Friday, April 19, 2013

Marriage 501, Lecture 764: The joy of making home repairs together, or, how to go to bed really mad at your spouse

I haven't blogged about this until now because I am lazy and it's a long story.

Here's the quick version. Maybe I'll just stick with this.

Our furnace broke.

Oh heck. I might as well tell you the whole thing.

Remember last year when our furnace stopped working on the coldest night of the year so far and we had to pass the night with nothing but our space heater (thank goodness we had it) and then have the repairman come out, only to find that the problem was that the hoses were clogged because the furnace had not once been maintained since it was installed 13 years ago?

And part of that was my fault, because I had my furnace serviced every year when I lived in Memphis, but it was an 80 year old furnace. Who would think that a 13 year old furnace would need annual servicing?

Well, it does.

Then we had the guy come out in the spring and I don't remember why, but he told us it was on its last legs and we should consider replacing blah blah blah. So we were going to get bids this summer and take our time and replace it. (Yes, we could have repaired the problem parts, but then you get into the "repair vs replace" argument where you know it will cost $900 for one repair and then what if the next thing breaks and pretty soon, you've spent $4,000 in repairs and a new furnace costs $3,400.)

At the beginning of March, it stopped working again.

On a very cold day.

Of course.

SH wanted to diagnose the problem himself. Wanted to fix it himself if possible.

I don't mind that. It's good to have someone in the house who can repair things. Much cheaper.

So I held the flashlight -

Yes, I kept asking if I should get out my hanging light and thick orange extension cord that I bought when I was a sole homeowner, but SH said it wasn't necessary. After an hour of holding the flashlight, I finally got tired of it and got the hanging light anyhow. Which I then had to hold and direct to the dark corners of the furnace.

So I held the light while SH dismantled the furnace. Tested various elements. Looked up the error codes. Cursed. After a few hours (this is not how I wanted to spend my after-work hours), he found a burned-out little doohicky on the printed circuit board on the blower motor.

He went upstairs and started googling. I got ready for bed.

After an hour, he came back down. He had figured it out! The burned-out doohicky had to be replaced. It cost $2 at Radio Shack.

As saving money is even better than [wxyz] to me, I was very happy with this news.

I took a photo of the doohickey and put it on facebook. SH had this to say to our friend Gary in their conversation about the photo:

Gary, that's a "thermistor" or "varistor," not a capacitor. It's some kind of surge protector, which is why it dissipates so much heat. It's ridiculous that something like this is destroyed after 13 years, which is not a long time for a furnace. I may be able to get a compatible (or compatible-enough) part at Radio Shack for a couple of bucks. I don't care if it's the exact part as long as it works; we just want to get a few more months out of this furnace and then replace it.

See why I call it a doohickey? 

And then there was this for those of you who love the technical aspect: 

This "baw" is in a control module for the blower motor, which is apparently a variable-speed device. The furnace has only "low" and "high" heat modes, but the fan speed is adjusted to provide specific volumes of air. This must enable the designers to extract another 1-2% efficiency from the entire unit. It would be a lot simpler if the blower motor were simply hard-wired to provide "low" and "high" fan speeds. I'd be willing to pay a few dollars more for gas each month if the furnace were more reliable!
We put the furnace back together. (I had voted against that, but I lost.) We went to bed.

I got home from work the next day. SH went to Radio Shack. He bought the part. He also bought the thing you use to measure electrical current. And he bought a new soldering iron because the old one was crummy.

We took the furnace apart again. This is not an easy process. It takes about ten minutes and it's a real pain in the neck. It takes longer to put it back together and there is a lot of swearing involved.

SH got out the new soldering iron. Removed the old part. Installed the new one. Squinted and looked at the joins. Clumsy, but, we hoped, efficient.

He pulled out the electrical thingy.

It had no battery.

Which would not have been a problem except it required a specialized battery of which we had none.

SH swore, put the electrical thingy back in the box, went to Radio Shack, returned it, and bought one that did not require a non-standard battery.

Tested the PCB.

The joins, although ugly, were apparently good. Electricity flowed as it should.

We (=SH) put the PCB back in the blower motor. Put the blower motor back in the furnace. Screwed it back to the frame of the furnace. Re-attached all the hoses and the wiring. (Parents! Send your kids to HVAC school! There is a reason furnace repairmen bill out at $100 an hour!) Closed the furnace.

Turned it on.



Turned it on again.


Off. On. Off. On.


That's an awful sound.

I went upstairs and emailed my friends: who knew a good furnace repair place?

Got recommendations.

SH swore.

We took the furnace apart again. Removed the PCB. SH removed the doohickey and then soldered it in again, just in case.
We gave up and went to bed.


We got up in the morning. Decided to try it one more time. I told my boss I would be late because we were going to give the home repair one last shot.


No luck.

Then the tormented discussion: repair or replace?

Along with the anger that we should even have to think of replacing a machine that is only 13 years old. If you pay $3,000 for something, shouldn't it last longer than a dozen years? My furnace in Memphis was 80 years old and it still worked.

Oh sure people say that Wisconsin winters are harder than Tennessee winters and that's true, but eight times as hard?

I don't think so.

So anyhow. Now I'll cut to the chase.

We thought we would have a $2 repair, plus the cost of the electrical thingy and the new soldering iron.

Instead, we have a new furnace.

The end.

PS I know I forgot a ton of details. I guess I do need to write this stuff down right away.


webb said...

Planned obsolescence. If your Minnesota furnace lasted 80 years the dealer would miss five sales andbeout of business ... just like the company that originally sold your Memphis furnace.

Gaylin said...

Let's hope your new shiny happy furnace lasts more than 13 years!

Class factotum said...

I hope this furnace is around for more than 13 years, too! And I hope I am in Wisconsin for less than 13 years!

Furnace Repair Vaughan said...

Ignoring your furnace's problem and allowing it to continue to run is going to cost you much more money over time. If you have a part that needs to be replaced but you ignore the issue, it can cause other parts to break down as well.

Furnace Repair Vaughan