Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time to turn on the furnace, dammit!

I hate this time of year. Well, not hate, exactly: I don't like having to turn the gravity furnace on, and not just because it's not a simple matter of flipping a switch and turning up the thermostat. Last year I didn't turn it on until October 3, so I haven't held out quite as long. But it just hasn't been that cold here until today.

It's freakin' cold in the house, though (probably because I still have quite a few windows open). While it's sunny the outside temp is about 8C (48F). And in here it's about 14C according to my ancient thermostat.

A gravity furnace, while it may be inefficient in fuel use, has some advantages. There are no air filters to change. It has no moving parts such as a fan. The only electricity it uses is to turn the gas valve on and off. There are no electric blowers, so you don't feel air flow when the furnace is on, and there's less dust in the air. Because it's made of cast iron, the whole thing retains heat, so even while it's off it's heating the basement (and the dining room floor). I have double-glazed windows, and I have sealed up any drafts I can find using caulking, expanding foam insulation, and backer rod, especially around the south side of the house. When I had the house inspected in November 1998, the carbon monoxide reading was extremely low, like 9 parts per billion or something (the inspector told me and my real estate agent that the cigarettes we just smoked put out way more CO than the furnace). I of course have a carbon monoxide detector. The only time it sounded was when I wiped it with a furniture polishing cloth that had some volatile compounds impregnated in it. I stopped using those!

The only cold air leaking in comes from the ancient back door frame. I remedy this by stuffing an old blanket in a plastic bag between the doors, since the weather stripping doesn't quite do the job.

On the other hand, the gigantic ducts take up a lot of head room in the basement. I'm 170cm (5'7") and I have to duck in a few places. The furnace itself takes up a lot of room, sitting as it does in about the centre of the space, and having a circumference of about three meters/10 feet. Getting it out will require some specialists in asbestos removal, since there are sheets of AB protecting the floor joists from the hot water duct to the chimney. It's probably less than 50 percent efficient (though the higher gas bill is offset by the lower electricity use). And getting a mid- or high-efficiency furnace will cost, well, a lot more than I have in the bank.

And I was lucky I bought the house when I did---new insurance rules in 1999 required a furnace to be less than 25 years old. Mine is almost 90. If I wanted to change my insurer I'd have to replace the furnace first. These rules also require replacement of knob-and-tube wiring and galvanized plumbing pipes, and an upgrade to 100-amp input service. This has been done already, but there's more to go.

So the furnace is on, I'm covered in dust and cobwebs, the windows are closed, the temp is already up to 17C, and my ankles are feeling warmer. Maybe I'll put on some socks, though.

No comments: