Taking the heat in fight against firing up furnace


October 24, 1992|By ROB KASPER

Every fall the weather tries to trick us furnace guards into prematurely firing up.

As soon as the temperature makes its first trip into the 40s, or an icy wind whistles through the window frames, the call goes out from the household to recklessly run up the heating bill.

That is not precisely how the call is phrased. Usually, it sounds something more like this: "I'm freezing."

During my career, I've withstood my share of attempts at stampeding the furnace guard into turning on the heat before it is absolutely necessary.

I've seen frost on the windows. I've heard floorboards pop as they contract from the cold. Then there is the old chattering teeth ruse.

It takes more than that to move a veteran furnace guard to light his pilot light. When there is snow on the ground, or when the water pipes are in danger of seizing, then you fire up. Not before. I once held out until early December, a personal pilot light best.

The years of duty have also taught me two ways to deal with this complaint about "freezing."

The first is to promise the complainants a better tomorrow. You do this by hitting upon some promising bit of information, such as a three-day weather forecast, and using it to rally the populace. You say things like, "This is only a temporary downturn in temperature." Or, "It is going to be hotter, sooner." Or, "Stop whining, you weather wimps."

The other way to deal with this freezing thing is to announce a five-point program that will attack it. The program should have a catchy name -- mine is called the "points of warmth" program.

The way it works is like this: When a household member complains of approaching frostbite, I direct him or her to one of the five designated "points of warmth" in the house.

The first point of warmth is the hot shower, or the hot bath, or in certain households, the hot tub. The idea is to cover cold bones with lots of hot water.

It has been charged that such hot water use might be counterproductive, that flooding the house with gallons of steaming water would jack up the water-heater bill. Furnace guards have a response to that: We don't care. Our job is to keep the furnace off. Hot water use is another department, another problem, which at the appropriate time will have another five-point program attacking it.

A second point of household warmth is the oven. This is the big kitchen contraption that uses gas or electricity, not that little rectangle that sits on the counter top and beeps. When activated, such a device will produce heat. Usually this oven activity is called "baking," as in "Why don't you take the trouble to bake my favorite pie?"

A third point of household warmth is the blanket bunker. This refers to the mound of woolen blankets or down-filled comforters that supposedly freezing people can wrap themselves in. It produces a great amount of warmth for the people being bunkered.

But it has one drawback. Once you are bunkered, you don't want to move. Not even a little bit. Not even to scamper a few steps from the couch to the TV set. The air outside the bunker is too cold.

The fourth point of warmth is the heavy pair of socks. Everyone knows that a key to success in life is to cover your extremities, your cold feet being one of them. Heavy socks do a good job warming up frigid feet, and have been known to work on hands, hence the cold-weather popularity of the expression "put a sock on it."

The fifth point of household warmth is the broad category known as alternative energy sources, or hot spots. Such spots would be smack dab in front of a roaring fireplace or in the front seat of the car with the heater turned on "toast."

One difficulty associated with these alternative sources of warmth is that they require some maintainance; more often than not, the guy who's supposed to keep them running is the same character in charge of guarding the furnace. The guy who, when the temperature takes an unexpected dive, gets caught with a fireplace that needs cleaning and a car heater that isn't working. He ends up frozen in indecision.

I have a contest every fall to see what will drop first, my resolve or the temperature. In my heart I know that lighting up the furnace before Thanksgiving, my traditional start of the heating season, would be giving in to the gods of cushiness.

However, the recent cold weather has caused me to evaluate my heartfelt position. My frosty fingertips tell me that maybe I can hold out until Halloween.

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