Category Archives: General

The category for uncategorized stuff. ;)

Ottawa Hwy 417 Kirkwood Rapid Replacement (Time Lapse)

On the July 6 – 7, 2013 weekend, the Highway 417 Kirkwood overpasses were replaced using the proven Rapid Replacement method. I stitched together the following time-lapse video from the webcam feed provided by the MTO.

We’ve had many of the bridges on the 417 replaced using this method and now it’s a little less “exciting” to see such a huge structure moved around so easily. Ah, the wonders of Engineering – making really amazing stuff “normal”. :)

Oh, and I’ve put this video on Youtube. My first one ever. Ooooo. I’m going to dig up my old Rapid Replacement videos too and put them on Youtube also given the problems I’ve been having with hosting recently. The Clyde Avenue Bridge Rapid Replacement was completed in 2007 and the Island Park Bridge Rapid Replacement was completed in 2008.

Direct Energy Rental Water Heaters

Direct Energy Office of The President

Direct Energy Office of The President ([email protected]) sounds powerful doesn’t it? It sounds like you have been given a special connection into the inner sanctum of the people who run the company. If only that was the case.

It took almost 6 months for Direct Energy Office of The President to partially resolve the issue we were having due to the Polaris water heater replacement we went through in September 2012. The best news I received was when I got confirmation that we were being put back on the old water heater rental agreement. We were still out over $250 for the new venting associated with the replacement and our monthly rental is now $50 but at least we have the option of telling Direct Energy to come pickup their tank. No more buyout clause!

So, why did it take almost 6 months to get to this point? Well, that likely has a lot to do with the inability to get a response in a reasonable time. It became very obvious that Direct Energy’s Office of The President is really just a second level phone support group. They really have no power and no ability to do anything. Why do I say this? I had to wait for weeks at a time while my “agent” was trying to get in contact with the “Field Manager” to find out if the “Field Manager” would do anything to address my problem. So, shouldn’t the Office of The President be able to just make decisions and cascade them like any other organization? No. Not when they are just a second level support group.

I was getting no where with this group at first, then I started doing my research. If you are having problems with Direct Energy, some of these steps might be useful for you.

First, contact Enbridge and have a hold put on the Direct Energy portion of your account. Remember, Enbridge controls all of the money going to Direct Energy from your bill payment. Once you do that, make sure you notify Direct Energy via the Office of The President that you have had a hold applied and why. I don’t remember exactly but I believe the Enbridge payment hold is only valid for one billing cycle after which you need to contact them to have it extended but I’m not sure they will do that so don’t abuse it. Also, I‘m not certain that this really did anything but I did get some rather quick responses from Direct Energy for the next couple days so it’s worth a try. 

Next, familiarize yourself with the Ministry of Consumer Services, your Consumer Rights and how to cancel a contract. Call them and talk to one of the agents about your specific situation. They can help you understand the Ontario Consumer Protection Act, 2002 as depending on your situation, you will need to reference it.

In our case, the agreement that I had signed was misrepresented at the time by the subcontractor. Even when I contacted Direct Energy prior to allowing the tank to be replaced, I was not given a clear response and was not informed that by having the tank replaced, I was basically agreeing to the new rental terms. I laid all of this out in a letter and both faxed and emailed it to the Direct Energy Office of The President.

Then you wait. If you don’t get a response from Direct Energy in a reasonable time (one week or so), call the Ministry of Consumer Services and find out what your options are. They can decide to investigate depending on the severity of the issue.

So, we finally got back on the old rental agreement and then spent almost 2 months trying to get Direct Energy to come back to replace two of the fittings. That alone was ridiculous as I had my Office of The President contact scheduling appointments for me without checking my availability and then not responding to me for a week when I notified her that I wasn’t going to be available. Eventually I managed to get in direct contact with the subcontractor and we made arrangements for them to come and replace the fittings (the original reason this all started!).

And now we’re basically in a sort of limbo – we’re still renting the tank from Direct Energy simply because the cost of replacing our hydronic heating system is simply too much to justify simply to get rid of the rental. Anything we replace it with wouldn’t even be an upgrade as the Polaris tank is an ultra high efficiency water heater. Oh well. Devil you know I guess.

Image of a Smartphone (the Nexus 4)

Updated: Cheap Smartphone Plans in Canada

Cheap Smartphone Plans in Canada are basically non-existant. With that in mind, there are ways you can get cell coverage, texting and data for a “reasonable” price.

Back in January 2013, I wrote about cheap smartphone plans in Canada and laid out what some of the low-usage, low-price options were. Things have changed a little bit since then. Virgin Mobile now has some (slightly) lower cost postpaid (monthly) plans with more minutes and include the tiered data option. So, you can start as low as $20/mon for 50 voice minutes and unlimited texting as long as you don’t use data. Data adds $5/mon for 25MB and it goes up from there. One big plus is they (currently) offer a 10% discount if you are bringing your unlocked phone to their network. Not too bad but still not cheap either.

