Coming Home from a warm vacation–to a cold house and carbon monoxide

Our three weeks in Colombia and Ecuador were fun, sunny, educational, interesting. The fifteen hour flight home on Friday morning was uneventful. Then the adventure began. We unlocked the door to our cold, cold house and Don immediately went to the thermostat to re-start the two furnaces. Our house is very tall; one furnace, the one that heats the lower level where our kids had their bedrooms and baths, the level we hardly use anymore, that furnace turned on immediately. But the other furnace, the one that heats our bedroom and bath, our living room, dining room, and kitchen, the parts of the house that we actually live in, that furnace wouldn’t stay on. In fact, we got a burned smell, especially frightening because we can see from our house the shell of a house under construction that burned to the ground about two months ago.

Don called the company that had installed the furnaces six years ago, and they made some suggestions–flick the red switch, remove the filters, little things like that–and finally by mid-afternoon they agreed to send someone by seven. At eight, and repeatedly after that, we called again and again, to the company that had promised 24/7 service, but we received nothing but an answering machine.  Next morning, after more messages to their machine, we called a different company, and Paul came to the house.

It was now Saturday morning. I had unpacked all of my things, and I was in my study  trying to sort out the 500 plus emails that had arrived while I was away. I wearing my heaviest long underwear, down booties, and a down sweater. There was a different smell now, not burned exactly, but not pleasant. Paul came upstairs and said, “Open your window and got out of the house. Your furnace is putting out carbon monoxide.” (I know carbon monoxide is odorless–what I smelled was scorching furnace parts.)

We went out to the front porch. Paul explained about the workings of a furnace, the heat exchanger, control panel, all shot. The smoke alarm was sounding but none of our neighbors came to rescue us. Finally Paul said we could go back into the house and close all the windows, he made some phone calls, and said he’d come back Monday with some specific recommendations–to repair or replace. Now it’s Monday night, and he’s coming Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Don and I have moved down to the children’s level. Their furnace is working; the beds are comfortable. The shower is nice and hot. The porch that we enclosed, next to the kitchen, has electric baseboard heating, so that has become our sitting room. We have jackets at each level: as I sit in my study now on the living room level, I’m wearing my down sweater; in the kitchen, next to the porch, I wear a light fleece; downstairs in the kids’ level I am comfortable in long sleeves. I try not to go up to my bedroom and dressing room, except to collect a bundle of clothes to take down to my temporary rooms.

So now you know why I haven’t called anyone, haven’t returned any calls. Will keep you posted.

UPDATE  On Tuesday, Paul showed up with two other men from his company, and they began measuring our space for a new furnace. New furnace! The old one was only six years old. Don thought back to his training as a doctor and remembered: “Second opinion!” He called the company who had installed the furnace but failed to show up last Friday. “I’ll give you another chance,” he said. A service man came out immediately and told us an entirely different story. There was no carbon monoxide. The unpleasant odor was coming from the blower motor, which had burned out. The furnace was not producing carbon monoxide. He recommended replacing the blower motor, which he did next morning. We slept in our own bed that night. The first company has never contacted us again. We now have carbon monoxide monitors in three different places in our house.

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