Friday, 9 November 2012

Putting the "Fun" back in "Furnace Install"

Today we get our second guest post by my husband, Philip. If you missed last week's introduction and his entertaining perspective on the gutting of our basement, check it out. He was so excited to guest post, his Friday posts may become a regular occurrence. Anyone have a good name for what we should call it? He came up with "TGIP" and "Regular Phil" ("You know, what you say to the gas jockey?" "Yeah, but what does it have to do with a blog?" "Ummm..."). Needless to say, we're open to suggestions, so fire away in the comments!

Putting the "Fun" back in "Furnace Install"

Last week, I told you about how gutting the basement became a top priority when we decided to replace our old hot-water heating system with a forced air system. Now, going in, I thought that replacing our old boiler, old air conditioner, and old hot water tank with a new high-efficiency furnace and A/C  and a bigger electric HWT would be a massive undertaking that I was woefully unprepared to tackle. I was right on every count. And yet, I'm able to laugh about it now. (Ha. Ha. Okay, maybe laughing about it is a stretch still.)

Actually, it wasn't all that bad, but only because of the gracious assistance provided by a few people. Let me walk you through the process by introducing you to a few of the people that made it special.

My friend Chris

Do you ever come to the end of a major renovation and think, "if only I knew when I started what I know now... if only I could McFly back in time and tell me the things I needed to know to make this go smoothly... and maybe provide me some winning Powerball numbers." I actually have found a way to make it work (except for the lottery part); I've replaced the plutonium-powered Delorean with one of my best friends since Kindergarten, Chris.

Because of Chris, I must classify a flux capacitor and 1.21 jigawatts as a "want" rather than a "need."
Chris and his wife Nicole are coming to the end of their own massive house reno, meaning they, by a stroke of great fortune, have tackled every house project we expect to over the next few years (plus a few others). So when we started talking about pulling out the pipes and radiators, he was full of dos and don'ts that really served us well. Top on his list? "Don't cut into a pipe full of disgusting black sludge-water and have it spray into your father-in-law's mouth." (Noted!)

Then, when it came time to actually start cutting, Chris took a couple evenings out of his busy schedule creating custom kitchens for people across the prairies and northern U.S. over at Hawthorne Kitchens to stop by and do what I typically do on a Friday night... except in this version, instead of watching movies and eating popcorn, he taught me how to use a reciprocating saw, where to make cuts, and how to drain most of the water out of our heating system. But other than that, a really typical Friday night.

My Wife

Cassy, the Bonnie to my Clyde, the Cris to my Cross, the Thelma to my Loui-- wait, that doesn't work... anyway, having mastered the power of the sawzall, Cass and I decided we could handle pulling the old radiator and pipes out. We'd already cut most of the pipes out that led to the radiators; pulling the radiators out themselves shouldn't be too much of a problem, right?

You know where this is going. Each radiator presented a new problem. Thank goodness for the optimism and cheerful nature of my wife, because when difficulties arise that complicate what I expected to be a relatively simple task, you'd think I was stuck at a Fran Drescher's Laugh Appreciation Convention (translation: I'm beyond annoyed). One rad was stuck partly behind a perpendicular wall. Another one was half-buried in the wall. A third was wedged behind a toilet. As many rads there were, that was how many issues we ran into.

Having worked on it most of the day, we were tackling the final radiator. It was a baseboard radiator in the basement, and since the pipes ran in the basement ceiling, you'll understand that physics would dictate that the water would not have been able to effectively drain from this point. However, we should have taken the physics more seriously. As in: Water under pressure F given a small opening to escape through X will emerge at a velocity V that is illustrated by the following equation:

V=FX/(gravitational constant multiplied by Avocado's number)*
*Please note: this formula has not been accepted by any peer-reviewed journals despite having been submitted to American Physics, Hydrodynamics Today, or Chicken Soup for the Physicists Soul.

If you don't understand the equation, don't worry, we can't all be real scientists. Let it suffice to say that I cut into the pipe, the saw got jammed quickly, I pulled the saw out creating a small gap for all the water to squeeze out through like it does when your thumb covers the garden hose nozzle. Right at Cass. Black, disgusting water. Having stayed relatively clean, Cass was showered by what she referred to as an "arterial spray" (somebody watched too much CSI) of gross slime. And she barely screamed!

The Guy Who Took Our Boiler

Not knowing exactly how to get our big old boiler out of the basement--and certainly not wanting to pay someone to do it--I took a few photos of the unit and put it on Kijiji for free, basically advertising "you haul it out, you can have it". I subsequently learned something I thought I knew, but didn't fully appreciate until I experienced it first-hand:

Winnipeggers LOVE "free".

The ad had been online less than ten minutes, and I had my first call. "What are the chances?" I thought. "This gambit might actually work."

Two days later, I took the ad down because I was so sick of getting phone calls. I was wishing at that point I'd put a bit of a price on it; a lot of people were just coming to get it for scrap, and my B+ in Economics 101 was telling me that this overwhelming demand meant I hadn't priced it properly. All in all, I got about 15 phone calls about the boiler, and having asked some basic questions to the first few, narrowed it down to the person who I thought would be able to get the job done most ably, quickly, and professionally.

The beast of a boiler we needed removed. At 48 inches tall and about 30 inches in diameter, it consisted of almost 500 lbs of 50-year old metal (when drained!). And it went to a good home, where it will continue to heat water and people (indirectly) for years to come.
The day came to take the hunk o' metal out--we'd disconnected it, drained it, etc. etc.--and the guy (a plumber) shows up. Except he doesn't have a dolly for hauling it out on. And he doesn't have help. So much for "ably, quickly, and professionally."

The guy was nice though; he apologized sincerely, explaining that he'd been swamped at work lately and on a Friday after work, apparently it had begun to take its toll on his memory. So we waited... and waited... and got hungry for a supper that was waiting for us at my parents... and waited for about an hour for the guy's dad to show up with a dolly.

Finally the guy's dad shows up, and they begin moving this boiler. Boy, was my dad glad he'd braced our suspectly-creaking basement stairs. The boiler, it turns out, probably weighed close to 500 lbs. The plumber picking it up probably weighed in the range of 300 lbs. (To illustrate: if he was a guest on Kelly & Michael, Ripa would call him a "big teddy bear." And Kelly Ripa would have to hope that he took it well, because he has probably eaten steaks bigger than her.) And the plumber's dad probably weighed a solid 190. Add in the dolly (let's call it 10 lbs, to make it even), and there was half an American ton slowly inching its way up our stairs. And I mean inching. It took this 300 lb plumber, leaning back hard on the dolly, with his fit late-60s dad pushing from below, to get the thing to move, one stair at a time. That's a job that would wear out Magnus ver Magnusson, never mind a little ol' insurance marketer like yours truly.

Magnus ver Magnusson himself would've needed all his fire-engine-pulling and absurdly-large-boulder-lifting strength to get our boiler out of our basement.
Moral of the story? I'll give up an opportunity for a little profit if it means I don't have to bulk up by pulling airplanes with my teeth to get the job done.

The Furnace Installer (I'll call him TFI for short)

We were recommended TFI by Chris (whom you met above). I believe his exact words were "he's a bit rough around the edges, but he's really good and by far the cheapest we found." I hope Chris didn't trademark that phrase, because I'm going to have to use it every time I recommend TFI to others. It's completely accurate.

TFI came by for the first time to analyze our situation and give us a quote. Now, I've never worked in the trades, but I did go to a public high school and I have watched a fair amount of The Wire, so I'd say I'm pretty used to salty language.

Apparently I'm not as used to it showing up at my door!

It's been famously said that an F-sharp is the only word that can be used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and even an adverb, conceivably even in the same sentence. (Kids, don't try this at home.) TFI may not have quite gone that far, but I also never heard him get upset. That's probably for the best, because even happy TFI sounded like a George Carlin's impression of a sailor stubbing his toe.
But if you get caught up in the language, you might miss out on the fact that TFI is genuinely a nice guy who cares to help out his customers and provide them with honest service and high-quality products at approximately two-thirds of the price that others might charge (which meant I was more than happy to finance whatever swear jar "donations" he might incur).

The Sheet Metal Guy (SMG)

SMG is TFI's right-hand man. That, or TFI is SMG's right-hand man. Either way, these two guys have been working together for years, and it shows. But how best to describe SMG? Let's run it down:
  • Drives up in his Chevy Silverado with the back window covered in a big Pittsburgh Steelers decal
  • Has five days-worth of facial hair permanently and refers to his moustache as a "snot-rag" (don't remember seeing that as one of the Movember ideas) 
  • Is missing a tooth while being 39 years older than the age when it's normal to be missing an incisor Talks in a southern drawl with a dose of a rural mumble 
  • Moved to Winnipeg from Virginia because of "Internet Love" (that predated all the E-harmony style dating sites; they met via an online game's chat)
  • May have dropped a self-referential n-word in a phone conversation while at our house (he's white)
And despite all of these outward appearances and mannerisms that even Rush Limbaugh might balk at, the guy knew his trade and really helped us out. (Quick story? At one point, they had wrapped up work for the day, but Cass and I were out and I didn't feel my phone ring. Instead of heading out and leaving the door unlocked, they patiently waited around for an hour and a half just so our house wouldn't be left unattended. They didn't act mad. They just did it, even though they didn't really have to. That impressed me.)

TFI and SMG hard at work. I was a little uncertain about taking their pictures, because I didn't know if they'd "get" the whole blog thing. Then I found out about SMG's Internet Love Story!

Ultimately, SMG and TFI (working with who I'm guessing was SMG's son-in-law) got the job done and the heat on in a single weekend. It all works great, and along with our new windows, we feel ready to tell a Winnipeg winter to "bring it on." (But, for the record, we won't do that. Because that would be tempting fate in a way that could leave us with snow drifts higher than our back door and temperatures cold enough to make Hoth look like Honolulu.)

The furnace mid-install, next to the empty tray that now holds the hot-water tank.

My Dad

Hey dad, couldn't have done it without you. Your ability to pull out electrical wiring that I'm scared to touch, your willingness to swing by on a moment's notice, and your persistence in making sure the job is done right more than makes up for the way you stress me out by mentioning all the things that have to be done and rattling off all the contingencies you can think of to see if I've thought of them. And I'm going to need your help in the future, so before I get myself in trouble, I'll offer my deepest gratitude and thanks.

Whoo! You made it to the end! Anyone else ever deal with any interesting characters in the process of renovating your home? (And yes, characters you may or may not be legally married to DO count.) Share your story with us in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. Replacing old boiler, old air conditioner, and old hot water tank all at the same time? Yeah, sounds like an excruciating job! Good thing you have people to help you out. Congratulations on having a massive renovation on your home! =)

    Darryl Iorio