Friday, March 4, 2011

Adventures in a gas furnace

Come November, once it started getting cold, we began thinking about our third heat source: an exterior gas furnace.  Okay, I'd been thinking about it for a while, but only about it's eyesore qualities.  I did some fall gardening, and extended our front foundation beds and planted some bushes in an attempt to camouflage it a little. 

In retrospect, perhaps I should have gone with evergreen shrubs...

Once we started running the furnace, we noticed that we could smell it outside the house.  Specifically, it smelled like our furnace might not be completed combusting all of the gas it was using.  For two energy efficiency/carbon footprint concerned people like us, this was a problem.  1. I don't like paying for gas that's floating off into the air instead of heating my house, and 2. methane is a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  From a global warming perspective, it is far better to burn the methane and have the resulting carbon dioxide head off into the air, than to spew out the methane directly.

Since we sometimes try to be responsible adults, we got in touch with a local furnace servicer and scheduled a tune-up, just like all those magazine articles on responsible adulthood recommend you do each year.  My father-in-law darkly hinted about not fixing things that aren't broken, but does he write for a magazine?  No.  (And he would be the first one to yell at me if I used that line to justify not changing the oil in my car.)

The first available appointment was a few weeks out.  Fine.  Then most of the guys got a stomach bug on the day they were supposed to come, so they had to reschedule all of their non-emergency appointments.  Fine. 

By the time they got there, it was the day before we were to leave for Christmas vacation.  I headed off to work, and P stayed home to supervise.  The furnace guy hadn't been there ten minutes before our furnace was condemned.

P called me at work to explain.  "He found holes in the heat exchanger that would allow combustion gases to come into the house.  We could die of carbon monoxide poisoning, so he was legally required to condemn our furnace."  Which meant that he had disconnected and taken some part of our furnace, and it would not run anymore.

My poor coworkers in cubicle-land had to listen to me sputtering through the first three stage of grief over the phone:

Denial: "Can a furnace be condemned?  Who's ever heard of such a thing?"  "Is the furnace really broken?  Is he just some kind of quack who's trying to sell us a new furnace?"  P assured me that the furnace guy had showed him the holes, and it was his professional engineer's opinion that the unit was unsafe.  Damn.  So much for that.

Anger: "He condemned our furnace?  Three days before Christmas?  Does he understand how wrong that is?  What if we had family coming to stay with us?  It's Christmas!  Did he at least apologize for condemning our furnace on Christmas?"  (No, no apology.)

Bargaining: "Did it really need to be condemned?  I mean, we have a carbon monoxide detector.  It hasn't gone off.  What if we buy a few more and use them to make sure we don't die?  You know, just until the new unit arrives.  So we don't die in our sleep of cold."

P, being the good guy he is, remained calm and talked me down off the ranting.

We had two options: 1. Repair the heat exchanger for $1500, or 2. Replace the whole unit for $5000 or $7000.

Well, that one was a no-brainer.  I've been referring to this as our furnace, which it is, but it's also our airconditioning unit.  So even if we repaired the furnace part, who knows how much longer it would be before the A/C broke.  Sooner than later, we imagined.  And when we sell the house, "New HVAC" sounds so much better than "Old HVAC with lots of new parts."  Plus, there was one upside to our furnace being condemned just before Christmas: we could qualify for the government's energy efficiency tax credit, which was set to expire on December 31.  $1500 off a new unit, or a full-price repair?  That was easy.

So P spent the rest of the day researching systems, and calling for estimates.  It was one of those days when I was really happy to be married to a mechanical engineer with a specialization in heat transport. 

And remember that ceilheat I ranted about in the last post?  Well, turns out that I was also really grateful that we had decided not to disconnect it.  It's a stupid and inefficient way to heat a house, but it's a lot better than having no way to heat a house.  We cranked it up, and basked in the glow of our ceilings.

P picked us out a shiny new unit, and we headed off on our planned vacation while waiting for our order to come in.  Turns out, right before leaving on a vacation isn't such a bad time to have your furnace condemned, after all.  As soon as we were back home, the guys came out to put in the new unit.




Which is lovely and wonderful and doesn't smell like the old unit and is quieter and was installed very nicely (my favorite part was when they told me to assure P that they had sealed up everything nice and tight so no varmits could get into our crawlspace)...but it's even more of an eyesore than the last one.  Good thing I already had those bushes in the ground!

But let's think happy thoughts, shall we?  Look in the foreground--the first daffodil of spring, budding out in mid-February!  (This picture is from two weeks ago!) 

Before we even know it, it will be time to test that new A/C!

3 comments:

Launce Newlove said...

I know you have spent on the new HVAC system, but I believe it’s worth it. It’s almost two years since this post, how’s the new air conditioning system? I hope you’re enjoying the heating and air-conditioning that it is giving you since the day that it was installed. And by the way, it’s good that you’re considering the environment in your household decisions.

Launce Newlove

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For people who are eyeing to buy new furnace must consider reading this one. It will give them perspective to make their furnace safer and more efficient.

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Georgia Fuller said...

For environment-friendly citizens like you, you really have to deal with lots of things before getting and installing your AC. I’m glad that you’ve finally decided to pursue the installation and I hope your system is still at its top condition until now. Anyway, the smell of the furnace’s gas is actually annoying and is very harmful to your health and to the environment.

-Georgia Fuller-