Modern life and design in our historical American Foursquare home

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The night our furnace died

By on February 27, 2014

Winter continues to persevere around these parts, and we’ve had a sudden and unplanned acceleration in our quest to improve our home’s energy efficiency. Earlier this week, our old furnace fought what turned out to be its final valiant battle against the cold. And this time, the cold won.

The Night our Furnace Died | Rather Square

On Tuesday evening, the toddler was in her crib sound asleep, and John and I were just sitting down to dinner. Everything was humming along as usual, when suddenly we heard a series of BOOMS coming from the basement. John ran down the basement stairs and immediately guessed that there was something wrong with the furnace. We weren’t sure what the problem was, but since our furnace is gas-powered and we wanted to prevent a potentially dangerous situation (fiery explosion? carbon monoxide poisoning?), we decided to be safe and turn it off completely.

Luckily, John didn’t have to stay in the basement to manually turn off the power. Thanks to our smart thermostat, he was able to use his phone to do this from the relative safety of the main floor.

The Night our Furnace Died | Rather Square

He called a local heating and cooling service company right away. We know this company has serviced our particular furnace in years past (there’s a log report pasted onto the front) but we haven’t worked with them personally yet. We’d been planning to schedule a yearly cleaning and maintenance visit, but just hadn’t made that call yet. Well, no time like the present!

On the phone, John described what he saw and heard, and the repair guy thought it sounded like some build-up inside was interfering with the ignition somehow. But they couldn’t come out to fix it until the next day. We didn’t want to turn the furnace power back on in the meantime, though. So since the overnight low temperature in our area was forecasted to be in the single digits, we hunkered down and prepared ourselves for a cold night with extra blankets and double socks. We also turned on the faucets to prevent pipes from freezing. Despite the gradually increasing chilly air, we all slept well and kept warm.

The Night our Furnace Died | Rather Square

The next morning, we ate breakfast in our wool sweaters and hats. Then I took the toddler to her nice warm school and myself to my nice warm office, while John stayed bundled up in our (now 45-degree) house to wait for the repairman.

The Night our Furnace Died | Rather Square

The guy arrived around noon and got to work inspecting our 25-year-old beast.

The Night our Furnace Died | Rather Square

He found the furnace’s heat exchanger was severely rusted and nearly inoperable. It was overheating, retaining heat too much and for too long, and this has been causing something called “flame roll out.” That was the BOOMS we heard coming from the basement. Basically, his verdict was that we’d need a new furnace. Immediately. And a new air conditioner.

The Night our Furnace Died | Rather Square

Not surprising news, but not exactly welcome news either. We were hoping to at least finish out the winter with this furnace, but apparently it is not to be. The “flame roll out” is pretty serious, and can result in carbon monoxide poisoning. In fact, the repairman said our furnace is the worst he’s seen this season. Ouch!

So John spent the rest of yesterday researching furnaces and getting estimates for a new heating and cooling system. He wore his winter coat and hat inside and set up space heaters for himself and our cat.

The Night our Furnace Died | Rather Square

The Night our Furnace Died | Rather Square

We got several estimates, but felt really comfortable and confident with one company’s proposal. So we ended up signing a contract with them, and scheduled the installation for Thursday and Friday (today and tomorrow). Then we decamped to my parents’ house for a nice warm sleepover – we didn’t want to attempt another cold night in our own house without a furnace!

The new furnace and air conditioner will be a huge upgrade from our old system, which the repairman said wasn’t even very good by 1989 standards (the year it was installed). Even though it’s a lot of cost up front, we’re looking forward to seeing some significant savings on our energy bills after this.

Today’s lesson learned: get your furnace cleaned and serviced every year. If we had done this earlier in the winter, we might have seen this problem coming and been able to prepare a little better. We’ll keep you posted about how the installation goes, and hopefully our house will be back to its toasty self by this weekend. Brr!

UPDATE: The new energy-efficient furnace has been installed! How well does it works in our old house? Have we seen any energy cost savings? All the details in this updated post!

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February 27, 2014

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