Tuesday, November 17, 2009


We're having a wonderful Indian summer here in southwestern Pennsylvania, with outdoor temperatures hovering in the 50s and 60s during the day and going down into the 30s and 40s at night. This means I've been able to get outside and do some of the winter prep yard work I'd put off or plain wouldn't do if it were colder.

It's also meant that I could put off turning on the furnace full time. I can't claim any ecologically-founded virtue in this desire; it's just that I'm poor. Or cheap. Take your pick.

Actually, I deinstalled the thermostat had been deinstalled and shut off the HVAC main switch off last July when I started doing the faux finish on my 1st floor hall. My vow and resolution was not to reinstall it until the trim was refinished and put back in place and the new wallpaper hung. In September, this was supposed to be, a week or two after I finished with the Welsh-American convention I was involved in here in Pittsburgh and had bidden a fond adieu to the Kansas City friend who was my guest during it.

But work and life and Facebook intervened. So barring some work in the garden and giving the thermostat cover a "bronze" coat with model car paint (so it'll look less glaring over my new paper), I've accomplished pretty much nothing on the inside of the house since the end of August. Forget wallpapering; I haven't even finished stripping the 2nd floor hall floor.

And though the weather outside has been happily mild, my brick and plaster house can retain only so much heat. Inside daytime temps descended into the low 50s by a week ago last Friday, and reluctantly I gave in and reinstalled the thermostat over the primed plaster.

Ran the furnace three or four hours that evening, just to take the chill off. And a little the next morning. But that day, the weather got up into the high 60s, so I shut the furnace off again. More money saved!

Before I did, though, I removed the burner door and had a look at the burner itself. Um . . . yeah, look at all the smuts glowing in there. Needs cleaned, that's for sure. Actually, I am an inexperienced idiot with furnaces and I've never had it cleaned the entire six years I've been here. Can't hurt to get it done, and it'll probably help with energy efficiency, right?

So yesterday morning a serviceman comes from a local heating and cooling company to inspect, clean, and tune up my furnace. Down we go to the basement, I show him where everything is, and he gets to work.

Less than ten minutes later he's up at the top of the basement stairs, saying, "I have news for you, and it's not good."

"Oh?" say I, reserving judgment.

"Yes. Your heat exchanger unit is cracked. It's not very big now, but as you run the heat it'll widen and there'll be a danger from carbon monoxide."

"It'll need to be replaced?"

"Yes. And that's not good news."

Well, maybe not as bad as he thinks. "I have a home warranty," I pronounce. "It covers furnace repairs."

"Oh, which one?"

"American Home Shield."

"Oh! We're one of their repair agencies! In fact, we're their No. 1 furnace repair contractor in this area!"

Back downstairs, he tried to show me the crack, way back there behind the burner. But my eyesight isn't so good and I had to take his word for it. He stayed down to put things back together and I went up to call AHS.

Funny, but even though that H&C company is just across the river, they didn't have my zip code registered with them on the AHS contractor list. After a few phone calls the oversight was corrrected, AHS assigned them the work order, the order for a new heat exchanger was put in, and they're to call me in a day or two when it arrives and arrange a time to come put it in. Hopefully sooner than later; the thermostat reads 55° today and it'll likely go lower by tomorrow.

But I call this whole thing providential. If I hadn't run the furnace only minimally this fall, that crack would've been widening and the CO would've been gassing me and my critters out. If I hadn't got off my duff and called for a cleaning (finally!!), the problem wouldn't've been found. And how providential it was that the H&C cleaning company I called is an AHS contractor, so I could get the repair process working right away, instead of waiting a day or two longer for the assigned contractor to get back with me.

Who says being cheap doesn't pay off? Though I suppose, if I'd been so cheap as not to have gotten the furnace cleaned, I might've had a pay off I wouldn't like.

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