Strange Brouhaha

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In which we are lucky

The relevant portion of this video is around 1:05, when Hugh Laurie as the monumentally stupid Prince George starts belting out "Luuuuck luck luck luck."

I woke up this morning and I was cold.

This is kind of unusual for me. I don't usually feel cold in the house; we keep it at a comfortable temperature around the clock. And even though our bedroom is a little drafty, I don't usually get cold in the middle of the night (assuming a proper level of blanket).

So something was wrong. I thought about it for a minute and decided that yes, indeed, it was a few degrees colder than usual. I'm not terribly sensitive to temperature changes as a general rule, although I've noticed recently that I can pretty reliably detect when it's around 30 degrees out.

I walked downstairs and looked at the thermostat. Set to 69 as usual...but the temperature was 64, long past the point when the furnace should have kicked in.

"How is that lucky?" you're asking. Patience, we'll get to it.

The Wife was the pleased recipient of "You'd better call HVAC Guys." (Our service place is not really called HVAC Guys.)

"I thought it was colder than usual," she said.

We eventually got a repairman out to the house. We always use HVAC Guys--they're a little more expensive, but their service is great. There was a bit of a wait, I suppose due to some crossed signals, but "My furnace is not working" is a bit of a call to action here in The Upper Midwest.

I'm reasonably fortunate that I have the kind of job where a person can work from home once in a while, because that's what I ended up doing.

At first, everything went smoothly. I bitched a bit to the wife about how these guys charge eighty-eight bucks just to show up, but it was a gentle, friendly bitching. The HVAC Guy went downstairs and came up after a few minutes and said "Just gotta get a part from the truck."

When he came back in, he said, "I'm going to replace the circuit board and that should fix it up."

That set off a little tickle in my head. "Is that the same part that we replaced a few years ago?" The blower board had had to be replaced when the furnace was practically brand new.

"Could be. I'll check."

A few minutes later, blessed warmth began flowing from the vents.

Then it stopped.

A puzzled noise wafted up from downstairs.

HVAC Guy came back up, eventually. "Gotta get another part." He explained that the board hadn't fixed the problem, and there was only one other part that could be causing it.

A few minutes, some clanging.


Clomp clomp clomp, up the basement stairs. "Uh," said HVAC Guy, "I need to go out to the truck to make a phone call. Something peculiar is going on with your furnace. I've never seen anything like it."

These are not words calculated to lower the blood pressure. By this time, he's been here nearly two hours. He's a smart guy, and he knows what he's doing, and I'm totally not complaining about him or his company. It's just that "peculiar" is not the handmaiden of "inexpensive to fix".

A little bit later, he comes back in and reports that his boss is coming out to have a look. "This is the kind of problem," he said, "that we talk about at staff meetings!" Having had that kind of problem myself in my own professional life, I know exactly how to translate that: "HOLY CRAP!"

Then he says, "It's a good thing you've got the parts and labor warranty."

Cartoon dollar bills started flying from my wallet. The real bills followed shortly thereafter.

The boss shows up, oozing experience. He looked kind of like Sam Elliot--the kind of guy who could probably fix every damn thing wrong with anything you give him. They both go downstairs, confident that Now Things Will Get Done.

Later, the boss comes up and goes outside. When he comes back in, I catch his eye.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" he asks.

"Is it down to that?"

It turns out that they can't quite believe the voltage readings that the first guy's meter gave him, so the boss went out to get his own. "There's no explanation for that," the boss says.

Banging noises, raised voices, puzzled sounds from the basement.

The boss comes up, goes out, comes back, goes downstairs.

After five hours, the problem is fixed. The boss goes, and the first HVAC Guy explains what was going on. It seems that they replaced the circuit board, which worked once and then died. Then they replaced the valve, which worked once and then died. They replaced the board with a new one. It worked once and died. They called the factory, and the factory told them to replace both items at the same time, which they did. Result: working furnace. Apparently the blown parts would in turn blow out the new parts if they replaced them separately.

He says, again, "You've got the parts and labor warranty, which is good," and goes out to the truck to write up the bill.

When he comes back, he says, just in case I didn't get it the first time, "There's a ten-year parts and labor warranty on that furnace. That's really great; never let anyone tell you it's not."

He hands me the bill. "Those boards are seven hundred bucks each, and we used three."

I grab the wall, heart pounding.

"The valves are eight hundred bucks each, and we used two."

My vision is turning gray. I may not be as smart as I once was, but even I know that that's $3700 before we even talk about eight man-hours of labor.

"But," he says, "you've got the warranty."

Hands shaking, I glance down at the total.

Eighty-eight bucks plus tax--the amount they charge just to show up. I briefly wonder if I should offer him a BJ or something, but the moment passes and I pay him.

Luck. Luuuuuuck luck luck luck luck.


  • Worst case scenario, you'd be paying for one of each. Them blowing the successive parts is their incompetence.

    And be real glad. I came home from my father-in-law's funeral last fall to a dead blower motor, prompting us to replace our 23-year-old furnace. T'aint cheap.

    By Anonymous Josh, at 10:08 PM  

  • You have to look at these situations as opportunities to buy something much more efficient! Right? No?

    never mind.

    By Blogger damonb, at 10:02 AM  

  • Yeah, we would have paid for one of each, plus eight hours of labor. Still a lot of money.

    The thing, we did just replace the furnace, about four years ago--maybe closer to five. ain't cheap. But it is efficient :)

    By Blogger Robert, at 7:16 PM  

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