It's not about the house.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Cave

Every year, I try to wait until November 1st to turn the heat on. Every year on October 1st, I think "This is going to be easy!" -- because every year on October 1st it's 75 degrees and there's only four weeks left -- and then every year, sometime before November 1st, I cave.

I'm prouder of myself this year, even though I lasted shorter ("lasted shorter" = the official House and I opposite of "lasted longer") than I have other years, because this year we were swinging without a net.

God, it's been so long since I've written anything about the AssVac, you don't even know that we're fireplaceless this year! Yeah, we are. Boo, hiss. But we've promised ourselves to trudge out in the snow and warm ourselves by the chimenea once or twice. And we're risking it on Christmas Day, come hell- or chimney-fire.

What happened there was this: nobody will sweep our chimney anymore. Because #1. it isn't lined (which has always been true), and #2. it is apparently just a bunch of dust held together by creosote on the inside (which has not). We found this out last year, when it was swept for the final time, and we talked about solutions. I wanted to get a clay liner put in and continue using it as a fireplace; Johnny wanted to put a woodstove in and use it to actually heat the house. So we discussed it. For which read: we did nothing. All year long. And then I caved.

I don't even remember what my logic was. I think it went something along the lines of: what the hell. The woodstove is important to him, everybody else seems to think it's a good idea, I might as well let him win this one. The exact same argument worked out so swimmingly when we bought the AssVac -- what could possibly go awry here?

But I did put my foot down and insist that, if we were going to do this, we were going to do it right. No drunkies from the pubby who know a guy whose father used to be a chimney sweep. This was our house we were fucking with. This was fire. We would get a pro.

(Actually, first I insisted that we get the fire inspector down here to tell us exactly what we had to do, but the fire inspector said the chimney was not his gig. He said the it fell under the jurisdiction of the building inspector, which I thought was odd, considering that -- according to every other person at town(ville) hall that I talk to -- it's not true. But never mind.)

I was supposed to line up a bunch of guys and get a bunch of quotes, but yeah right. I never freakin' do that. Instead I procrastinated and then brought Johnny with me to the fireplace store down the street. That dude tried to sell us a gas insert, wanted to "make double-sure we were completely, absolutely comfortable with the idea of burning (dum dum dummmmm) solid fuels inside our home." I said "You mean wood? Yeah, I'm okay with that. I wouldn't want to torch, like, plutonium or anything, but I'm cool with a chopped-up oak."

Anyway, we convinced him we were okay with specific tree-based fuels and he informed us that it was going to cost upwards of $6000 to put a woodstove in our fireplace -- oh, and by the way, we couldn't get one until February because there is currently a worldwide shortage of cast iron.

Ah. Now I see why you're pushy with the gas. Well, I still don't want that, dude, so phooey on youey.

The backup plan was supposed to be the old clay liner (which is what I wanted originally, if you recall). But by the time we totted up what that would cost, plus two cords of wood at fuel-shortage, late-season prices, all for what really amounts to little more than living-room light-show entertainment (and which actually makes my bedroom colder, because the thermostat is out by the fireplace thinking it's toasty warm and knocking off the heat) we just couldn't justify the (still more than two-months' salary) expense. But, like I said, we'll be tossing a twelve-pack in the snow and whooping it up a few times this coming winter. If you see us out there, stop on by!

Anyway, all this is to (very long-windedly) say that we haven't even had fires so far this October to keep our tootsies warm and skirt the letter of the no-heat-till-November law. And it's been cold. Only very recently, but still. I woke up the other morning and it was twenty-nine degrees! Outside, that is, but -- again -- still!

I didn't actually know what the inside temperature was until yesterday, because the battery died in the thermostat last April and I never got around to changing the old one out. This was not just procrastination on my part. It was meant to be my secret weapon against Johnny in the annual No-Heat-Till-November Wars. If he decided to go behind my back and turn it on -- like he always does -- he would be foiled! And I knew he wouldn't take it upon himself to change the battery. He never changes the roll of toilet paper or the kitchen sponge -- and it took him four and a half years to change the blown-out light in the refrigerator -- so come on. I was going to win this years November War for sure!

(And yes, I could have changed the light bulb sooner, but no, I didn't care that it was dark. Meant I didn't have to clean the fridge. And when he did eventually change the bulb, he cleaned the fridge. So I won that one, too. From what I hear, it was disgusting.)

Now, crap. Where was I? Oh! So when I saw the Weather Channel say it was 29 degrees outside -- and mind you this was after sunrise, so it must have been a few degrees colder overnight -- decided I'd better put some batteries in the thermostat so it would at least kick itself on if the inside temp dropped below 55. That wasn't cheating. That's just good homeowner-sense. With which I unquestionably burst.

But then of course we had no batteries, and naturally I forgot to buy them, and finally yesterday I found and robbed one out of this little itty-bitty flashlight that we've had for years and never used. So you just know Johnny will be looking for that flashlight tomorrow (don't tell him why it doesn't work; we'll see if he is capable of changing a battery or if this defect is congenital).

When I finally put the battery in the thermostat, it said the AssVac's internal temperature was 59 degrees.

