My Furnace


It sounds like the sigh of a waking dragon but it is only my old furnace exhaling as he rouses from his slumbers.

On a day when the high temperature is -19°F, it is a reassuring sound. Even Wanda, my goldfish, paddles the currents of her bowl a little bit more contentedly as the duct-work pings and groans with the increasing warmth.

The old brute never fails us.

Such was not the case with our last furnace.

We were selling our old house and while our real estate agent worked up her appraisal, the furnace came on.

Really?” she asked, in such a way that we knew it was not actually a question.

Admittedly, our old furnace was vintage. The kindest thing you could say about it is that it had character – and its most distinguishing characteristic was the squirrel cage fan that sounded as if it was powered by rodents much larger than squirrels.

Hey,” I said, “it didn’t bother us when we bought the house.”

Really?” she asked.  This time, it actually was a question.

You will have to get it inspected,” she said.

No problem,” I said, “we had it inspected before we moved in.”

This time she didn’t have to ask…

I said it for her, “Really.”

Needless to say, the furnace failed the inspection and the HVAC guy was more than willing to sell us a spiffy ultra-high efficiency furnace that was so economical that it could generate heat just by staring out the basement window at our propane tank.

This furnace will save you a lot of money,” he promised.

A month later, our real estate agent called while we were in San Diego.

You know how you asked me to feed Wanda?” she asked.


That is no longer necessary,” she said, “Her bowl is a block of ice. Your furnace stopped working.”


Uh-huh. We had a bit of a cold-snap,” she said.

I knew about the cold. In fact the most enjoyable thing about being on a warm beach in January is reading about how awfully cold it is in Minnesota – except when you hear your brand new furnace has stopped.

So I called the furnace guy and he said not to worry because it was covered by warranty.

I asked him if the burst pipes were also covered by the warranty.  He didn’t understand the question, so I had to repeat it several times.  In the end, he said could fix the pipes and bill me separately.

Gosh, how lucky can a guy get?

So I asked him to email me a copy of the invoice. I knew the plumbing repairs would be steep but I was a little shocked to see how steep they were.  The problem was, there were two invoices: one for plumbing and one for furnace repairs.

I called him up.

I thought the furnace was covered by warranty?”

It is, he said, “the low pressure sensor I replaced would have cost you eighty bucks.”

But what about the hundred bucks for labor?” I asked.

Oh, labor is not covered.”


But this story has a happy ending. A few days later, in the course of another conversation with our real estate agent, she mentioned she had fed Wanda.

I thought she was frozen solid?” I asked.

She was… but the ice melted and now she is zipping around her bowl as happy as can be.”

Apparently goldfish, unlike plumbing, can survive being frozen.

So we bought a new house with another old reliable furnace. This one never fails us. Even on the coldest mornings, he sighs himself awake to breathe his warm breath on a fish who twirls slowly on the currents of her own making and smiles contentedly.