Oh, but I already said there were no cheap smartphone plans in Canada.

The biggest change right now is in what Koodo is offering for a pre-paid option. It’s no cheaper than any of the others but there’s a twist. With Koodo, you can get a base plan for $15/mon that includes unlimited texting, call display, call waiting and 3-way calling. That seems like a lot but remember, most of the other providers charge $15/mon for unlimited texting. The big catch here (which might work in your favour) is that this does not include voice minutes or data.

Huh? $15/mon and all I can do is text? Well, for some people that might be a really good option. But no, wait, there’s more! They offer bundles that allow you to add voice minutes and data to your plan. Basically, for $25 you get 500 voice minutes and for $35 you get 1GB of data. OK, those sound pretty reasonable and I’ll bet you’re wondering where this is going since that now sounds like an expensive per month cost.

The voice minutes and data rollover as long as you pay $15/mon.

Oh yeah baby, that’s right – the biggest complaint I have is addressed by Koodo. No more paying for data that has a time expiry. That’s right, you buy data in blocks and use it whenever you want without having to worry about exceeding your monthly limit or, even worse, not even using the data you paid for that month!

So, how does this break down? Your ongoing cost is $15/mon no matter what. The first month you drop $35 + $25 = $60 on your bundles. Now, you basically have 41 voice minutes and 83 MB of data per month for an average cost of $20/mon ($15 * 12 + $60 = $240 / 12 =  $20/mon). Hmm, that price sounds familiar but wait, don’t forget that you are also getting unlimited texting included.

So, if your usage is like mine (low voice & low data but periodic spikes in both), Koodo’s new prepaid option is looking pretty good. I’m curious to see if some of the other providers will follow suit.

Note: I’m still with Virgin Mobile prepaid paying $10/mon for 100MB of data on my Nexus 4. My total monthly cost is under $15 but I’m an ultra low voice and minor text user.

Title Image Credit: Janitors

Polaris Water Heater Replacement – Part 2

We recently completed a Polaris water heater replacement because Direct Energy decided that our 7 year old Polaris water heater was un-repairable. This post contains information on what happened starting the next day.

If you recall from the previous post (liked above), the second technician had ordered a new blower assembly for the original Polaris water heater. Well, that assembly showed up early the next day (Tuesday). My wife just happened to be home and called me just as I arrived at work. We were both baffled by this as if they were planning on replacing our old tank, why did they allow the parts order to go through? The new tank would have been already on the road to our house when that order was placed by the second technician.

This is when I realize that something is seriously wrong with what happened the day before.

So I call Direct Energy and manage to get connected with Supervisor Victoria. Well, Victoria listens to my story and is also surprised by what has happened. She is very surprised that when I called the rental water heater group before allowing the tank to be installed, I wasn’t informed of everything that was going to happen and what options I had. She can see on my file when I called and I asked if that call would have been recorded. Victoria said everything was so I asked her to pull that call and listen to it.

She also looks at my file and informs me that there is no record of who authorized the tank replacement and she is going to need more time to talk to the other people involved on my file so she’s going to call me back the next day (Wednesday).

Victoria is true to her word and calls me back on Wednesday. She has talked to many people involved and she still doesn’t know who authorized the replacement but she hasn’t been able to talk to the first technician who had been on site. She also drops the bombshell – we are now on the new rental agreement.

If you’re not familiar with Direct Energy and their rental water heater business – be very, very happy.

To summarize, being put on the new rental agreement meant that I was now unable to have my rental Polaris water heater removed for a small fee. I was on the hook for the absolutely insane “buyout option”. For example, my just replaced “un-repairable” 7 year old Polaris had a buyout of roughly $3500 (you can buy them new for ~$4500, or less!).

I very quickly informed Victoria that this was not acceptable and at no point was I informed that I would be put on the new rental agreement. Her response? “Well, you signed the rental form didn’t you? It has the terms on it”. Crap. I knew I should have listened to my brain. But wait, that’s not how the installer represented the form I was signing.  He specifically told me I didn’t need to sign on the “rental agreement line” but just in the work order section for what had been done. But still – crap.

Anyways, Victoria decided that she was going to try and find out what happened. At this point, I asked if I needed to get my lawyer involved and she just brushed it off saying that we should be able to come to a resolution without going to lawyers. She was going to get back to me on Friday after talking to the first technician.

That was the last I heard from Victoria.

I had her direct line and called and left voicemails for the next 5 days. Finally I called the Direct Energy rental group again and got to talk to Wendy. Wendy happened to be in the same office as Victoria and was able to talk to her directly while I was on hold. When Wendy came back, she informed me that Victoria was no longer allowed to talk to customers directly. WTF?

