More Trials Of Living In An Old House

This house must really be feeling like home to me now, because the events of the past weekend didn’t make me want to pack my bags and head back to the condo.  And also…no buyer’s remorse.  That’s improvement.

Cold weather has hit central Texas, and as of Friday, we still hadn’t had our furnace serviced and turned on.  My brother-in-law Bill had actually encouraged us to let him do it for us, because he’s fairly certain that our old furnace (which sat unused for the last four or five years while the house was vacant) isn’t exactly up to code, which could be a problem if we allow any licensed person in to service it.

furnace at the house 1

And since he’s had quite a bit of experience with these furnaces, he felt certain that he could get it turned on for us and make sure everything was in good, safe, working condition for the winter.  (I feel certain that we’ll be retiring the old furnace after this winter and having a new HVAC system installed before next summer.)

I had been procrastinating on this because, frankly, that furnace scares me a bit.  Plus, while we’ve had a few cold nights here and there, we really hadn’t had any continuous cold weather yet.  But we finally decided that we needed to get the thing turned on last Friday, when the temp inside the house stayed at about 53 degrees all day long.  We were coooold.  Plus, this next week, the temps are supposed to be in the 20s and 30s, so it was time for action.

So Friday night, Bill and my sister Cathy came over at around 10:00pm.  He took apart every little gas pipe and connector valve thingy, blew them all out, made sure they were working.  When they finally left at 1:00am, we still didn’t have any heat, but he had found the issue.

On Saturday, they came back to try to fix the problem, but it just wouldn’t work, so Bill removed the defective part and rigged up a way for me to at least turn the furnace on when the house gets cold.

The bad news?  I have to turn it off and on manually.  So basically, I have to keep an eye on the indoor thermometer, and determine when we want the furnace to come on, and when we want it shut off, and I have to do it myself.

The worse news?  In order to turn the furnace on manually, I have to go out into the very cold garage, and into the storage area at the back of the garage, and into the very scary corner (the same very scary corner where the fuse boxes are), and light the pilot light and manually turn on the gas.

furnace at the house 3

furnace at the house 2

It’s definitely a pain in the rear, but it’s probably been a very good thing also. Since I spent quite a bit of time out there while they were working on it, I got to see the furnace with all of the panels off. And Bill also explained to me how everything works. Just being able to see the insides and learn about it has made me far less scared of the thing.

Although, I’ll admit that when I’m wedged into that dark corner, with my arm up inside the furnace holding a lighter, and I turn the gas on, and the pilot light lights up and then all of the burners come to a full flame and go ‘whhhooshhhhh’ out the side of the furnace towards my arm in that very tight space….yeah, that’s a bit scary.

And then when half the time, about 15 seconds after I light it, it makes a big ‘BOOOOOMMMM’ sound and I nearly jump out of my skin….yeah, that’s a bit scary.

But that’s okay. I’m conquering my fear of the furnace, and the scary dark corner with the fuse boxes…AND we have heat.

And this set up is just temporary. I’m hoping and praying that Bill can find the replacement part today so that we can have a normal working furnace soon that will come on and off all by itself.

For now, I’m incredibly thankful to have heat any way we can get it. And I’m incredibly thankful for a brother-in-law who knows all about this stuff, and a sister who is his awesome, fearless, hard working helper. Thanks to them, we’re no longer freezing cold in our house.

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  1. Oh, that is scary! Be very very careful please! I hope the part is found quickly. My mom has a house that is built up from the ground (in New Orleans) the furnace is under the house. Years ago it was having problems with the pilot light going out, usually in the middle of the night when it was especially cold and windy. It was checked but the fix was expensive and we lived with it until we could afford it. She would have to go out at 3 am a few times a week to relight the pilot light and I was the lucky assistant who held the flashlight. One time the whoosh! was extremely big and actually singed off my mom’s eyebrows and eyelashes!

  2. You are one brave woman! I’m totally scared of these types of things, too! I feel your pain! In our previous home, I had a hard time even walking past all the utility equipment/pipes/systems, just to do my laundry! Imagine my relief now in our new home where my laundry room is separate from our utility room! But, you faced the fear and now you are a stronger woman! 🙂 Good for you!

