Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Heat is Off

Our furnace is dead. This is less critical than if we lived in, say, Wisconsin or Maine, or even Washington state; but the tag end of October is a bad time for the heating system to go Tango Uniform, even in California.

It's only a relatively new furnace. We put it in 20 years ago (almost exactly 20 years), to replace a gravity-feed gas furnace dating from 1938, which took 40 minutes to warm the house up. It's run like a clock since then, we never even serviced it except to change the filter. The other day we turned it on, and it began to cycle - on, and on, and on, and on, about once a second. We turned it off and waited, and it was OK. Then it did it again.

Today the furnace man came. His name is Mike. It took Mike about 5 minutes to find the smoke stains on the control board where a resistor burned out. (He didn't call it that, but it looked like a resistor to me, and I used to sell 'em.) He took the board with him, so he could order the correct replacement. It was a period classic - I haven't seen a breadboard hookup with individual transistors and resistors for years. Mike assured me that the replacement board would be "all digital." He'll also bring an elbow joint for a 4 inch pipe - the one we have has had a segment crack loose and fall off, which Mike tells me has been flooding the basement with carbon monoxide. Maybe it's a good thing we don't spend much time in the basement.

Mike will be back "in a couple of days," with the new furnace motherboard; he'll change the filter and "give it a bath" (OK, after 20 years, I guess it needs one). In the meantime, we have no heat. Today is a lovely warm autumn afternoon in the mid-70's, but mornings are getting colder, and all the
windows downstairs (where I prefer to spend my days, as the view of the garden is better) are single-paned. Time to break out the sweaters, and the wool socks. And I think I'll take my travel kit to the gym tonight, and take a shower there instead of at home tomorrow morning. The heat works in the gym.


  1. I've found that those oil-circulating heaters work really well and are extremely safe. You might want to invest in one just for a back-up in case 20 year old furnace decides to be recalcitrant this winter. Cats are great heat production units, too.

  2. Well, we'd need two, one for upstairs and one for downstairs; I'll have to look into it. He'll be by with the new part Thursday morning.

    Cats are indeed great heat production units (and they purr, too) - unfortunately they're also great sneeze production units when my husband is around...

  3. I was allergic to cats--as to a handful of other things-- in my childhood--such as dust, pollen (especially acacia), and cigarette smoke (too bad my parents each chain-smoked two packs of Camels a day!). But by my late twenties, aside from a couple of odd attacks, I mostly got over it, and haven't had any symptoms for over a decade. Our three resident Siamese don't bother me in the least. Maybe I've become inoculated!

    Our "new" heater--which we installed in the new house in 1991, uses less than a fourth of the gas our old one did in the 1980's--and it heats the house in a matter of 10 minutes. Amazing improvement.

    Last Spring we got a new water heater. The old one--can't remember the manufacturer's name--lasted over 20 years, which according to the repair-man, must be some kind of record.

    I just hope it rains a little soon. If it doesn't, we'll all be limited to sponge baths next Summer. I drove by the Shasta damn two weeks ago--a few miles north of Redding, and it looked as if it were about 1/8th full!

  4. Anonymous7:42 PM

    Karen, I had the same thing happen last winter to my 20 year old gas furnace, fried motherboard. Mine cost $440. The alternative was to buy a new heating system for about 4 grand. I think I made the right decision there. Good luck with getting everything up and running again.