So, Wendy was now going to follow-up with the “field manager” and call me back. That was the last I hear from Wendy even with me calling and talking to various other people at the Direct Energy help line.

Finally I get fed up and connected with Dixie at the Direct Energy rental group almost 3 weeks after my initial call. I talk to Dixie about what has happened. She informs me that there is no record of me calling the rental water group before allowing the tank to be replaced. We talk about how I was told lawyers weren’t required and we talk about the Ontario Consumer Protection Acts’ 10 day cooling off period and how I’ve now been screwed out of my legal rights due to Direct Energy’s agents (acting on their behalf) implying they would help resolve the issue. Dixie puts a request through to the Office of the President of Direct Energy and says that is my only hope at this point.

The same day I happened to have posted my frustration on Twitter and got this response:

@dxjones responds to my tweet about how crappy Direct Energy is at doing anything to help me.

@dxjones responds to my tweet about how crappy Direct Energy is at doing anything to help me.

Oh, there’s more but you’re going to have to come back in a few days to read about Direct Energy’s Office of the President.

However, the email address you need to remember is [email protected]. They might be able to help you if you are having real problems. Don’t expect miracles, or prompt service.

Polaris Water Heater Replacement

Our 34G Polaris water heater was replaced not to long ago. Wow, over 7 years with the tank, more than half of those years with numerous problems and finally Direct Energy decides to replace the tank. Although, that’s about 10 years sooner than most Polaris water heaters should be replaced.

For some reason (still unknown to me) the water heater was deemed un-repairable by Direct Energy. My only guess is that potentially replacing the blower motor assembly for the second time in 7 years might have put the total parts cost over their break even threshold?

Unfortunately, this water heater replacement wasn’t without drama.

It started with the old tank tossing an Error Code 1 one Saturday in September. So I called Direct Energy and even though they claim “Same Day Service”, the earliest they could come was Sunday and of course, since the service Technicians don’t carry parts in their vans anymore, he had to order the replacement pressure switch (which I had told them about when I called on Saturday suggesting that the technician bring one).

One of the fittings on the old Polaris water heater that was badly corroded and leaking. This one is also immediately above the natural gas inlet.

One of the fittings on the old Polaris water heater that was badly corroded and leaking. This one is also immediately above the natural gas inlet.

Now, this first technician also noted that we had severe galvanic corrosion on the Polaris water heater fittings and he also scheduled for a crew to come out on Monday to repair that. Great! I’ve been complaining about that to every technician since we moved into the house!

Monday is where things started to go “funny”.

A second technician showed up Monday morning and tried to install the new pressure switch we had received but it didn’t fix the issue. Now, I say tried because the pressure switch wasn’t actually the correct one for the model of Polaris water heater I had. The technician was confused by this but after testing the whole system, he noted that the blower wasn’t pushing nearly enough air so even with the correct pressure switch, it wouldn’t have mattered.

That’s when he ordered the new blower assembly.

So then I was waiting for the second crew to come Monday afternoon and replace the fittings on the tank.  Well, they showed up just after 1PM. With a new tank. Huh? On top of that, they didn’t have any fittings to replace the heavily corroded ones on the existing tank. WTF?

I called Direct Energy before they even brought the new tank in the house because I didn’t understand what was going on. After talking to a person in the Rental Water Heater group, I was basically told that the tank replacement was my only option because they weren’t going to repair the existing tank. Uh, ok? Alarms bells are starting to ring here but my brain couldn’t process everything fast enough to realize I was about to get screwed.

The installation crew with the tank inform me that I need to pay for a venting upgrade due to the code changes and they give me the total cost ~$250. Yikes. Well. But then I’ll have a new tank and hopefully no issues? Oh, and they have only managed to scrounge up two fittings so they will use those and the “best” two of the existing ones but will reschedule to come back to replace those two later. Uh, ok. let’s do it.

7+ hours later at ~8:30PM when they finally finish the replacement (that’s not an unreasonable length of time for a Polaris dual outlet system) they present me with the work order that I need to sign agreeing to pay the ~$250 venting cost. I notice that the form is a rental agreement but the installers are pretty certain I only need to sign where the venting cost is recorded and not the actual agreement. Alarm bells again but the tank is already installed and I’m not sure what else to do so I sign in the materials costs section and not the rental agreement section, just like the installer indicated.

This is the newly installed Polaris 34G water heater with all new venting.

This is the newly installed 34G Polaris water heater with all new venting.

So they pack up and our Polaris water heater replacement is complete. Well, almost. They still need to come back another day and replace the other two fittings. Oh, and of course, there’s that paper I signed. Hmm, wait a second…

You can continue reading Polaris Water Heater Replacement – Part 2.