Saturday, January 5, 2008

In Soviet NH, cold beats heater.

I don't typically blog about myself and my adventures in frugality here at - the minus sign blues. I'm not entirely certain as to why. It may be because I'm more concerned about teaching others to not repeat my mistakes. Or it may be because I feel like any personal details of my life I may divulge may seem like a half hearted attempt at whining and sympathy fishing.

Regardless, this is not the case with this post. If it seems like it is, I apologize. I'm only recently recuperating from the ordeal. The subject matter is on topic of a debt laden situation and frugality, I assure you.

For the ill informed, I'm currently living in a "luxury" trailer park. The parents of my finance own the trailer itself and up until three or four years ago, lived here. They've since constructed their own home out of state and left their daughter in charge of the household.

The trailer park is decent. There's a lot of space in between lots, and it's quite clean and crime free. The people are typically quiet and reserved. It's not your standard image of a trailer park in Alabama or West Virginia. But the rent is the only reason why we stay here. In our debt laden situation we cannot simply afford not to. We spend $450 a month, including water. That's half the price of the worst apartments in the area. Which by odd happenstance, disallow pets. It's simply unacceptable. So we've opted to keep our pets and throw that extra $400+ a month that we have toward our debts.

But we occasionally run into problems with the trailer. Especially in the winter. As some of you may have read a couple of weeks ago, our water heater died.

It started Wednesday night. New Hampshire threw a whole mess of cold weather at us quite recently and Wednesday night is dipped to a mind numbing -10 F. Our furnace runs on kerosene and we recently filled it (to the tune of $550..). So we thought we'd be fine.

When the sun set and the cold began to really settle in, I noticed the furnace was having a hard time staying on. It'd power up, blow hot air through our ventilation system, gutter and then die. It eventually just refused to work altogether, causing it to drop 2 degrees in the trailer every fifteen minutes.

We tried everything. Restarting the thermostat, bleeding the line, cleaning the air filter, making certain we really did receive our fuel delivery. Everything failed. The cold wouldn't be just an inconvenience. It could be a serious disaster, if not for us for our pets.

We eventually came upon the terrible truth. Because it was so cold the fuel line from our external tank froze.

As my best friend brilliantly put it:
"In Soviet New Hampshire, cold beats heater!"

At this point it was nearly 11:30 PM. We were cold, frustrated and tired. We could have called an HVAC Technician to the tune of $350 and an hour wait, just to get him out here to look at the problem. We knew the lines were frozen, it was simple logic to figure out what we had to do. We had to warm them up.

So I donned my make shift astronaut suit. I was clad in:

  • Three layers of pants (pajamas, khakis, jeans)
  • Four layers of shirts (t-shirt, sweater, hoodie and jacket)
  • Two pairs of socks
  • Earmuffs
  • Gloves
  • A Hello Kitty hat (as my own remained elusive)
  • A scarf
I ventured out into the dead cold night with my tiny flashlight, super long extension cord and Hello Kitty Hair Dryer. I trudged through my backyard, which was quite pitch black and covered in four feet of snow.

With the wind whipping , my eyes watering and my asthma seizing up my lungs I dug out the fuel tank, unfastened the fuel line box and witnessed my enemy. A two foot long piece of copper tubing, laden with frost.

So I laid down in the snow, busted out my hair dryer and set it from "Good hair day" to "Bad hair day."

I nestled up against the tank for 45 minutes, running the hair dryer on its hottest setting. In desperation I took off my gloves and laid my hands directly on the tubing itself, hoping to impact some sort of additional heat into it. Just imagine it. A full grown man, coddling a piece of copper tubing with a Hello Kitty hair dryer and matching hat at one o'clock in the morning.

Slowly, eventually my finance in the house bled the fuel line, hit the restart button on the furnace and it roared into life.

So, unable to feel most body parts, covered in snow from head to toe and wheezing quite severely I went inside, took a blistering hot shower (it was actually luke warm, but it felt as if I was being boiled alive) and went to bed at 1:45 AM.

The next day was even colder, but the furnace seemed fine. I took another shower, got ready for work and left the house. In my infinite wisdom I forgot to leave the water running on a trickle.

Needless to say the pipes, in blazing sunlight (yet somehow still hovering at 2 F) seized up and froze solid. Since our water pressure sucks there weren't any burst pipes, we were just without running water.

Fast forward 12 hours, it's night again and dipping even lower than it did the previous night. The furnace is struggling again. It eventually gutters and dies. At 10:30 PM the exact same scenario plays out, complete with Hello Kitty. This time I bring a towel to lay on.

The missus goes to bed, but I stay up for a little while longer. You know, just in case it decides to freeze up again.

At the stroke of midnight it gutters and fails again, defying my internal attempts at restarting it. So I venture out once more and spend another 45 minutes in the middle of the night, at -10 F temperatures with the wind whipping snow at my cutesy hair dryer, mocking it.

After 45 minutes of willing in to life, I go inside and restart the furnace. It works swimmingly.

But it keeps faltering. Not outright dying, but you can hear it struggle. So, I find myself in a dilema.

Do I go to bed and risk the furnace shutting down at 3 in the morning? Or do I He-Man it through the night?

Needless to say the decision was hard, but in the end I chose to stay up. Good thing, too. It failed again at 2:30 AM.

I caught up on a lot of paperwork. About an hour before I had to get up for work I passed out on the couch. I awoke to find the cat smelling my face.

Apparently all that time outside laying in frozen dirt and snow imparted some scent that the cat found intriguing.

At this point it was Friday morning and time for my post. So, needless to say that didn't happen. So, I struggled to make it through the past several days. But I saved myself $600+ in emergency HVAC Tech calls, as he would have done exactly the same thing. I slept in something fierce today, so I'm pretty recharged.

It's supposed to be freakishly warm the next week, so hopefully I'll be able to save on fuel costs and manage to sleep at night.

The water came back this morning, too. Good thing, the cat won't leave me alone.


Pendal said...

Holy crap. -10?! Cold enough for you?

BTW: Good filler images. ;)

Anonymous said...

It's good you didn't go to sleep. It's pretty cold here too. 40 out now. Ha ha

Lisa said...

OMG! There is no way I could have done that! My hubby is pretty tough and I dont think even he could have/would have done that!

A motel would have only cost what? $80 around here. Yep, that's what I would have done.

Hugs to you and your DF. Hope fully you wont have too many more of those days.

By the way, cant you buy heat tape or something else (not sure what to use if it's the line for the kerosene) to put on that pipe?

Ed said...

Lisa: A hotel would have been pretty cheap, but we'd have to leave our pets behind. There's also a cut off point where if the furnace itself is too cold it'll cause severe damage. Fuel freezing in the line itself won't hurt anything, but fuel freezing inside the furnace would burst some delicate machinery.

As for heat tape, we could. In theory. But it'd be an extremely difficult process to rig it up, since the fuel tank is so far from the house. We'd have to buy 40+ feet of cord and somehow secure an outlet inside the house without creating a draft.

We only run into problems once or twice a year with the cold, this being the only year where the cold was directly responsible for zapping the furnace.

Thanks for the comments guys!

lian @ frugal fellows said...

u poor thing! i would have never done that!

Pan said...

I got it! Yakov Smirnoff! Right? ;D

Ed said...

Pan: You got it!


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