Thursday, January 15, 2009

Well, That's the Last of Them.

It's very, very cold here in Chicagoland. Yesterday about 10AM, I noticed I was colder than I needed to be, since I was in my HOUSE. The thermostat's ambient temperature indicator read a distressing 58F. Since the thermostat was set to 70F, this was a cause of some concern.

(This is kind of a long story, and probably not that interesting, but I feel like writing it down...)

The first approach - fiddling with it - produced no appreciable result. A little research indicated that perhaps the breaker was blown. Nope, no blown breakers in breaker box. I reset the breaker anyway just to see what that would do. Nada.

My next hope was that the thermostat itself was broken. I hied me to Menards to see what I could see. Since we don't have central air, an inexpensive round thermostat seemed to be in order. I obtained one and installed it - only to find that it was broken. So I returned to Menards... only to find that both of the other ones in that model were also broken (or at least open.) So, somewhat irate, I got the next model up and installed that. Bupkiss. I read about how thermostats work and hotwired the signal wire (incidentally, the old thermostat had a mercury switch, which technically makes it hazardous waste. More about that later. Also, the wires were cloth-covered cable. Both original, and the house is seven years older than I am.) What that should have done is told the furnace, "I want heat and I want it until the floor starts to melt." No go.

We excavated the utility closet where the furnace lives and examined it as best we could. Pilot lit. Power on. No other visible signs of non-workingness, although a few of the wires likewise had their insulation dry-rotted completely off. Hoping that it was a bad connection, I did a little research and called a reputable furnace technician. By this time it was about 1 PM and the house was not very warm, although my wife had a good fire going and the temperature had stabilized around sixty degrees.

The technician arrived and examined the furnace. His diagnosis was a bad main gas valve, which is a $600 repair. He pointed out that even if he fixed that, though, the furnace was pretty much shot. It was also original, which means it was ~45 years old. Holes in the heat exchanger, flameouts, missing blast shield, you name it. I agreed that it was foolish to put $600 into something that was far, far past its design life, and we priced out a new furnace.

Some tense waiting later, the financing was approved (6 mos no interest no payments, although I plan to pay it off early. I just didn't have the cash on hand.) He left, promising that the installers would show up between 7 and 9 that night, for no extra charge, which is pretty amazing.

The installers arrived right at 8, and after some car jockeying in the driveway they got to work. It took them about two hours to remove the old furnace, including a lot of banging and Sawzalling. We had to take the back door off its hinges to get it out and the new one in, so the back door was in the kitchen for a while, which likewise distressed my daughter. (She does not like it when things are out of place.) Then after the new one was in place they had to measure for a new intake plenum - the new one is a foot and a half shorter than the old one! There was no room indoors to fabricate, so the poor man had to go outside and set up a table: by this time it was after 11 and about 10F outside. At least I had lots of light for him while he worked. Meanwhile the 'prentice hooked up the gas and electric connections. I installed the third new thermostat of the day - the furnace came with a nice digital programmable one. I knew that was going to happen (the tech told me) and in the meantime had returned the other two. We ran new signal wire as well.

After some rewiring necessitated by 'prentice mistakes (which I quietly pointed out to the installer while the 'prentice was in the other room - I held the light for him while he wired it, and I knew what the problem probably was) the furnace got running about 2:15AM. By that time the installer had been on shift for 18 hours, but while he wasn't bubbling he was still working hard. It was very impressive and I mean to write a nice letter to his employer commending him. The furnace ran pretty much the rest of the night and got the house back up to temperature. At its lowest point, the house was probably 56F at the center, the living room (where the big fireplace is) was probably 60F, and the far bedrooms were probably 50F or below.

While it seemed long and arduous at the time, in retrospect it's really kind of amazing that they could remove the old furnace, install and set up the new one in six hours. The installer said that between the close quarters and the cold slowing him down while he built the new plenum, it actually took longer than usual! They took the old furnace away and cleaned everything up, too. They also took the old thermostat, since they have a system for dealing with them. I was tempted to keep it and get up to mischief with the mercury somehow, but I decided not to fool with it.

That furnace was the last major thing that came with the house when we bought it: we've replaced the washer and dryer (we bought some used ones when we got the house - it didn't come with any,) the dishwasher (ditto,) the refrigerator (twice - the one that came with the house died a few months later,) the air conditioner (ditto that one,) the range hood, the range, and the water heater. It still needs lots of work but at least now we're on a new cycle.


1 comment:

Elessa said...

it is awesome to know that a company would install a completely new furnace that late at night!

i hope that you did indeed write the letter of commendation to the company.

i hired a couple guys from a local van line once to help move engineering blueprints from one floor to another. they did a great job. after they left i called the company. i asked to speak to the manager. the receptionist said, "uh oh."

i laughed and told her the reason i was calling was to let the manager know how well the guys did. she said they didn't get calls like that. usually the calls were for complaints.

i think too often when someone does their job well, or even just as it should be done, no one recognises it. yet, if they make a mistake, hell breaks loose.