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A furnace emergency

Updated: 02/03/2014 @ 6:31pm

It was one of those jarring, middle-of-the-night announcements that smacks a guy with all the subtly of a gigantic bubblegum bubble bursting in his face.

“Wake up!” urged my wife, nudging my shoulder. “The furnace isn’t working!”

Consciousness, moving at the speed of a constipated sloth, crept into my brain. I had been dreaming that I was a hibernating bear who was gradually becoming aware that his cave was getting a bit chilly. But that’s normal at this time of year. Back to sleep!

My wife was annoyingly persistent about the topic. “You’d better check things out. The house is getting cold!”

Throwing back the covers, it instantly became apparent that she wasn’t exaggerating. It was chilly! I instinctively checked to see if I could see my breath. Nope! So things weren’t that bad.

I was about to express this opinion to my wife, but she fixed me with a look that said I had better see what I could do to ameliorate the situation. After tossing on some clothes, I trudged to the basement and blearily stared at the furnace for a full minute.

That was the full extent of my furnace repair repertoire. Modern furnaces – along with such formerly “dumb” household appliances as toasters, refrigerators, and Arnold Schwarzenegger – are now operated by super-smart microprocessors. This makes them more efficient but it also means that they can no longer be repaired by mere mortals. Something as simple as adjusting the temperature on your slow cooker requires the assistance of a highly trained computer technician. 

The furnace was trying to fulfill its heating duties. A blower thingamajig would kick in, but no fire. And that meant no heat.

Back in the old days, I could kick the furnace and spit on it and mutter a few well-chosen curses and it might come back to life. Sadly, the Computer Age has terminated such do-it-yourself repair options.

It was just a bit past midnight, and the temperature outside was -10 degrees F. It was only a matter of time before the temperature difference between indoors and the outdoors equalized. It would also be a while before a furnace service guy would arrive. The question was, which would happen first?

My wife doesn’t like to leave these things to chance. She activated every electric heater we own, including our hair dryer. She was digging through the junk drawer, searching for the candles that had once decorated our kids’ birthday cakes when I was shamed into action.

We have a Plan B for heating the house in emergencies. An aging wood furnace sits in our basement along with an emergency supply of firewood. We could, in theory, perpetually heat the house with wood. The only flaw in this theory is the perpetual amount of labor that someone – meaning me – must perform to cut the firewood, split it, stack it, schlep it down into the basement, complain about all the work, and so on. I have found that it’s infinitely easier to simply pick up the phone and ask the co-op to fill our furnace tank with LP gas.   

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