Monday, January 11

.Disaster Averted

The other day I called the gas company. I know, that's probably your idea a fun night out, too...

Tory got a flyer advertising different price plans, and since we’d discussed switching to the budget plan to smooth out the wild variability in our gas bills between the summer and winter months, I called to change our billing plan.

While I was wading through the literature on different plans that I didn't want to find the one I did want (why do utilities make billing so difficult?), I noticed that the gas company had an inspection and tune up service for $79.

Now, this service was something I was interested in. Our heating system hasn't been touched since we moved in eight years ago, and I have no idea when was the last time that the POs had the system serviced. So I booked an inspection.

Two weeks later the date arrived. I had an afternoon slot, noon to 4pm. The technician showed up at 7pm.*

I took him down to the basement and showed him where the furnace and hot water heater reside. Unfortunately that's also my furniture storage bay, and it's pretty cluttered down there, so I had to shift some sedimentary layers around to allow him access to the hardware.

Then he inspected the equipment. He spent about half an hour looking at the boiler and hot water heater. Part of that time he cleaned the burner ports on the boiler, and then he had me turn the thermostat way up so the boiler would circulate heat through the radiators. The technician was really great. He patiently answered a lot of my questions, and he was very knowledgeable, since he was a second generation HVAC engineer who'd learned everything he knew from his father.

As it turns out, my biggest problem was a lack of water in the boiler system. The pressure in the tank was way below the 10-15 psi it was supposed to register while in operation, and the spigot on the feed line was turned off. It took about fifteen minutes to fill the system to the point where it had enough water.

One or two more years without an inspection to catch that little problem, and I've have had to buy a new boiler. I don't even want to think about what that would have cost.

I’m probably due for a new hot water heater also, since they’re only supposed to be good for about ten years and mine is already at least eight years old. The loud popping noise when the hot water heater fires up (from sediment accumulated in the tank) is what gave it away. I’ve long harbored a secret dream that the hot water heater would break, so I could replace it with a perpetual heater, thus the news I’d be needing a new heater made me enthusiastic, at first. Perpetual hot water in a single bathroom house with four residents, and the opportunity to reclaim some space in my basement by mounting a low profile heater to the chimney, sounded like a great idea. However, I asked the technician about it, and he explained to me that perpetual heaters generate such high temperature exhaust that they can’t be vented in common with other appliances, and my old chimney probably couldn’t handle the heat either. So it’s back to the drawing board on that one.

He even looked at the Chambers range while he was here, because I wanted to know if I'd have to worry about the gas company once I hooked it up.

It’s fairly rare that I get such a good feeling from the gas company, but that inspection is some of the best $79 I ever spent.

*I'm pretty happy about how knowledgeable the technician was and how he patiently answered all my questions. As a second generation HVAC installer, he really knew his stuff. Apparently, my gas company’s got all their technicians on six day work weeks, and the poor guys never get to see their families. He left my house around 8:30pm, and still had another appointment to go to after mine.

Having spent more time than I care to around utilities (the phone company in particular), I have a fair amount of sympathy for the line guys. It's the bloated layers of middle management that are the problem, corporate suits more interested in playing internal politics than serving the customers... anybody above the sixth pay grade should be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. But now I'm ranting, and you didn't come here to listen to me rage against the machine.

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