Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ancient furnace finally gives up the (smoky) ghost

There is a lot of charm in an old house, unless you own it.

We bought ours years ago "as is." "As is" is a real estate term meaning you are aware it is an old house, with the eventual costs that will come with that, and you hold harmless anyone involved in selling you the beast.

You get a cheaper house up front that way, but you pay on the "back end," which is a nicer way of saying "out the wazoo."

We have a vintage 1960s gas furnace in our basement, a relic which began its service back when I was still planting seeds in paper cups in kindergarten. It has heated our house reliably, if noisily, for 20 years.

Until last week.

I turned it on for the usual first-of-the-season dust-burning session where I open up all the doors and windows and hasten climate change.

The old girl heated for awhile, but when the blower should have kicked in, there was a "pop." A pop is not good. Outside a Dr. Seuss book, a pop is bad.

Even the dog turned toward the sound, as if to say, "My ancient wolf survival instincts tell me that pop right there is going to run you fifteen grand."

I called a furnace guy, who looked at the random wires running here and there from the unit and practically ran up the stairs, unwilling to touch the thing for fear of liability.

A friend recommended another guy, who was unfazed, even reattaching a loose wire and installing a new fan belt.

"The blower switch is shot," he said, "but you can hand-start it by turning the wheel, see?"

And the furnace began to blow.

"I wouldn't recommend it, though," he said. "You could lose a finger."

The next morning the house was cold. I turned on the heat. I figured I would go get a hammer and turn the wheel using its claw. I need my fingers. I like to give people the thumbs up in traffic, to congratulate their excellent driving.

Then I saw the smoke. The kitchen, which is right above the furnace, was rapidly filling with it.

I ran down to the basement and shut off the pilot light. Ran back up and opened windows and doors. Started fans.

Saving your house from a conflagration is even better than saving your fingers. And it looks like I'll be needing them to write a big check.