This Old House

Last week was a rough one at Chateau Nita. We live in a four-room postwar cottage in a quiet suburb, one that predates the subdivisions despised in the old Rush song. The house is sturdy but has shown its age in recent years. We had to have a drain ripped out as the World War II-era line out of the kitchen sink jammed solid with almost seventy years of gunk various humans have put in it. Last year, we replaced the furnace after 30 years of faithful service. So we’re on top of it. Right?


Friday night, with AJ at work and Nita out with her sister for her birthday, I found myself alone enjoying the one of the last nights with the windows open. We had not run the air conditioner in about a week or two. Only the temperature dropped below 65. That’s a tad chilly for my tastes, so I fired up ye olde furnace and…

Nothing. Well, maybe it needs a few minutes to kick in. It’s a new furnace, works differently than the old one. Right? Fifteen minutes later, it’s 60 degrees. I put the furnace on 75. Crap.

One of the things you learn growing up poor is how to make do when something expensive breaks. So I decided it was time to make a frozen pizza even though I’d eaten not that long ago. And I forgot to turn the oven off. I forgot until the house temperature rose to about 68 degrees.

Unfortunately, the guy who installed our furnace wouldn’t get out to us until the following week. Since this wasn’t a particularly cold week, I arranged an afternoon off to meet him on Thursday. A nice, new space heater could do the job until then. So, that’s all we had to worry about. Right?

I come home Tuesday night to find a very angry Nita waiting for me. The deadbolt on the back door broke. In the locked position. It snapped on AJ before he went to work, and, in a panic, he focused on getting the door off. Unfortunately, he had to leave, so Nita discovered the broken lock all over again. She had the same reaction. I’d found out about it by the time I got home, so my reaction was not one of panic. (Otherwise, I’d have been screaming about how the damn deadbolt broke.)

So I spent Wednesday stewing about it. That thing couldn’t wait until my afternoon off. Nobody wanted to walk the dog around the house every time she needed to go out. And anyway, don’t people in apartment buildings get locked out all the time? How do they get their doors open? I found myself alone again the next night and hit Google. One short knife and a screwdriver later, I had the latch popped, locked in the open position, and duct-taped.

So we could at least use the back door.

The next day, the lock guy and the furnace guy arrived at the same time. The lock, we were pleased to discover, was something the shop kept in stock. The furnace… That took a while. Part of it was a pressure switch, which sometimes clogs up on modern furnaces. OK, no problem. My guy got a piece of wire to clean that out with. Only we had one other problem. I Googled “Why doesn’t my furnace start” and learned about condensation pumps. The float on these sometimes gets stuck (usually when you run the AC, but sometimes the furnace.) So I drained all the water out of the pump and its lines.

Er… That made the pressure switch problem worse. I drained too much water out of the lines. A couple cups of water back in and… Hey, whattaya know. Heat. And just in time, too. That night, the temperatures would fall below thirty for the first time this year. The new space heater wasn’t going to cut it.

While the lock was something we could not predict, the furnace… Moral of the story: Keep things tuned up. It’s a cold winter if you don’t.


One thought on “This Old House

  1. We had the furnace not run shortly after it was serviced by a kindly grandfather-esque repairman in a father and son business. The son showed up later to inspect everything and gave the internal parts of the furnace a series of nudges and we were suddenly $20 poorer, but warm. Dad, it seems had not closed one of the internal panels tightly enough. There is a circuit to ensure the furnace is closed when it is running. Open panel (even slightly) means an open circuit, rendering the furnace and consequently our house very cold. I think the father has since retired from the business.

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