It’s 15 Degrees, The Furnace is Broken—It’s Go Time!

February 26, 2007 — 10 Comments

“Something’s wrong.”

I’m not a high stakes gambler. I’ve never made or lost millions in business. Never fought in a foreign war (hell, never even been in a fist fight). I’m not a superstar anything. Don’t drive fast cars, drink, mess around with either women or drugs.

So how do I know I’m alive? I’ll tell you how.

Domestic emergencies.

“Something’s wrong.”

I dare say, for most husbands, these are words you never want to hear. Though they’re probably better than, “What’s wrong?” which could mean anything from, “Why’d you put your shirt on inside-out,” to “I think we need to have a confusing discussion about perceived emotions, moods, failed communication or other such wishy-washiness.

For me, when the wife says, “Something’s wrong,” that’s Go Time.

I’m assured that something is indeed wrong, she knows what it is, and she’s about to tell me. Which is exactly what happened on a chilly Saturday night a couple of weeks ago.

It was 10:00 and we had just gotten home from an exiting evening of changing light bulbs and smoke detectors for my ageing in-laws. I had barely gotten my coat off. She had already put our 4 year old down to bed, and was scurrying throughout the house.

“Something’s wrong,” she said.

“What?”

I could tell by the look on her face that her woman-senses were buzzing like crazy.
To be honest with you, I was expecting her to enlighten me with some sort of female intuition–tell me that: something smelled funny, or it didn’t look like the dog was breathing.

“It’s only 62 degrees. The thermostat is set for 68.”

Now this had potential. I wouldn’t know for sure until I ran a full diagnostic, but based on what little I did know:
1) It was cold,
2) The furnace wasn’t on, and
3) It had been making funny squeaking noises for a week,

this could quickly fan into a raging domestic emergency.

I sprang into action.

Last fall we added a geo-exchange furnace to our existing propane system. If it gets too cold (it was 15 degrees, but the week before that temps struggled to break 0) and the geo-exchange furnace can’t keep up, or if there is some other problem with the new system, the propane furnace should kick on as a back up.

I went down to the basement. Nothing really made sense. The thermostat was calling for the geo-exchange, then it called for the propane. Both ran briefly, then shut off without the blower ever turning on.

I took what panels I could off the propane furnace, but there weren’t any flashing lights or buttons to push so I went to the electrical box on the wall and did what any man in his right mind would do.

I started flipping switches.

For any new husbands/homeowners out there, this is one of the first tricks you should know about. When you’ve exhausted all other stores of knowledge and trouble shooting flowcharts, try for a reset—just like on a computer. It works for lots of things—except maybe gas leaks.

In that case just get out.

But the reset didn’t work, so now I was at a complete loss. I figured it was probably the blower, but I had absolutely no idea what to do about it. I started thinking. The blower was located somewhere in the bowels of the propane furnace. We installed that probably 13-14 years ago. I figured it was shot. Which meant I only had one option.

I had to call for help.

I found a business card for the service manager, Scott Devine, who installed our geo-exchange system, and called his cell phone. He didn’t install the propane furnace 14 years ago, but I got to know him pretty well when he was out working at our place this fall. A true pro. Competent. Confident. Great communicator. Enthusiastic. One of a kind.

It was now 10:40 pm.

I got his voice mail.

Shit.

I called their offices in hopes of getting an emergency number. I did. It was Scott’s cell phone number.

Shit.

But wait; there was another number I could call. Eric. I took it down and started dialing, but just as I reached yet another voice mail, my phone started ringing. It was Scott. He told me I was probably right. It probably was the blower. He could come out right then or he could come out in the morning. Either way there might not be anything he could do. Blowers had been flying out the door with this recent cold streak and he wasn’t sure there would be any left at the shop.

I told him that I thought we’d be all right overnight. He agreed, asked for some information about the brand of furnace, advised that we snuggle up, and said he’d be out by 8:00 the next morning.

It was 52 degrees in the house (12 degrees outside) when he showed up.

Yes indeed it was the blower. No they didn’t have any in the shop. He’d have to order one on Monday and install it Tuesday.

But he did show me a trick that I could use to sort of “unstick” or “kick-start” the blower until then by sticking my fingers into the blades of the motor and giving it a little turn as it was trying to start. He didn’t say, “this is perfectly safe,” or anything like that, but we have this sort of unspoken manly type of communication that all manly men share.

At any rate, this only worked until late Sunday night anyway when, despite my repeated efforts to kick-start it, the blower simply refused to start. And I even still had all of my fingers.

