Sunday, May 11, 2008

Burner Blues

It's 11 p.m., and I'm waiting for hot water.

No, we don't have an outhouse, and I'm not waiting for a delivery. What we do have is an ancient oil burner that is on its last legs.

Our burner is a monstrous, boxy contraption that is at least 30 years old and could easily be a decade or two older than that. It's located in the basement, and when it burns oil, it's best to have the door separating the basement from the rest of the house closed. We're talking fumes galore here. If burning oil provided some type of psychedelic pleasure, we'd be the most popular home on the block. I've only known it to give me headaches.

Anyway, our old burner has been faltering as of late. This comes as no surprise. We've gone through each of the four winters since we purchased our house just hoping that our burner would see us through us the season. We promised ourselves that if the Old Heater could get us through the winter, we'd replace it. She'd do her job, laboring all the time, sounding tired and irritated, but she's pull us through. Spring would come, we'd discuss the thousands of dollars it would cost to install a new unit, and hey, can't the old timer get us through another season?

And year after year, that's what would happen. This past year has been a different, however. The heater is showing her age. She broke down first in the early fall; we called the repairman, and he fixed her. She needed a new spark plug, he said. Then, we returned in January from our Christmas trip to Iowa to find she had broken down again. Our house was an icebox that night. Again, the repairman came, and look, the residue in the tank had gummed her up, just like a hunk of fried cheese might clog up your intestines. She broke down a third time in February. The repairman came out and look, she needs a new nozzle; the old one, well, it's really not that old, but with these old burners even new nozzles can get plugged up pretty quickly. See all that oil residue in the pan? Good thing you didn't try to force start it yourself, you would've blown your house down.

Then Tony the repairman looked at me, with as much pity as someone who charges $200 per visit can muster. Maybe you think about replacing that thing. I hate to take money from you like this.

Gee, thanks.

So, now it's spring, and our burner has limped through yet another winter, but helped shepherd us through nonetheless. Spring has come, and we've never had problems during warm weather, as we only need the old heater for hot water.

But the heater has been working haltingly lately. It doesn't fire up at the usual prompt on the thermostat. I find myself force starting it more often. Tonight, we had no hot water when I went to do the dishes. I descended to the basement, and the needle was pinned. The burner had kicked out several hours ago. I tried to force start it; the motor turned on, but the oil wasn't firing. I opened what I would call the flue and peered inside. There was a coating of oil in the bottom of the pan. I had watched Tony on his last visit, the time when he told me I had come damn close to blowing the house down. I knew to swab the pan clean before I tried to force start it. I cleaned and tried again. No response. I swabbed again. One more try. No response...wait, poof! Life and a black belch of smoke in my face. Nothing dangerous, but I got a real sucking of exhaust.

So, the burner has been resuscitated – for a day. I stink of oil. I'm waiting for it to heat the water sufficiently, so I can wash the dishes.

Then I need to take a shower.

Let's hope it's not my last one for a few days.


Leeann said...


It sounds like you two are going to have to suck it up and take the hit and replace it. At least then it won't be on your list of worries come next winter. Which will definitely be a plus! ;-)

Hope it doesn't break the bank.


Zslaughter said...

congratulations Texocrates