Friday, February 29, 2008

The Cold War

Our rented house in the Middle of Nowhere has a kerosene-fueled boiler that's used for heating and hot water. Well, maybe it's more accurate to say that it's used for hot water, which is in turn used in both the radiators and the showers and taps. I've never lived in a place that used heating oil before and was a bit annoyed that we were going to have to pay a whole bunch of money upfront to fill the 1000-liter tank. But needs must and I had the tank filled January last year.

Controlling the boiler has been a bit of a dark art. The house has a thermostat but the boiler also has a timer. I guess the way it is meant to work is that you can set the boiler to shut off at night or when you're not home and then rely on the thermostat to regulate the running of the boiler when it's on. The first few weeks I lived here, the boiler was an absolute mystery. Sometimes I'd have hot water in the morning. Sometimes I wouldn't. It felt like the boiler was a capricious god and I wondered if I was going to have to find a volcano and virgin to get back in its good graces.

During the summer and most of the autumn, the boiler was pretty much a non-issue, since it was only necessary for hot water. But around November, Peter and I became engaged in a war over the thermostat and the timer. He'd turn the thermostat up because it was cold. I'd turn it back down and tell him to put on more clothes. I felt that his timer settings used the boiler too much. He'd remind me that he's home during the day and that he stays up much later than I do.

One morning, I set the timer and left him a note saying something along the lines of "I'm not trying to be sarcastic or take the piss by changing the timer yet again. I tried to set it in a way that would take into account both of our concerns." The compromise settings worked fairly well because we both gave a little.

At the end of December, we seemed to be reaching the bottom of our 1000-liter tank, but I didn't want to pay winter prices for fuel again. So I ordered 500-liters, figuring that would be at least enough to get us through the rest of the winter and the damp, chilly spring. We had some struggles with the thermostat and the boiler, which resulted in replacement of the former and a new water pump for the latter.

Around the beginning of February, Peter decided that using the thermostat and the timer was sort of like using a belt and suspenders. His argument was that the boiler would only run when the thermostat told it to, so the timer was unnecessary. I reluctantly agreed but did complain to him from time to time that the thermostat was set too high and that the boiler was running at ridiculous times, like 2 or 3 am.

Last week, I went to take a shower in the morning and the water was cold. Not even lukewarm. Because of the aforementioned boiler problems, this wasn't unusual. But I was in such a rush, I couldn't take the time to investigate. I was also disgusting and in desperate need of a shower, but damn, it was cold. I ended up having what my mother would call a bird bath and then washing my hair in the kitchen sink, where I could at least minimise the risk of having freezing water splash on me.

My day didn't improve at work and when it started to look like I would need to work late, I went home for lunch. After venting about work, Peter and I had the following conversation:

Peter: Oh, I figured out why there was no hot water this morning.
Me: Yeah?
Peter (in a delightfully sing-song tone that I found amusing): You're not going to like it.
Me (Flipping through possibilities, deciding that dead mouse in boiler was definitely something I wouldn't like): Okay?
Peter: We had no oil.
Me (Giving Peter a look that a Southwest Airlines employee once told me was the best pissed-off face he had ever seen): What do you mean we had no oil? We put 500-liters into that tank at the end of December.
Peter: I know, you told me so. I know. The boiler isn't anywhere near as efficient as I thought it would be. I made a mistake. But I've taken care of it. I've called the oil guy and he's going to make delivery this afternoon. And since this is my fault, I'll pay for half of it.
Me: Two-thirds.
Peter: Okay. I'll pay for two-thirds.
Me: Alright then. Hey, aren't you proud of me for negotiating so well?
Peter (Genuine look of surprise on his face): Yeah, I am. Now if only you could do that in the rest of your life.
Me: Darn it, I should have asked for three-fourths.
Peter: No way I would have given you three-fourths. But I am impressed you asked for more.

So, we're back to the timer. The oil guy told Peter there's some sort of hardware you can get for the oil tank that will show how much oil you have left. The only way we can tell right now is if we scramble up this steep embankment, battle pricker bushes, and pull the top off of the tank. We're definitely going to have to invest in one of those. Because the line ran dry, the oil guy had to run the pump a fair bit and, as a result, the house smelled like an airplane hangar for about four days.

