Monday, January 17, 2011

We have heat

"Who is the greater fool, the fool or the fool who follows him." (Obi-Wan Kenobi to Han Solo, in Star Wars.")
In 2004, the 50 year old original boiler in our house failed. We bought a replacement boiler through Minnegasco/Centerpoint, which hired a sub-contractor to install it. ("The most capable guys in the business," we were told.) They had the darnest time getting one of the baseboards in our family room to heat, and sent out different guys (including the owner) at least 4 times. Eventually, we decided to live with the fact that baseboard would not heat.

In 2008, our replacement boiler failed. Minnegasco/Centerpoint replaced it under warranty, and used the same sub-contractor, but we (i.e., insurance) had to pay for a ruptured line that occurred during the failure. However, after the replacement boiler was installed, not only did that particular family room baseboard not heat, but neither of the baseboards in my son's room would heat and a radiator in the basement would not heat. Since my son's bedroom is over our tuckunder garage, that meant that his room was 10 degrees colder (at least) than the rest of the house in the winter. After a couple of futile visits to try to figure out the problem (for which I had to take time off of work), the sub-contractor (which had already been paid by Minnegasco/Centerpoint) stopped returning my calls. So I didn't pay Minnegasco/Centerpoint.

After about 6 months, a manager from the Minnegasco/Centerpoint collections department called and requested payment. I said "no heat in my son's room, no money." He said that Minnegasco/Centerpoint was not aware of a problem, and he arranged for a Minnegasco/Centerpoint guy and the lead technician from the sub-contractor to come out and scope out the problem, which forced me to take another day off work. Their diagnosis was that it was a problem with the the way the lines were plumbed, even though they had always worked fine before the original boiler failed. The sub-contractor offered to re-plumb the lines for $1500, with the caveat that heating results would not be guaranteed. Unimpressed, I passed but, worried about our credit, I paid Minnegasco/Centerpoint and decided to live with the problem.

For the last two years we have been heating my son's room with an electric heater. Finally, fed up, I put an ad on Craigslist offering a reward for anyone who could fix the problem without re-doing our boiler plumbing. A guy accepted the challenge, and he was due out late this morning. To demonstrate the problem for him, I turned up the heat earlier this morning and, of course, those baseboards did not heat. But then I noticed something. The knobs on the baseboards that didn't work were turned outward (some knobs are on the left side, some on the right side, so it was not a matter of turning them to the right or to the left) and the knobs on the baseboards that worked were turned inward. So I decided to conduct an experiment. Within 2 minutes, the problem was fixed and we had heat everywhere. Fortunately, I was able to call off the repair guy before he got here, although I didn't have the guts to tell him why so I made up an excuse.

So, two notes to self. (1) Service people, as a general rule, suck. (2) If a baseboard isn't working, check to see if the knobs are turned inward.