By this time temps were actually warming to the mid 20’s. Winds were mild. So things weren’t really that bad, but inside my house, temps could still easily drop to the lower 50’s.

This was my time to shine.

When we put in the geo-exchange system this fall, we disconnected an old wood-burning furnace and shoved it into a far corner. I wasn’t about to reconnect all of the duct work and electrical for the blower that forced air through that system, but I figured I could, with a little ingenuity, muscle the 1-ton furnace back into position, reattach the flu, and fire up that bad boy.

With some dry wood and a good set of hot coals, that thing used to really kick out the heat. So I figured even if we warmed up the basement and then left the door open upstairs—heat rises. It had to help.

The wife didn’t like the idea. “Too dangerous,” she said.

But by the time she figured out what I was doing, it was too late. I already had it hooked up and all I needed was to go out to the woodpile next to the old summertime fire-pit and carry in a few arm-loads. Despite her idea to just plug in a couple of electric space heaters, I could tell she didn’t have the heart to make me undo all my hard work.

And in the end it all worked. I saved the day. I didn’t burn down the house. And I was able to keep my family in the relative comfort of mid to upper 60’s. And it was a good thing too. Despite temps rising now into the 40’s on Tuesday, the blower missed the truck. The delay meant it would be Wednesday at least before Scott could install a new blower. Which he eventually did.

And he was impressed with how I was able to move that old furnace back.

But boy, I gotta tell you. Ain’t nothing like a good old-fashioned domestic emergency blown out of proportion to make a man feel alive. Now I’m good for another couple of months.

Wonder what the next one will be.

Chris Wondra

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10 responses to It’s 15 Degrees, The Furnace is Broken—It’s Go Time!

  1. “He didn’t say, “this is perfectly safe,” or anything like that, but we have this sort of unspoken manly type of communication that all manly men share.”

    You honestly crack me up. I always look forward to reading your blog.

    Thank you very much Kenzie. It’s people like you that make writing fun.

    Chris

  2. Congratulations on saving the day! You’re a domestic Superman.

  3. Where were you when our chimney stack collapsed and our electricity went out! My partner isn’t the most knowledgeable guy on the block when it comes to ‘handyman’ fix it stuff! Good to know there are still some old generation “men” out there ready to come to the aid of the family! You are now affectionately known as the “macho man” of our house and the envy of “coucho man”!

    Hi Tina,

    Your chimney stack collapsed!? Sheesh. I wouldn’t touch that one. The day the chimney stack collapses at my house is the day I don’t get out of bed. Why bother? Nothing to do there but call in the heavy artillery. Hope you had friends in the brick laying trade.

    Chris

  4. Nothing like reading this to make me feel completely selfish.

    I live in Southern California, rarely drops below 30 in my area. And I complain if it’s around 60 in my room..

  5. The first 1/2 of that story sounded just like something that happened here about a month ago! Luckily the reset (the thermostat was our issue) button did the trick!

    I wish the reset button had worked for me. I’d have 500 more bucks in my pocket.
    Thanks for your comment. It was nice to meet you. I love your blog.
    Chris

  6. Any story that has a “trick” that involves sticking fingers into fanblades is a good one. For what you have done, you are worthy of the respect of all men. Well done!

    Great blog!

    Thanks MyBest,

    Heh, your comment reminds me of this–(in that deep voice of the Miller High Life commercials), “Here’s to you Mr. Stick Your Hand In A Furnace Fan Guy.”

    Thanks for the comment. You don’t have a bad blog yourself. I certainly like your premise.

    Chris

  7. Living here, we don’t have a furnace. However, my AC is on the fritz and warmer weather is coming very soon!

    Here from Carnival of Family Life

  8. You now, if you moved over here to Hawaii you wouldn’t need the redundancy of geo-exchange furnace, propane furnace, space heaters and wood-burning furnace. But then, if you stay there you’re pretty much guaranteed ample opportunity to demonstrate your manly skills and entertain complete stangers visiting from the Carnival of Family Life! Mahalo for the laugh!

  9. Hello all you guys and gals from the Carnival of Family Life! And welcome.

    Please tell me you’re not from Hawaii. You’re missing out on loads of wintery fun you know. Though it’s probaly worth it.

    Thanks for stopping!
    Chris

  10. Thanks, Chris. We’ve got some sunshine today and the fireplace does a good job keeping the main and upper levels of the house warm. The kid enjoy being cuddled up on the couch by it. I just keep remembering my Dad’s stories about cold in his childhood home and know we’ll be much cozier than he ever was inthis weather. Nice work with the old wood burner!

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