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The Joy of Homeownership, Part 8392

I grew up in an old farmhouse that relied on placement and smart construction to handle the summer temperatures and on fireplaces (and in the modern era, a oil heat system) to handle the winter temperatures. I bought a house that uses gas to heat the place, and just like the Water Incident (a girl who grows up on well water has to adjust when she moves to suburbia), I was lacking a few key orientations about owning a gas-based heating element ... until this year, when I found myself shivering.

(At last! My oblique marginal comments will make sense!)

Last year, as I was sailing along in blessed ignorance, my furnace performed beautifully, bending to my every will and desire. If anything, I ignored it and smugly referred to my viking genes. I may have underused it.

Over the past few months, I've grown both softer and more susceptible to the cold (I'm ascribing that to weight loss). The basilisk glare of my increased focus on temperature inevitably led to some bad heater karma.

Episode One: December. Cold. Snow on the Ground. Holidays Approaching. As any parsimonious new homeowner might do, I called in my handiest and nearest relative for help. His expertise was oil heat, sadly, but he helped confirm the problem wasn't in my thermostat. Dang!

I called a local company that met my criteria: local business, long history in the community, specialized in York, and had several bonus features: a goofy but charming character logo, a propensity to actually use turn signals appropriately, and one of their trucks once let me in front of him during rush hour.

They sent out a technician who I found instantly reassuring. He reminded me of guys I knew when I was growing up - they looked like good old boys, but were whip-smart about cars, construction, mechanical stuff, and the like. He talked me through what he was doing, explaining to me what each part he checked did, what he was looking for, and what it looked like. I learned a lot about my thermostat, as he discovered a backup in the water trap had ended up shorting out my pressure switch. He never once treated me like I wasn't smart and interested.

He didn't have the right part in his truck - or in the office, so they'd have to order it for me. In the mean time, he'd put on a compatible Carrier switch so I'd have heat until they got the right part in in a few days (when they'd come back and install it). When he asked me if I had a service contract with them (I didn't), he explained the benefits (no labor costs, 24/7 on-call service, priority dispatch, discount on parts, 2 yearly maintenance visits) to me. As I did the calculations in my head, it was clear to me that I'd just about break even for that morning of work if I took it. So I did.

My heater and I had a lovely holiday season: it piped in the warm air, and I didn't freeze. (It was all about me.) Then January rolled around, bring even lower outside temperatures, and larger wind chills ... and all of a sudden I was waking up to a 56 degree house again.

Episode Two: After a weekend of trying to figure out what the system was screwing up on, I had identified the symptoms: It heats up. It blows hot air. It stops. Sometimes it heats up again, blows hot air, and stops. Ask it to go up more than 2-3 degrees, and you'd never get there! I personally hadn't seen it get above 63 degrees.

I called 'em up and gave the dispatcher my symptoms. She sent out another technician who went through my system bit by bit, hemmed and hawed, and couldn't isolate the problem. The problem was not manifesting itself during his two hour visit. He cleaned things. He unattached and reattached things. We stood there, and it seemed to be running fine. He was honest with me: even though it seemed to be running fine now, he was concerned that he didn't fix the problem. He told me how to reset it to give myself little bursts of heat, and to not wait too long next time before calling them. Two hours after arriving, he left.

By the next morning, I was back to 56 degrees. I spent that evening watching it and trying to figure out what it was doing. I tried a few tests, and was able to call back with better information the next day (It doesn't restart, the amount of air coming through the vents is not as strong as usual, no more than 1-2 degrees improvement, etc.). They dispatched a different guy this time, a young guy who also walked me through what he was doing. Both of his managers were chiming in on walkie talkie. He thought it might a problem with venting or the motor, but the thermostat wasn't cooperating. I think it offended them that they hadn't been able to isolate and fix the problem.

YoungGuy unscrewed everything in rotation, isolating and recleaning, checking LEDs, and the like. It all looked like it was functioning. After an hour and a half, he was stumped. I was signing his paperwork, mentally castigating York in my head, when the funace clicked off and refused to relight. Aha!, he yelped and looked in the peephole at the LEDs. "Oh, you aren't going to like this..." he said. "It's flashing 'Replace Control Panel.'"

