16 November 2014

46/52 - Winter Without a Furnace

With the temperatures dropping and winter approaching, we finally broke down and turned on our propane furnace in October. But within the hour, it started emitting some loud banging noises. Not good.

We hate our furnace. Every several years, it seems to have one problem or another, requiring expensive parts ordered from the east coast. The majority of the local heating service contractors don't seem to have much experience with this brand (Heatmaker), so either they can't figure out what is wrong or they have to make multiple trips - one for diagnosis and a second after replacement parts have arrived. This time, I was going to try to diagnose and fix it myself.

Over the next week, I disassembled various parts looking for the culprit. I figured that there probably aren't too many moving parts that would cause such a loud noise. First suspect: blower fan. I ordered a replacement, and a week later when it arrived I successfully replaced it. But the noise was still there. My second hypothesis was that something was banging around inside the combustion chamber, possibly some buildup on the heat exchangers. But when I started to disassemble the chamber and realized that I wouldn't have any confidence that all of the seams were sealed up properly, I decided it was time to call in a professional.

After a week and a half calling contractors and getting nowhere, I finally got one to come out and take a look. (What is with contractors in the Gorge? You should at least answer your phone or return phone calls. Sheesh.) After 2 hours exploring, the prognosis was not good. Sure enough, it was buildup on the heat exchanger coils, but on the INSIDE. He described it like kidney stones, rattling around in the pipe and obstructing the flow of water. With no good way to clean it out, it would need to be replaced. The cost of the replacement part? $2,000 for the part alone.

This was it. This was finally the end of this furnace. We would pump no more money into this monstrosity. But what now?

With winter still on its way, we decided to take a chance. We're going to wait until spring to research and design the replacement heating system. So for this winter, we will have no furnace. We would heat the house with our wood stove, supplemented by several electric heaters as needed. We have some wood seasoned and split, but we had planned for "ambiance fire" wood, not "heat the whole dang house" wood. So we will be buying more this year, at least once.

Other than during power outages, this is the first time we're attempting to heat the whole house solely with the wood stove. And it is only our work-at-home jobs that makes this feasible at all. We can start a fire in the morning and tend it all day to get the whole house warmed up. I don't think we would be attempting this if we had to drive to an office.

Coincidentally, the first snow arrived at about the same time as the furnace death knell.

Here's hoping for a mild winter! Oh, but still with lots of snow, of course. That's not too much to ask, it is?

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders