GARDNER (CBS) – When Janice Magliacane’s furnace broke in 2010, she discovered water all over the floor of her cellar.
A repairman told the Gardner homeowner she needed to replace a copper coil that had sprung several tiny leaks inside her tankless hot water heater.READ MORE: 3 Captured After Stolen Car Filled With Stolen Packages Crashes In Holbrook
But after the installation, the new coil only lasted a year. So Magliacane paid hundreds of dollars to replace it again. A year later, it was the same result.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was incredible!” Magliacane told the I-Team. “I couldn’t keep doing that because it was costing me $600 every time I replaced it.”
James Lambert feels the same frustration. When his copper coil deteriorated, the Gardner resident replaced his entire furnace, spending $6,000 on the new system.
However, only about a year later, Lambert also found water spewing out all over the floor after that new copper coil failed, too. He is convinced his homeowner headache is more than bad luck.
“Something is wrong with the system,” Lambert said. “Something is in the water.”
Attorney Jerry Paquette also had to pay to a replace coil in his furnace. Before long, it had failed again.
Here is what is strange – surrounding communities use tankless hot water systems with the same copper coils, but are not getting the same result.
“It’s been happening throughout the city. A lot of people are unhappy,” Paquette said. “The only coils that are failing are in the City of Gardner.”
The part is manufactured at Therma-Flow/Everhot in Watertown. Company president Ed Hill told the I-Team the failures in Gardner have not been covered by warranty because the tiny pinhole leaks are not emblematic of a defect. Instead, Hill said they indicate something else it to blame.
City engineer Robert Hankinson is well aware of the mystery surrounding the coils. For the past several years, he has been tasked with trying to solve the problem. And he’s heard plenty of complaints from residents – up to 200 by his estimate.
“It is very frustrating,” Hankinson said.
A study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2011 showed there was no issue with the quality of the drinking water, but shed little light on the coil corrosion.
A second city-commissioned study for $4,000 also proved to be inconclusive in 2012.READ MORE: Four Revolution Players Named To MLS' 2021 Best XI
However, Hankinson admitted that ever since the city privatized its water treatment facility at Crystal Lake, something hasn’t added up.
“I would have to say this issue has come along with the new treatment system,” Hankinson said. “One would think it couldn’t be a coincidence.”
And according to a recently-completed study by Corrosion Testing Laboratories in Delaware, there is no coincidence.
The $5,000 report, obtained by the I-Team, showed hundreds of incidents clustered around the water treatment facility.
The report also ruled out the quality of the copper as part of the problem. Instead, the report pointed to the features of the surface water pumped from the Crystal Lake facility.
“The attack that created the pinholes was likely caused by the water quality issues related to soft water with low alkalinity, and/or low dissolved inorganic carbon,” the investigation concluded.
David Ryan, a chemistry professor with University of Massachusetts Lowell, read the report and said pinpointing the exact explanation has been difficult because there are so many variables.
“Gardner seems to have hit the perfect storm,” Ryan said. “It’s pretty clear there is a problem with the water. It’s not going to hurt anyone. It has just cost some homeowners a lot of money.”
Mayor Mark Hawke told the I-Team he is now directing the treatment facility operator, United Water, to study adding more alkalinity to the water and making it harder.
“If you tweak one ingredient, it could throw everything out of balance,” Hawke said. “We want any solution to be cost-effective and keep the drinking water at a high quality.”
Hawke also said he does not think the city has any culpability for the failed coils because the report attributed the issue to the natural state of the surface water.
However, some residents feel like they are owed a refund.
Homeowners like Paquette and Lambert fixed their furnaces with a nickel-based coil and have not experienced any issues since.
Magliacane ended up forking over $2,600 for a separate standalone water heater unit.
“Even if I didn’t get reimbursed for what I’ve spent in repair costs, I still want the water problem solved,” she said.MORE NEWS: Eddie Mekka, 'Laverne & Shirley' Actor And Worcester Native, Dies At 69
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.