Family questions high natural gas bill after furnace breaks

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by WHITNEY WARD & KREM.com

KREM.com

Posted on January 27, 2014 at 5:47 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 27 at 7:02 PM

SPOKANE, Wash. -- A Spokane family is without heat after their furnace broke earlier this winter. Yet they wanted answers when the natural gas portion of their bill skyrocketed, so they turned to the 2 On Your Side team.

Janel Whittaker said her family’s furnace broke the first week of December and the family has been using space heaters to keep warm.

“They said it was carbon monoxide and that our furnace was putting out 400 times the amount that it should,” said Whittaker.

The furnace is now red-tagged by Avista and cannot legally be turned back on until it is repaired or replaced, which will cost $4,000. 

The family has already been spending more on electricity because of the space heaters. They did not expect the dramatic increase for their natural gas bill. The bill was double what it was last year when they had a working furnace.

“It’s very frustrating. You’d think you’d have a very minimal bill when you don’t have a furnace,” said Whittaker.

KREM 2 News went to Avista to get answers for the family.

“If it's determined that there is a problem with the bill, the accuracy, then it can be corrected,” said Debbie Simock. “A customer never pays for more energy than they have used.”

Whittaker also said she applied for a low-interest loan through Avista and Numerica Credit Union to replace the heater, but got turned down.

She said she does not know where to turn for herself or her family because several heating companies are unwilling to take payments on a new furnace.

“I worry about them. I worry about them getting sick. It makes me feel like a bad parent when you can’t do things that you need to do for them,” said Whittaker.

Avista said the family can request an audit which includes a manual meter reading and a deeper look into what is causing the increase.

Whittaker said she will be requesting one immediately.

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