Monday, December 22, 2008

Glorious Heat

While the temperature went into free fall last night, our family is fortunate enough to pay it little mind.

We have a home, like many others. But for the first time since we bought this house, we have reliable heat.

Ah, heat.
Ah, hot water when we want it, when we need it.

Touch those radiators and feel the warmth. Ah, isn't it nice?

It seems like I'm waxing overboard about something as simple as heating a home.

But you don't know what we had. So let me tell you.

We had a very old boiler, a heaping lug of metal shaped like a big box and that rumbled like your granddad's snoring after a Thanksgiving feast. You knew when the  boiler had clicked on because the house would groan. If you were on the ground floor, you could feel the floor vibrate.

We didn't mind that groaning and vibrating, because we knew that was the only time when we had hot water. For nearly five years, Michelle and I had gotten used to timing our showers and dishwashing to hearing (or feeling) the boiler's activity. 

It became a nightly ritual: Michelle would announce she wanted to take a shower, and I would tune my antennae to determine if the boiler was firing. "Hmmm... I think I hear it," I would say and then walk to the basement door, open it and poke my head down the stairs. I'd hear the rumbling. "Yep, we got hot water!"

The hot water lasted as long as the fuel oil was shooting into the boiler. When the boiler reached a temperature of about 160  degrees, it would shut off. At that point, the countdown would begin. We knew we'd have hot water for a finite period of time – about two hours. Then the water would turn tepid, then mostly cold. At that point, a shower would consist of a trickle of warm water and me dancing in the shower stall to keep my blood circulating.

Look, it could be worse – a lot worse. I realize that most of the six billion or so people on this planet would be eminently grateful for the availability of any water. So, I try to keep all these things in perspective. We are blessed, and I know that.

We also are fortunate enough to have the means to change course, and that's exactly what we did.

We took advantage of an offer from the regional natural gas supplier to replace our oil-fired boiler with one supplied by natural gas. The supplier would give us a rebate to purchase a natural-gas boiler – an incentive, in essence, to convert to natural gas. That was attractive. Our boiler, estimated to be at least 50 years old, was clearly on its last legs. We had to repair it three times last winter, which socked us at least $80 each time. The boiler was so old our service person would not include us in his service warranty. He knew a losing proposition when he saw one.

Natural gas was (and perhaps remains) cheaper than heating oil. And lastly, and consequentially in our book, natural gas burns much cleaner. 

We decided to do it.

So, thousands of dollars later, we have a (relatively) clean-burning, reliable, (relatively) quiet boiler in our basement. We have hot water when we would like it. No more trickles of tepid water in the shower. A real gusher of steamy H2O, baby.

Wow, what a change. We're so happy.

Until that first bill arrives.

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