And it stuck there.

And it stuck.

It was also stuck on a 24-hour clock. That was annoying until eventually I figured out how to change it, but this 59-degree thing was neither a setting or malfunction. It was a temperature. In my house. And it was cold.

Now, I know 59 degrees is not so cold on the outside. It's all a question of perspective. Let it be 59 in the sunshine and I'll run out there in my shirtsleeves. But slap it up there on the wall and it is bleak.

For two days I paraded up and down in front of the thermostat, willing it to say 60, or 61. Sometimes it worked, if I got up close and breathed real heavily I could sometimes tick it up to 62! But I can't say that had a noticeable effect on the overall climate of the house.

Finally, this afternoon, I was sitting at my desk wearing a t-shirt, two sweatshirts (one with a hood) and a cotton sweater, jeans (alas, no long johns) and a blanket on my lap -- drinking tea! -- and I was still cold enough not to be able to concentrate on my work. Johnny was moving heavy things around, so he was okay in a long-sleeved tee and flannel shirt (oh, by the way: I have no more drywall pieces in my back hallway! Someday soon I'll show you pictures!). The dumb boy cat had pulled the blankets back on the day bed in my office and made himself a little nest. And Sister was stalking around looking for somebody to kill, kill, kill! I tried to explain to her that maybe, if she slept somewhere other than next to the biggest window in the house (which is really supposed to be a sliding door, but never mind), she might actually be a whole degree or two warmer -- and anyway,  aren't cats supposed to be famous for finding the warmest spots? But she just snorted and sized up my carotid artery.

And so I caved.

I turned the thermostat to 62. I took off the cotton sweater. Sister is now sleeping in the guest bedroom on the brand-clean, folded sheets (to ensure they'll have to be washed again before I can put them back on the bed; and to teach me a little lesson in prompt housekeepery). Dodo was sitting on my lap until a minute ago, when he fell asleep and toppled off. And Johnny's at the pub.

But he swears he's on his way home any second.


Sparkle Plenty said...

1) WOW! A gal after my own frozen heart. I'm trying not to turn the heat on yet, too. I feel like I SHOULD be able to gut it out if I wear lots of layers, use the fireplace (happily functional as of this writing) and carry the dog around--placing her on my feet strategically at times. (She's getting irritated, so I don't think this can last.)
2) I had NO idea there is a worldwide cast iron shortage. See, I always learn somethin' here. Doesn't this mean that you and I should try to get into the cast iron biz somehow? I've always wanted to be a magnate of some sort.
3) I'm SO glad you ain't using the fireplace as is. My cousin had a similar situation, kept using his, and kept experiencing chimney fires--'til the fire chief came out for the umpteenth time, gazed at him balefully and said, "I will pay you to get this thing fixed."
4) STAY WARM!!!!
5) I asked my sis, "I think I'll make some window inserts covered with fabric--don't you have instructions from one of the mags you read?" Sensibly, she responded: "Just put on a hat."

beardonaut said...

I'm a class A procrastinator, but four and a half frickin' years to change a light bulb? That's way worse than me. Congrats to your man, I say.

EGE said...

SPARKLE!!! Good to hear from you, and thanks for the solidarity, even though you win the no-heat war. (P.S. Re. #2: Are you, by any chance, John Galt?)

Beardo -- Oh, man, you don't know the half of it. The only thing that ever gets 100% finished around here is dinner.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Methinks I'd best get someone to look at my chimbley before lighting a fire in it. Your house so reminds me of mine. Except that mine, like most Australian houses, doesn't have one of those big heater/furnace type things lurking in the basement. Mostly because Aussie houses don't have basements. Or cold weather, really (I've been freezing this week because we've had unseasonable cold days with a high of 14C - that's 57F, and yes it is too cold, and I'd put my heaters away for the summer and was too lazy to get them out.)
Wow, what a rambling comment. I'm sure I had a point, I just know not what it is!

Anonymous said...

This is a great read!

I live in Michigan and it got down to 25 two mornings ago. It was 61 in the house and my teeth were chattering. I do the EXACT same thing as you every year, not on until November 1st and then I freeze by butt off and cave. We got a new boiler system this spring and all of our exterior walls are now stuffed with fiberglass batts, none were insulated last year. I'm hoping, no, praying, our bills aren't as obscene as they have been.

I have two dogs that normally are not allowed on the couch but I've let them up to sit on my feet and legs. I'm really pathetic but they do keep me warm!

su said...

The boy ain't no fool! I bet the Pub had heat!

DonnaStaf said...

Two words for you...GAS LOG! Not sure about lethal by-products but... I know you can't possibly have them on long enough to kill you (about the same by- products as running your gas stove btu for btu). The thermostat gets to about 90 degrees in less than 10 minutes...And then you'll shut it off and be very comfortable in between the showers you'll take in your swimsuit for the rest of the day*(for those of us with kids still home anyway).

Re-visit another fireplace store! There has to be a better option than those quotes. We did turn on the oil heat this week but not because we had to in my book*.

*see Wikipedia-Menopause/hot flash(es)