money: Homeowners are often attracted to fly-by-night contractors who charge a few hundred dollars less than the next guy.
Board members said residents are at the mercy of contractors if permits are never filed; penalties are minor for those who shirk building inspections.
"You gotta realize, most of the rules and regulations for Mahoning County were written 50 years ago," said board member William Gardner.
One of the board's next tasks is to put some teeth into inspection laws with the help of county prosecutors.
Not all departments have the same problems.
Joe Dickey Jr., chairman of the county electrical board, said power companies won't connect service to homes or businesses unless the work was done through a permit or by a licensed contractor.
The heating board covers the entire county except Youngstown, Campbell, Beloit and Washingtonville.

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