He was wrong. I LIKED having an answer, however expensive. He went out to his truck to see if he had the right one in stock, but sadly, my thermostat was a little fancy-schmancier than the standard boards they stocked on the trucks. He reassured me, "Only one more night of cold heat - they'll get the board in and installed tomorrow. Watch it over the weekend, and my manager will call you on Monday to find out how it is going. If it works, then we'll charge you for the board." He went home (2.5 hours after he arrived). I bundled up and went to bed with a good book.

The next morning, two guys showed up, installed a new circuit board, watched the heat start to blow for 20 minutes, packed up, and went home. I lounged around de-Christmasifying my house, waiting for it to snow, and making plans with a friend. Between C teaching me how to patch wallboard holes and heading out (in the snow) to Minerva for dinner, I noticed the temperature was dropping.
By the time I got home it was 60, and in the morning ... 56 degrees.

I would have stayed in bed all day Sunday out of sheer depression, but I decided I was being overly dramatic. 56 degrees is livable. It's just not particularly comfortable. I dragged myself out of bed, and thought about calling the heating guys again.I decided to spend the next 12 hours testing it, and then tell the manager what was going on when he called me on Monday to see how warm I was.

He wasn't happy when I told him the new control board hadn't made any real improvement. He decided to send out the Associate Manager. Just as I had on Friday, I left work early (I planned ahead and got to work early, not wanting to waste my vacation time on the Agony and Mystery of Heat) and got home in time to meet the Associate Manager who did everything YoungGuy did and more.

He blew into pipes, he unscrewed the exhaust. He almost got on my impossibly pitched roof where it vents out and in (and I'm glad he didn't - I was prepared to call 911 when (if) he slid off the side!). He and the Manager talked to York technical support and determined the vents weren't a problem. He stood and stared at it. I wanted away and watered my plants, topped off my kettle of papyrus and taro, packed up some more Christmas stuff. I wandered back and he was still standing there staring at it. I wandered away and read the newspaper. He was still staring at it. It wasn't until I was making a shopping list that I heard his gasp and a conversational chatter of walkie talkies.

It turns out he was listening to the motors, and the inducer motor (which has to be the second most expensive part in the whole dang thing) was slowing down and quitting. No one else had stood in front of it for 45 minutes listening to it without restarting it or testing other things.

It was 3 hours after he arrived by now, and he looked relieved. I somehow suspect that when he left the office he was told not to return until he could nail the problem. Apparently even my dulcet tones and courteous demeanor were no salve to the searing psychological pain of not being able to fix the thing. They couldn't get a part until morning, he told me, but a manager would call me and arrange a time for them to come and install it.

At 8 AM this morning, he called, and at 9 am, YoungGuy and a minion showed up at my door. YoungGuy told me that he wasn't allowed to leave my house until it was working. That meant at least 2 hours. If I felt comfortable leaving them there to go to work, their manager would call me when they were done. So, I went to work, leaving them there, installing my new motor. I gave them instructions on how to leave and lock up (I wouldn't have left them there alone if it hadn't been YoungGuy. I knew and trusted him. He had been very honest with me, and polite, and had treated my cat nicely when he thought I wasn't looking).

11:00 rolled around. Then 12:00. No call. I began to get paranoid and make silly threats ("If my house isn't warm when I get home, I'm going to collapse into tiny pieces of icy ingots!"). I added the word "hope" to the list of words that were forbidden in my office (York. Control Board. Heat. Thermostat.)

Finally, at 1:30, I got a call. My heater seems to be working! They put my original control board back in with the new motor. They sat around for two hours watching it heat my house and waiting for it to fail - and it worked like a charm. The Manager told me that he was looking forward to not hearing from me. I laughed and told him I was looking forward to not calling him. I emphasized how happy I was with the technicians he sent out (especially YoungGuy and the Associate Manager), and that I had no ill will for the difficulty of working all of this out.

For the first time in my life, I found myself tearing up with joy. Who knew that wasn't just a literary device? (OK. New mothers do. And Bush when they grabbed Saddam. And numerous Clay Aikin fans who happen to be breathing near where he's breathing. Nevermind.)

And when I got home, it was a toasty 74 degrees. I bumped it to impossibly high and it chugged right up. I did a little dance of happy warmth right there in my hallway. Heat is a beautiful thing.

* 09:51 PM
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