I'm glad that Peter knows me so well and knows how to defuse a fraught situation. That whole whole oil conversation could have resulted in an epic fight, but he handled it very well. And for the record, I did the math and two-thirds is absolutely fair. (Although I still think I should have at least asked for three-fourths. :))

21 Comments:

At 1 March 2008 at 11:11, Blogger Babaloo said...

Fantastic story. Well told, I mean. Not funny that you ran our of oil. We've got a very small tank, only for about 500 litres. But our house is small, so we don't really need a bigger one. But the first time we ordered oil the guy on the phone said he could fill it up to the top as well if we wanted. We didn't get what he meant, because we wanted it filled to the top. But he hadn't understood that our tank only takes 500 litres and that we weren't save money and only get it half filled.
Glad you've got it all sorted out now, though. Except for the gadget for the tank. But that's a minor detail. Having hot water to shower in the morning is not a minor detail. It's not even a detail. ;-)

 
At 1 March 2008 at 11:12, Blogger Babaloo said...

oops, that should read OUT of oil. Not our of oil. :)

 
At 1 March 2008 at 13:26, Blogger Bobbie said...

Brrr..while I enjoyed this story very much it reminds me of when I lived in New Hampshire and we depended on wood heat. We had a big old boiler that ate the wood like it was candy. About 2am the fire went down and it was freezing cold until we got another fire going in the morning. Hopefully this beast gives you plenty of heat until spring. Ahhh...a small price to pay for that beautifully green and beautiful land, eh?

 
At 1 March 2008 at 15:17, Blogger Kaycie said...

When I was a little girl, I went to a very old brick school. It was three stories plus an attic and a basement. There was an ancient boiler in the basement. It was black, it burned coal, and it looked like an enormous fire breathing monster to a five year old girl.

That's all I know about boilers.

 
At 1 March 2008 at 16:46, Blogger The Rotten Correspondent said...

I don't know a thing about boilers. I do know that I got an almost $700 heating bill in the mail yesterday. For one month. And we were never warm downstairs. Not once.

I'm moving to Egypt.

 
At 1 March 2008 at 16:46, Blogger laurie said...

good lord.
i would freeze to death there, i would.

i must amend my dream: i want to live in ireland, in the middle of nowhere, with a natural gas furnace.

terrific story, well told, ann.

 
At 1 March 2008 at 18:53, Blogger Jan said...

Great story. I admire you, I'm so spoiled, I can't imagine living with a kerosene-fueled boiler. Great compromise.

 
At 2 March 2008 at 03:15, Blogger Sweet Irene said...

Well, luckily we don't have that problem. Our boiler runs on gas, but it does do the radiators and the hot water. It only turns on for the hot water when you run the hot water tap or the shower, or when we turn the thermostat up, which isn't very often. The apartment just doesn't get that cold and our energy bill is low.

We have a tendency to put an extra sweater on first before we turn the thermostat up.

Do you guys negotiate over all the bills? Like, who eats the most food? Who takes the longest showers? Who uses the most electricity?

 
At 2 March 2008 at 10:18, Blogger -Ann said...

Babaloo - Indeed. Having hot water in the shower is a basic requirement. (And I hadn't even seen your typo until you pointed it out. :))

Bobbie - A small price indeed. And at least we don't have to chop wood or maintain a fire.

Kaycie - That is a vivid description!

RC - Argh. That's horrible. I know we used to get some doozies (and the electricty in the summer for air conditioning could be obscene) but I've completely idealised natural gas heating systems.

Laurie - Thanks. Yes, I find that dreams and wishes should be very specific.

Jan - Thanks. :)

SI - No, usually we just arm wrestle. OK, I'm kidding. We usually don't negotiate over bills, but if Peter wants to spend more on something than I want to spend, he will often volunteer to make up the difference in costs. In this case, he was just trying to make it impossible for me to argue with him. He was successful in that case.

 
At 2 March 2008 at 14:58, Anonymous Noelle said...

At least you have someone to negotiate with! I live alone and all the oil I waste is only my fault. And boy, do I waste oil with the drafts and the poor insulation of this old cottage.

 
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