BANGOR, Maine — A retired engineer from New Hampshire said a majority of failures of heat pumps made by the now-defunct Bangor manufacturer Hallowell International can essentially be reversed by installing a $30 part.
David Friedman, who purchased one of Hallowell’s Acadia heat pumps a few years back, estimated that he has spent several hundred hours over the last several weeks researching and diagnosing the problems with the heat pumps.
He has since fixed his own unit by replacing the pump’s starting circuit and has assisted dozens of other customers as well, but now he wants to reach more.
“The fix is very easy to install, but people who don’t know about the fix will lose their investments and probably have to replace the entire unit if their compressor fails,” Friedman said in an email.
With the help of a Google Group, Friedman connected with an online network of disgruntled Hallowell customers. That’s how he met Gabe Josephs, who purchased 30 Acadia heat pumps for his business shortly after Hallowell International first opened in 2006, and John Quinn, another frustrated customer.
The three men have formed a website, www.savemyacadia.org, to provide technical advice and instructions for fixing failed units.
Friedman also said last week that visitors to the site can apply for inclusion in a class action lawsuit planned against both Bristol Compressors, which supplied parts to Hallowell, and Hallowell International.
One civil lawsuit already has been filed in New Jersey against Hallowell International by United Communities, which manages a military housing project at Fort Dix-McGuire Air Force Base.
That firm, one of Hallowell’s biggest customers, purchased more than 1,300 Hallowell heat pumps over a three-year period, about 30 percent of which experienced failures.
Hallowell International first began experiencing problems earlier this year. Customers who were experiencing problems with their heat pumps could not reach anyone at the company for assistance. Many contacted the Bangor Daily News to voice their frustration.
It was later revealed that Hallowell’s founder and owner, Duane Hallowell, was experiencing financial problems and was forced to lay off most of his staff. Hallowell tried in vain to find financial backing to keep his company open but in late May, the company officially went out of business and in mid-June, all its assets were sold at auction.
Friedman had been tracking the company’s failure before the company went under. He wondered what would happen to the more than 3,000 customers who purchased heat pumps from Hallowell, some for as much as $15,000.
The pumps, which include both a heating and cooling system, rely on electricity and are popular in southern states. The units are designed to harvest heat from the outside air even when it’s cold and deliver hot air inside to warm homes. In the summer, the process reverses, sucking heat and humidity from the inside air and blowing it outside, like an air conditioner.
Friedman said, despite all the bad publicity for Hallowell International, the Acadia heat pumps are still a good product.
“When fixed, the Acadia is still the best heat pump on the market,” he said.
The city of Bangor, which leased a municipal building to Hallowell International and provided community development grant funds, was disappointed with the company’s failure.
“It is deeply disappointing that Hallowell did not succeed, with its product so relevant to the potential of reducing energy costs, and providing needed, good manufacturing jobs in the Bangor region,” Rod McKay, Bangor’s economic and community development director, said in May.
As of May, Hallowell International still owed the city $170,317 in combined outstanding principal and accrued interest, McKay said, although some of that was likely recouped during the auction.
In addition to the local financing, Hallowell got a boost in 2009 from Maine’s congressional delegation, which lobbied on the company’s behalf to secure a department of energy-efficiency rating that paved the way for a host of incentives.
When Duane Hallowell first was granted financing from the city of Bangor in 2006, he said the company could create up to 900 jobs. In 2008, the company employed as many as 40 people and sold 1,600 units.
Two years later, the company folded.
Friedman said it’s a shame that Hallowell International suffered such an unfortunate fate. He hopes that, at the very least, his group’s efforts help keep the heat pumps solvent for many years to come.