  3. Our furnace is located in the dirt cellar accessible only by a trap door in the kitchen. When we first moved here, I hated venturing into that space. Now I go down, do what I need to do and get out without looking too closely at the surroundings. I don’t want to see what’s lurking down there although I know the spiders love it because I always get cobwebs stuck on me.
    Hopefully your BIL will be able to find a replacement part and you’ll be toasty throughout the winter.

  4. I hope the replacement part comes in quickly because you can singe your eyebrows/hair with the ‘whoosh’ start. Please be careful. When the part comes and it gets installed, you will really appreciate the heat!

  5. You are very brave. I would say #$%# it and get one of those infrared heater thingies and learn to love itchy wool and layers and a high volume of tissue for my chronic cold runny nose. lol I don’t know what scared me more at the old house, the gas water heater or the crappy furnace.

  6. I’ll be holding my breath until you get through this winter. A new HVAC system is absolutely necessary for this house, no matter what decorating has to wait. I had no idea it got so cold in Texas, but am grateful to your brother-in-law that you have warm heat. We expect it to get cold here in the mountains of East Tennessee. We are so very thankful for the Tennnessee Valley Authority, but those deepest in the mountains always have a wood fireplace or wood heater as a backup.

  7. Glad you are still loving your home with all the trials that may come!

    I didn’t grow up with gas anything, so I find gas furnaces and all that stuff far more formidable than a dark and dust corner! LOL I have to admit, I’d probably huddle over an electric radiator before I went out there to manually turn it on.

    Hope he finds your part soon – always a struggle finding parts for old appliances!

  8. If it comes down to it, there are always portable electric heaters until the necessary repairs and replacements are made. I lived for nearly 6 years in a house where the furnace died after my first winter there, and I never could find/afford a replacement that would work in the location of the original furnace. It wasn’t pretty, but I learned to love blankets stapled over windows and doors to reduce air leakage, and electric heaters in every room. I’m kind of spoiled in my new old house, with its working furnace and non-drafty windows.

    Ya just do what you must, in order to manage. You’re doing fine, overcoming your fears!

  9. You will love next year when you get the new HVAC and probably be even more thankful for it having lived through this. Although one of those infrared sounds good to me!

  10. Please tell us you purchased a Carbon Monoxide detector and it is installed. Actually Home Depot and Lowe’s have a great version that just needs to be plug into any room outlet. Every home should have these and they are not expensive….after all it’s our lives we are protecting.

  11. Yikes! It’s just as cold here in NC! Last weekend the highs were in the 70s and today/this week it’s in the 20s (as a “feels like” temperature). That wind is something else!! That does sound a bit scary about having to go out and do all of that just to get some heat, but thankfully you have heat and hopefully it is fixed soon! We must be on the same “house wave” or something because we just found out we need to replace our water heater. WOMP!!!

  12. My furnace scares me too, I would rather wear 5 layers of clothes then try and light it. Those plug in heaters really do heat a room well, when ours went out 4 years ago, of couse it was during the coldest weekend of the year, we had to wait a week to get a new one installed, we have a basement so we had one space heater up and one down (thanks to family for the loans) and our house stayed nice an toasty, if fact the repair man looked puzzled when he walked into a nice warm house to fix the heater. If the part doesn’t come in soon I would look into a couple of those, might save some eyebrows, arm hair, and who know’s what else that whoosh is going to fry off! lol, good luck!

  13. Give your brother-in-law and sister a great big hug from your fans. Aren’t families just wonderful! More things to be thankful for this season, Bill, Cindy and heat 🙂 On yea…then there is new house, beautiful floors, trimmed trees, skinny plumbers, beautiful fabrics, great consignment sofa, gift card from Overstock, new chairs, new rug, new tables, new matress, georgeous bed frame, Naval paint, condo ready for market, Mom, and I think a brother, trimwork, Turkish Kilim, new frig, stove and dishwasher, new Silouette, voice controlled temperature control, green carpet gone, hallway closet gone, asbestos tile gone, cats, dogs and your hubby Matt. And that is just what I can remember since I have been following your blog. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, you certainly have a year to be thankful for!

