M. Giant's
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Monday, February 24, 2003  

Into the Cold

It’s easy to get into a rut with this weblogging thing. You get into this mindset where bitching and ranting seems like the easiest way to get a cheap laugh, and then you forget about the deleterious effect that all of that negativity must be having on your karma. So I’m going to try and be a little more positive and upbeat today.

Furnaces are wonderful things. It can be cold enough outside to turn flame into a liquid, but a furnace will keep your living space warm and cozy. And the great thing about having your furnace break when the temperature is a number of degrees that a quadruple amputee could count to on his fingers is that you know it happened almost right away. If the thing craps out in May or June, it could be months before you realize anything is wrong. But when you wake up in the morning and your bare feet hit a hardwood floor that feels like the back wall of a meat locker, you can’t help but be alert to the situation. I find that so, so pleasing.

When we bought the house, it had this hulking gravity furnace that took up half the basement. A gravity furnace, as you know, operates on the principle that heat rises. That’s it. It makes the heat, and the warm air does what warm air does. It was ridiculously primitive, and everyone told us that that was to our advantage. Since there were few moving parts, it would never break down and it would last forever.

It lasted us five years, then broke down.

One morning in early February, I woke up and spent a few minutes trying to figure out how many doors and windows had been left open all night. Since the answer was none, the problem was obviously with our furnace. I went downstairs to find it cold and dark. The furnace, as it turned out, had an Achilles heel: its pilot light. Eventually the problem was diagnosed thusly: every time the furnace kicked on, it blew out its own pilot light. Two moving parts, and they managed to screw each other up.

We have an agreement with our gas company; we pay them a few extra bucks a month, and they come to our house and fix any appliances that happen to break. We got our money’s worth that winter. A couple of the repair guys had their own keys to our house. I also went through a couple of boxes of wooden matches relighting the pilot light over and over. I got good at it, though. The first time I had to do it, my hand shook as I anticipated blowing the house higher than Chernobyl. By spring, I was so blasé about the procedure that I just kept a lighter and a can of hairspray in the basement so I could shoot a geyser of flame in the furnace’s general direction whenever the pilot light went out. That summer, the beast was dismantled and taken away, and we got a new furnace installed, along with central air.

That was almost five years ago. I don’t have the paperwork in front of me, but I’m pretty sure we got a five-year warranty. The frost forming on both sides of our windows pretty much confirms that. The thing is, it’s still running, but the air coming out of the grates is reticent and tepid and the cats have taken up ice skating on their water bowl.

It was actually a couple of degrees chilly last night, but I told Trash it was all in her head because a) I wasn’t particularly cold, and b) it’s easier to tell the other person she’s crazy than it is to call someone to fix the problem. I applied a little percussive maintenance myself to the furnace, but judging from the clouds of vapor we were exhaling this morning, it didn’t work.

I called the gas company this morning to have someone come out and look at it. The first thing they asked me was when was the last time I checked the filter.

Er. Um.

At least I knew that it couldn’t have been more than five years ago.

We set up an appointment for the guy to come out and take a look at it tomorrow morning, on the condition that a new filter didn’t fix the problem. During my lunch, I picked up a couple of new furnace filters (I knew the correct size from memory, so that’s something, right?) and brought them home.

I remember installing a new furnace filter last time I had the access panel open. Oddly enough, during the intervening months some prankster had apparently replaced it with an incredibly furry acoustic ceiling tile. With that thing in there, it’s a wonder we didn’t suffocate.

But now we have a new filter gathering up all the dust motes and cat hairs and assorted other allergens and histamines and what have you. It’s too early to tell if we’ll get enough heat back. Although if we wake up at three in the morning and it’s two hundred degrees in our room, that’ll be a clear indicator.

posted by M. Giant 3:31 PM 0 comments


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