Last week I experienced the Queen Mother of the “I should have stayed in bed” weeks.
But then, I guess a lot of my weeks are like that.
It all began when I decided I probably should have my furnace cleaned before the really cold weather settles in.
So Wednesday morning the technician showed up bright and early. I’d previously been told the cleaning was an October special for $95, so I made sure to set aside that amount in my budget.
After the guy finished vacuuming, hosing and banging things down in the basement, he came upstairs to crank up the thermostat. The temperature wouldn’t budge…neither up nor down.
He took the thermostat apart, inserted new batteries, cleaned it, and tried again. Still, it did nothing.
“You need a new thermostat,” he finally said. “How long have you had this one?”
“I’ve got one out in the truck that I can put in while I’m here.”
“Nothing fancy, I hope,” I said. I didn’t want to have to enroll in classes just to learn how to program the darned thing.
So he installed a new thermostat – a very basic one that does nothing but turn the heat and A/C on, off, up or down. That was fine with me. When I asked how much extra it was going to cost me, he just shrugged and said I’d find out when the office sent me the invoice.
I didn’t particularly like that answer.
The next morning it was about 40 degrees out, so I thought I’d pop on the furnace for a short while just to take out the chill. I pressed the buttons on the new thermostat. Nothing happened. I tried again. Still nothing. So I went downstairs and manually flipped the switch on the furnace. It immediately lit and kicked on. Upset, I stomped back upstairs, called the fuel company and told them the new thermostat they’d installed apparently wasn’t sending a signal to the furnace.
Another technician, this one much older, arrived. His monotone voice and frown told me he’d probably lost a round of “rock, paper, scissors,” and ended up being the lucky one who had to come to my rescue. His expression resembled that of someone who was just about to undergo a colonoscopy.
He ignored the thermostat and headed straight down to the basement to check out the furnace first. I followed him and kept telling him the furnace had been running just fine before the new thermostat was installed, so it had to be the cause of the problem. Basically, I didn’t want him messing around with my furnace and maybe ruining something in it.
He finally turned to look at me, narrowed his eyes and said through gritted teeth, “It’s NOT the thermostat, so stop talking about it!”
I went back upstairs, muttering to myself, “Sure, it’s not the thermostat because that would mean you guys sold me a faulty one or installed it wrong and that would be a free service call! So you’re going to search for something else to blame it on so I’ll have to pay you for your precious time!”
Sure enough, he said I needed something called a draft pressure-switch. I asked how much it was – he didn’t know.
I started to suspect there was a reason why everyone from this company seemed completely oblivious when it came to prices…they hadn't been trained how to administer CPR.
Two hours later, after he'd finished installing the pressure switch, he turned on the furnace, using the new thermostat. Everything worked perfectly. He cast me a smug “I told you so!” look.
And I cast him my best “no one likes a know-it-all” look in return.
“Before I leave,” he said, “I just want to check the regulator outside.”
I watched him head out the door and in the wrong direction, so I stepped outside and pointed to the location of the regulator, near the garage at the opposite end of the yard.
He rolled his eyes. “It’s right here,” he said, pointing at a regulator near where he was standing. "It's at the end of the house exactly where the furnace is, just as it should be!”
I smirked at him. “That’s for the automatic generator. The one for the furnace is way down by the garage.”
I could tell he didn’t believe me, mainly because he chuckled and shook his head…and didn’t move.
So I added, “Oh, by the way, while you’re at that regulator, I thought I smelled a faint whiff of gas when I walked by it the other day.”
His eyebrows shot up. “And you’re telling me this only now?!”
I shrugged. “It was really faint and then it disappeared.”
He said he was going to get some soap and check it for leaks. I went back into the house.
A few minutes later he came to the door and said, “Well, the good news is you don’t have Covid. The bad news is there’s a leak.”
Before I could respond, he added, “I can repair it right now for you. Oh, and you’re right. That regulator is for the generator, not the furnace." He took off his hat and scratched his head. "That’s really weird.”
“Believe me," I said, "this whole house is really weird.”
He repaired the leak and left. By then, I was getting worried about my bill. I had the gut feeling the $95 I’d set aside rapidly was turning into the proverbial “drop in the bucket.” But on the bright side, I didn’t blow up the neighborhood.
The next day, I went out for my morning walk and noticed that the generator’s red light was on, which meant it needed checking because something was wrong. At that point, I’d pretty much had my fill of the chain reaction that had started with a basic furnace cleaning.
I knew from past experience that Generac allowed only certain companies, certified by them, to touch their generators. So I called the certified one in my area. Fortunately, it just so happened to be time for my annual generator maintenance, so they said they would do that while they were here and save me the cost of another service call.
The guy arrived and checked out the generator, then shook his head. “Whoever fixed your regulator leak shut off everything he could find in the generator. There definitely were some things he shouldn’t have touched. But no problem, I’ll just switch them back on and reset them.”
He did, and then tested the generator. It didn’t start.
By then, I was ready to tie a pound of ground beef around my throat and go offer myself to the coyotes that hang around in the woods behind my house.
“How old is the battery?” he asked me.
“Hate to say it, but you’re overdue for a new one. You’re lucky – they usually last only about five years.”
“Yeah, really lucky,” I mumbled.
So, now I also have a new generator battery. I half-expected my central air-conditioning unit, which is next to the generator, to also do something weird, like self-combust or just surrender to the inevitable and keel over.
The invoices have been arriving ever since. So far, they total $1,126.
Next year, I think I’m going to skip the furnace cleaning. I’m pretty sure I’ll be living out back in a tent by then anyway…if the coyotes will let me share their space.
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