Tuesday, November 22, 2011
A Warm Feeling for Thanksgiving
Twenty five years ago, on the night before Thanksgiving, we closed the deal on the house in which we now live. We didn’t move in until March, so this will be our twenty-fifth winter and it should be pleasantly different from all the others.
One of the reasons I suspect the house was on the market for a year before we bought it was the woodstove plunked down in the middle of the living room. It seemed like an afterthought and made a sensible furniture arrangement impossible. When we met with the owners to sign the final papers just before the end of the year, I mentioned that we were planning to take out the woodstove and put a fireplace in the living room wall.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said the owner. He was a plumbing contractor, one of the biggest in the county, who had built the home for himself and his wife, then had built and moved into a new one next door. “I put in a newfangled hot-water heating system that’s supposed to be the great new thing, but it hasn’t worked at all. We had to put the stove in because we were so cold the first winter.”
We didn’t listen to him, but we should have — sort of.
In the fall of 1987 the weather was pleasant until about Thanksgiving, when the first frost hit. We woke up one morning to find the roof covered with white and the temperature inside the house at 58 degrees. We set the thermostat to 70 and went to work. When we got home at 5 that afternoon, the temperature in the house, with the heat turned on all day, had risen to 62. My mother came to visit us for the holiday and spent most of it wrapped in a blanket, even when she was walking around the house.
The fireplace worked great, though, as long as you were sitting within a few feet of it. If you were working in the kitchen or sleeping in the bedroom upstairs, not so good.
So for 24 winters we coped with the cold in various ways — fires, space heaters, heavy sweaters. From time to time we talked about biting the bullet and putting in an entire new heating system, but it never came to anything. Our California winters are fairly mild, as a rule, and the cold was oppressive for only six to eight weeks a year. Six to eight long weeks.
During a cold snap this spring, we turned the heater on one last time and heard a thud that sounded like an anvil dropped from the Empire State building. The heater was dead altogether, giving out nothing, not even the inadequate amount it had before.
We waited through the summer, when we never use it anyway, then after doing some homework, called a plumber who specializes in that sort of system. He came over, took a look and scratched his head.
“This thing been keeping you warm?” he asked. We said it hadn’t. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “It’s only heating the water to 120 degrees instead of 180 like it should. Plus the outlet valve is open where it shouldn’t be, so half the water is going straight to the septic tank instead of into your house. How come you never did anything about this before?”
Biting her tongue, Linda said that if we’d bought the house from an English teacher, we would have, but since the leading plumber in the county, who had to live in the place himself, had said he couldn’t get the heater to work, we assumed the problem was unfixable.
Five thousand dollars later, we have a new, energy efficient heater that’s running at the right temperature and pumping the hot water into the heating system, not the septic tank. We can tell the difference every day, and this Thanksgiving we will be giving thanks, among other things, for heat.