I returned home from a trip last week to a chilly reception. And for once it wasn't because of something I had done!
My wife and I were trundling our luggage into the house when she remarked, "It feels cold in here. Don't you think it's cold in here?"
I took this as a hint that she thought the house was cold. However, she can be an unreliable arbiter regarding the ambient temperature because of her unpredictable hot flashes, which are known at our place as "power surges."
This time, though, she was totally correct. A quick glance at the digital readout on our thermostat revealed that the temperature in our house was 52 degrees!
Being the "Man Of The House," I instantly sprang to action. "Must be something wrong with the thermostat," I muttered as I rapped it with my knuckles. We homeowner handymen call this technique "percussive maintenance."
Whacking the thermostat had no effect, so I went to the basement to check on things. This was comprised of: 1. opening the fuse box and 2. staring at the breaker switches. Once I had done that, my bag of homeowner handyman tricks was empty.
Despite our mental and verbal entreaties, the furnace continued to refuse to produce heat. Having exhausted all avenues of homeowner repair, we had no choice but to call the furnace guy.
"Couldn't you fire up the old woodstove in the basement while we wait?" asked my wife as she pulled a heavy quilt over her shoulders.
The answer was technically yes, yet I said no. We might be cold, but by golly, there was a principle at stake!
Our current furnace is less than a year old. The previous model had served us faithfully for nearly 20 years, but it had become creaky and old, which reminded me a little too much of me. And here in the North, one does not want to even think about facing a winter's night without heat.
While we waited for the furnace guy, I tried one last-ditch strategy to revive our recalcitrant heater. This involved circling the furnace and tapping it in important-looking areas with my knuckles. Sadly, percussive maintenance seems to be a foreign language to modern appliances.
I returned upstairs and found a mountain of blankets occupying the couch. "Any luck?" asked the blanket mound.
"None," I replied, suddenly realizing that my wife was under there someplace. She had found every electric space heater we own and had them all whirring furiously. I think I heard a hair dryer running somewhere in the depths of the blanked pile.
I can't blame my wife. She's had some unpleasant furnace experiences.
When my wife was a struggling college student, she went home for Christmas break. Returning to her apartment, she discovered that the furnace had died, and her living quarters transformed into a furnished, walk-in freezer.
The sink was a miniature skating rink, and there was frost on the walls. The toilet was also frozen, which made certain, um, undertakings problematic.
Worst of all was the loss of her houseplants. She thought she could save them, but when they thawed they became a greenish mush that resembled canned spinach.
The lone heat source in the farmhouse where I grew up was an ancient Siegler oil burning stove. The Siegler was tall and brown, with a cast iron firepot that had a small door with mica windows. One of the windows was broken, so you could see the oily, yellowish, life-giving flame flickering within. At night, the fire would project a ghostly amber glow onto the opposite wall. It was the only nightlight we could afford.
The stove's sheet metal skin got hot enough to melt crayons. Air was circulated by a fan that hadn't been cleaned in decades. This caused the fan to rumble with a comforting rhythm.
Coming in from the cold, we kids would huddle around the stove and jostle for a spot in the fan's air stream. I remember staring at the jaunty chrome Siegler logo as my toes thawed and thinking that this was as good as it gets and that we were fortunate to have that old stove.
The furnace guy arrived at our house, and I superintended as he operated on our furnace. Peering over his shoulder, I espied a baffling tangle of tubes and wires, along with a circuit board that looked like it came from the space shuttle. I was glad that he was performing the surgery and not me.
We again have heat, which proves that percussive maintenance works. That is, I percussively punched the buttons on my phone to summon the furnace guy.
Best of all, the mountain of blankets has disappeared, and my wife has miraculously rematerialized.