  14. I have two of the faux fireplaces from Big Lots and they look great and really put out the heat. I live in Florida and we do not have real fireplaces here and I wanted them. They are really beautiful and look real. Big Lots has them on sale right now. The $600 ones are on sale for $400. You should look into one of those for the living room. You could use it in the bedroom for now and move it later. Mine are fairly large and would look good in your living room between the windows. If you put one in your bedroom, it would be really warm to hot at night. I am glad I have them in case the furnace died in the middle of the night. It is always good to have a back up plan. They go off and on just like central heat does.


  15. Welcome to my world, Kristi. My house sat empty for at least 1 1/2 years which really isn’t good for all the mechanical systems in the house. We moved in Memorial Day weekend in 2012. Since then we have had to replace the roof over the addition down to the rafters, including insulation; replaced all the main water lines from the city valves under the house and industrial heat tape wrapped; replaced the water lines inside the walls for the shower heads; replaced the thermocoupler inside the furnace; replaced the kitchen faucet and all new plumbing under the kitchen sink; replaced the hot water heater; replaced the water softner; rewired and buried the lines to shed (which house my small chest freezer and 2nd refrigerator); and seal the house the way it should be so that with the advent of cold weather the field mice don’t try to move in (big surprise since I have multiple cats- they didn’t last long); had the wood burning fireplace chimney cleaned- it needs some damper work in the second chamber- it is an insert with a whole house fan and can heat most of the house if working properly (saving up for that repair now-about $450.00); and this is beside the neglected yard work, deep cleaning needed, etc. And then people ask why I haven’t done any serious decorating yet? Newly divorced, the youngest four kids continue to live with me, a hodge podge of tools and no skills, newly employed all at the lovely age of 56+.
    But I love my house and just look at it this way, if I deal with the mechanical issues first then I can do the decoration and remodeling the right way which brings me to a question for you.
    I need to buy an electrical saw. Circular saw scare the bejezzes out of me, but I am thinking a jig saw- one that would cut a 2 x 4 would serve most of my needs. Any suggestions for one that won’t take me forever to save for but work well?

    1. Wow, sounds like you’ve bitten off quite a bit with your house!! 🙂

      In my opinion, the most useful saw you can buy would be a sliding compound miter saw. You can get one with a 10-inch blade for about $199.00 at Home Depot. Right now, I have a 10-inch compound miter saw (non-sliding), and I ALWAYS wish I had one with a sliding arm. And be very sure that you get one with a laser guide.

      1. It has been an adventure and recently I asked the four that choose to live with me (they don’t think I can take care of myself, they range is age from 19 – 28) if they regret the choices I made. Absolutely not was the resounding response. We love the fact that there is room for each of us to have some space, we live in the country (a corn field is across the road) and each issue came up individually.
        I will check out that saw you are talking about and see what happens.
        We are now at the point of beginning to seriously look at what we want for decorating and to begin implementing it.

  16. Wow, Kristi, you are brave! I prefer gas appliances and such but DO NOT like having to light pilot lights, etc. I work in the legal filed and used to work for a firm that did product liability defense cases and have seen some horror stories involving faulty gas works of all types, and while those cases were not the norm, just knowing the worst case scenarios do happen just scares me so much! As other have said above, please be sure you have good, working carbon monoxide detectors, and please be careful of the whoosh! If it were me, I’d just wear 3 layers of clothing and use a space heater at night, but then again, I’m not a maverick like you (or brave)!

  17. HI Kristi,
    I can empathize with you…we spent 12 years working on an old house (1830) here in Maine. We really enjoyed every project and have wonderful memories from your years at “Winn Farm”. We recenlt sold the old place and are in the process of downsizing to a condo in the same town for retirement…so I guess our story is the reverse of yours. I’m enjoying following your experiences in the old house and got a real laugh out of your photo with eh “Scary Corner” labeled:-)
    Happy Thanksgiving,

  18. You’ve got guts, Girl! After having my furnace shut off x2 this past weekend, it’s being cleaned and serviced today. Fortunately, it is not an old furnace (only 7 yrs) so all should be well soon. Currently I have my 3 y/o grandson and my son who is slowly recovering (not mobile yet) from being a passenger in a car accident at home – they both need to stay warm!