Monday, October 22, 2012

The Joys Of Homeownership: Heat Doesn't Rise

If only we knew then what we know now. Count me among the legions of homeowners who have said that countless times. We moved into our house in June 2008. Before then, we were apartment, then condo, people. I have documented before how I am not handy. So having a landlord and then a management company to take care of things was heaven.

But homeowners - house owners - are so alone they might as well be on an island. The first autumn on our little island arrived and so did our first need for fire. Rather, the first night where it was cold enough to turn on the heat. It was right around this time of year. I am not a fan of this endeavor. I prefer sweatshirts and blankets to keep warm. Besides, I'm always hot, leaving me very unsympathetic to the plight of the perpetually chilly. Still, being the dad of a baby girl, I acquiesced to My Director's request under the "best interest of the child" clause.

The only problem: the heat never came on. We checked the vents. Nothing was coming out. The unit in the basement was running, but was incredibly producing no warm air. In fact, it was producing no air at all. No air upstairs, that is. (We have two-zone heat/air. We do now, at least. The downstairs was cozy as could be.) This, like most other homeowner experiences, was new to us. I then turned on the unit in the attic, which I knew was only an air conditioner. It blew nice cold air into our upstairs, just like I knew it would. I reluctantly called my cousin who works in heating/air conditioning. After hours. Again. The first time he came was when we had just moved in. I had no idea why the air conditioner wasn't coming on. Turns out, I turned off a switch that I shouldn't have turned off.
"If you weren't family, this service call would have cost you $150." 
"For flipping a switch?" 
"For being an idiot."
I went to college to be called an idiot by my cousin who barely finished high school. Serves me right. Since he wouldn't take any money, I paid him the only way Italians know how: I fed him. But you could imagine my reluctance to call him again. Since he's a good guy and he'd do anything for family, he was at my door in 15 minutes. Unlike the situation with the air conditioner four months earlier, this solution was not as easy. He was stumped. Great. We weren't looking to make history here. We just wanted the heat turned on. He suggested we call a dealer who works with our specific brand of heating unit. "They'd be able to get you the parts you need anyway. I can't."

Baby Peanut, double-bundled and asking "why."
In the meantime, we still had a baby girl who needed to sleep and no heat to warm up her room. So for  the time being, we dressed her in socks and two layers of pajamas to keep her warm. She was still in the "no blanket" stage where parents live in fear of putting anything in the crib other than the child. In the beginning, a confused Baby Peanut would pepper us with a one-word question that summed up her confusion over our chilly situation: "Socks?"

Yes, even at 18-months old Peanut knew it was strange to go to bed wearing socks UNDER her feetie pajamas. To this day, Peanut insists on wearing socks to bed.

In the meantime, we were dealing with two very large but very friendly Italian brothers who proceeded to inspect every inch of our systems from attic to basement. They found the problem but not before professing, "I've never seen anything like this before." Once again, not what a homeowner wants to hear. I am pretty sure they saw nothing but dollar signs when they said it.

This is what everyone had "never seen before."
What was this historic situation preventing us from providing our child a warm place to sleep upstairs? The previous owners, in knocking down the kitchen walls to create the open concept that ultimately sold us on the house, tore out the ductwork in doing so. That ductwork led from the heating unit in the basement to the vents upstairs. The ducts in the basement were cut and capped. This also explains why the utility bills for the house were so low. (Ironically, that was another selling point.) Your heating bills are going to be low when you don't heat half of your house.

Making this situation even more mystifying: the prior owners also had a little girl Peanut's age. And you would have thought our home inspector would have caught this, right? Wrong. He was my next phone call. And wouldn't you know it, when he took his flashlight and his eyeballs into the basement, he couldn't believe it, either. If you're keeping score, that's three professionals who were either stumped or surprised by what they found - or didn't find - in our house. The home inspector eventually refunded us our entire fee, which paid for half of the repairs needed to install a heating coil to the air conditioning unit in the attic. This was not the most energy-efficient solution, but it was the quickest and easiest. The alternative was ripping out the unit, which was brand new, and putting in a whole new one so we could have gas heat. That just seemed like a waste to me.

As a result, I am now extra vigilant when it comes to turning on the heat upstairs. Only when the temperature dips into the 50's. Sweaters, socks, and blankets come first. Who am I kidding? I live with two women. Three if you count Luna. The heat is on constantly and I wear shorts to bed in the winter.

The other secret the previous homeowners kept from us: water in the basement. And we learned that the hard way. I wrote about that here.


  1. Yeah, home-ownership is a shock to the system after renting. I had my furnace die on the coldest day of the year (around 15 degrees F), and recently had the AC stop working on one of the hottest days of the year...coincidentally the same day my wife started maternity leave. Good times.

  2. I had to pay $100 dollars to have the equivalent of a light switch replaced for my hearing system. One of those fail safe thing I couldn't find on my own. Every time I have someone come yo the house for a service call I pay extra attention at what they are doing so I can do it my self next time. Had I known where yo look I could have bought the switch myself for bout $2.00.

  3. First I did when the ex left was to purchase the service package from the gas company. They would come once a year to do a maintenance service and any number of repair calls (including parts and mileage) for free. Cheapest money I ever spent. The first winter the burner on the gas furnace went. $300+ taxes and +mileage for the part plus installation and diagnosis time. Mega bucks that I didn't have to pay and definitely could not afford. This call alone prepaid ten years worth of the low monthly rate I paid. Definitely worth every penny. Check with your gas/oil company to see if they have the same available. Good luck! Remember without an audience there is no need to perform. Not everyone is cut out for repairs/maintenance. :-)

  4. You have no idea how many family members/contractors I have fed in form of payment. My roofer came with his kids for dinner. :) Luckily, Tony is not the jealous type and could care less that I had dated him in HS as long as the roof got done.

    I turn on the heat every fall just to make sure when we need it everything is working correctly. This year we have had some 65 degree days so I blew out all the vents with the windows open to help with the dust... but for the record... it's Oct 22 and our heat has still not been turned on. Not bad for New England. :)

  5. This is why I leave all home repairs to Farmer Bob. It is not my area and I am happy about that. It may take 6 months to get it fixed, but all I have to do is complain about it not actually be proactive. Sometimes ignorance is bliss :)

  6. Isn't home ownership GREAT!?!?! We're renovating our house, which we bought from "Flippers", and have come across several different levels of "What the He**??" in the process.

  7. Every time I get down about the fact that we still rent, I read something like this and feel a bit better. Our homeownership days will come, but for now I LOVE my management company. I seriously have to time my maintenance calls carefully because I know they will want to have someone out in 2 hours or less. That doesn't work on pajama days...

  8. Home ownership is just an exercise in never being able to relax because there is always something that needs doing. And, buying a home is akin to a drunken night at Vegas. It's all a blur and you can't remember half of what happened a year later until you see the after affects.

    It is also quite amazing what these "highly trained professionals" miss while assisting you. It's actually good training for parenting, as it reminds you to keep your eyes open, not to trust anyone completely, and to do what's best for your family. Even if that's wearing shorts all winter long. I'm eternally cold, as is one of my daughters. The rest of my clan is in your naturally toast corner.

  9. Home ownership is something that requires quite a bit of work and upkeep, but is almost always worth it in the end!


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