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Just another Thursday eveni—wait, not so much.

Last night, Matt and I watched Mad Men (finally, yes, we are the last people on earth to see this show). So far, it’s pretty good but has some unforeseen consequences:

Me: “So, Matt, sweetie, when were you going to take care of that giant pile of clothes on your night stand?”

Matt: “What, you didn’t put my clothes away?  What’s wrong with you, woman?”

Me: *a look*

Matt: “I’m sorry. You’ll have to excuse any misogynistic tendencies I may have after that show.”

Me: “That’s ok. I now want to set my hair at night and wear pretty dresses all the time!”

While discussing the nuances of the show (“Men need to wear ties and vests more often.” “I really want a cigar or something right now.”) Matt suddenly held up his hand in the universal, “Shut up and listen” gesture. So I shut up and listened but didn’t hear anything. “What?” I asked. “Do you smell that?” he asked. I sniffed but didn’t smell anything. He seemed genuinely concerned so I got out of the comfy bed and walked with him around the house smelling and yes, I smelled something…burning. Matt later likened it to the smell of a hair dryer that’s sat in a drawer for a long time suddenly turned on full force. You know what I’m talking about: that burning dust smell.

After we both checked first the kids’ rooms and then the rest of the upstairs, he went downstairs to check out the furnace while I looked at the thermostat. I turned down the thermostat from 70 to 69 (I was helping! YAY!). And that’s when I realized what my subconscious had noticed all day: the furnace had been turning on in 30 second bursts then shutting off for a minute or so before kicking in again for another 30 seconds. (Side note: it’s amazing how used to all that back ground noise we First Worlders become. Kinda eats away at our survival instinct.) I switched the thermostat from “auto” to “on” so it would just stay on instead of turning off and on at the programmed times. This seemed to stop that problem.

Later I would think this was a HUGE mistake.

Matt came back upstairs and said he didn’t see anything obviously wrong. The smell was gone but he still looked concerned, as was I. “Should I call the gas company tomorrow and have them come check it out?” Matt agreed and we went to bed.

Around 9 this morning I called up Centerpoint. I’ll admit my attitude was more that of, “I told Matt I’d call and it’s part of the plan we pay for so why not.?” than one of genuine concern. They were able to send out a repair guy this evening between 4 and midnight. “Ok, sure, just call before they come over to make sure we’re home.”

The guy called at 3:45. We weren’t home. BUT! MIL lives 5 blocks away so I called her up and she and the kids met the repair guy. I thought nothing more about it until the drive home.

I was about 10 minutes away when I thought I’d check in and see how everyone was doing and ask if Matt could give Jonas a bath before dinner. “Is the guy still there?” I asked before hanging up.

“No, he’s gone.” Matt said with a sigh.


“Well,” Matt hesitated.

“Oh god, is it that bad?” I asked, little cartoon dollar signs popping up all around my head.


“Mother fucking shit!” Visions of New Zealand deflating like a punctured balloon.

“We’re lucky to be alive.”


“I’ll tell you the rest when you get home.”

Fuck, shit, poop, scuzzlebutt. I cursed all the way home.

Here is the story that was revealed to me:

Our furnace is nearly 50 years old. (No, we did not know this. We knew it was old, but not that old.) The main vent thing had stopped working and was starting to rust. The other vent thing was working over time to compensate for the main one and, in the process, was burning all of the rust from the other one. Because of the all the rust and burning, everything had opened up inside and so the flame was no longer properly contained and was much bigger than it should be.

That smell? While not exactly Carbon Monoxide, was the source of carbon monoxide.

That flame? Was dangerously close to the gas valve.

One of these two scenarios could have happened at any time:

1) Some part that was already badly corroded could have completely corroded away and the house would’ve filled with carbon monoxide within an hour. Family: Dead.

2) The larger-than-normal-flame could’ve hit the gas valve causing the furnace to explode and the house along with it. At the least: House Gone, cats dead. At the worst: Family: Dead.

The furnace is, in a word, Condemned. We were given two options: 1) They could come back and clean out all the rust and crap from the furnace but we could be right back where we are in a week, a month, who knows? or 2) We get a new furnace.

P.S. The guy who put in our air conditioning did a really crappy job and so our a/c isn’t nearly as efficient as it should be.

The sales guy’s coming out in the morning and we’re going to buy a new furnace. The “cheap” model is roughly $2,500. On the plus side, Obama has a bunch of tax rebates out there for new “green” furnaces that we can turn around and put towards the bill and the gas company has payment plans including no interest if we pay it off in a year. Also, they have these heater+central air units that will take care of both problems (shit, if we’re going to be paying more than we can afford anyway, might as well go for broke, right?). With the new furnace, our house will heat 3 times faster at a third of the cost. So, over all, this will save us money.

And, y’know, we won’t die from an exploding furnace or slowly suffocate in our sleep in the near future which is kind of cool, too.

Tonight, and this weekend, we’re bundling up and utilizing our fire place a few weeks sooner than we thought but hey, fireplaces are romantic, right? It really could be so much worse (middle of January, no fire place, no home) so we’re not complaining.

Moral: Please please please, if you live in an older house (more than 10 years), have the gas company come check out your furnace. It should be part of your regular plan and shouldn’t cost you anything. Even if it does cost a little extra, it really could end up costing you more than you’d ever be willing to pay.

3 Responses

  1. good moral here..and you will love your new furnace/central air unit…2 years after the rents bought their 80 year old house they got new furnace & CA…saved them TONS

  2. and yay for NOT dying! World would have been a very sad, depressing and lacking of fun pirates w/o the bingmars in it!

  3. I’m so relieved you’re okay. Phew. Another word to the now very wise, get a carbon monoxide detector. It works like a smoke detector except for carbon monoxide. You can spend as little as $30 or well over $100, just get one!!!

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