“It’s cold, brrrrr, it’s cold, argh, it’s freezing, argh! ARGH!!!”
That was me screaming like a school child in the shower two years ago on an ordinary Thursday morning. After taking my ice cold shower, I toweled off and headed out of the bathroom only to be taunted and laughed at by my wife and children.
“How’s your shower, Daddy?” asked one of the kids. I mumbled something evil and undecipherable under my breath as I continued to go back to my bedroom to start the rest of my morning.
“I didn’t even whine that much when I took my shower this morning, tough guy,” my wife quipped when I came back into the kitchen and headed for the coffee maker to pour myself a gigantic cup of coffee.
“Isn’t everyone a little comedian this morning?” I responded. “Well, we’ll see who’s laughing when no one gets any allowance this week, won’t we?”
I am not what one would call “a morning person” and I am even more of a bear if I don’t have a hot shower in the morning to help wake me up. It’s the hot water and nothing else that helps me shake off the cobwebs and get the day started. Unfortunately for me, the cold shower I had two years ago was directly related to an issue with my Natural Gas Company.
My issue with the Natural Gas Company began with the manner in which they sold me their “annual warranty” or their contract to protect my home heating unit. My annual contract was purchased in order to keep my equipment in good condition and to make sure that our home heating unit was energy efficient. The contract cost me approximately two hundred dollars a year, so you could imagine my surprise when I called to schedule a routine maintenance of my heating equipment and I was informed that I would have to pay another two hundred dollars for the service call.
I thought the annual servicing of my heating equipment was part of my contract with the Natural Gas Company. It just made logical sense to me that the contract would cover this cost, but it didn’t. So I started to question the provisions of my service contract. What did my two hundred dollar payment actually cover? I was perplexed. So I decided to get on the phone and find some answers to the numerous questions I had.
According to the representative I spoke with in the fall of 2005, the Natural Gas Service Contract covered emergencies. If the equipment were to fail and we needed to have a service technician fix our home heating system, most of the parts on my home heating system and the labor for the emergency service would be fully covered. When I asked what the statement “most of the parts” meant, I was told that all “critical parts” were covered in an emergency.
Beyond emergencies and critical parts, my service contract was not really a service contract at all because it didn’t cover anything else; in reality, my service contract was more like a piece of mind guarantee in case of an emergency. When I got off the phone with the customer service representative, I was less than pleased with the provisions of my service contract but I agreed to live by the terms of deal. I could not afford parts and labor in case of an emergency because heating and hot water equipment was expensive and the labor to fix or install the equipment was equally exorbitant.
In late June of 2006, something didn’t seem to be right with my heating unit; it was acting funny. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong because I have not been trained in the technical diagnostics that would be involved in assessing whether or not there was a problem, but something just didn’t seem right. So I placed a call to my Natural Gas Company to enact the terms of my “piece of mind guarantee” and within the hour, a technician showed up with a piece of equipment called a “sniffer.”
A “sniffer” is a piece of equipment that searches for gas vapors. If there was a gas vapor or evidence of a gas leak, it would alert the technician. The technician would then check out the gas lines and the heating equipment to ascertain the location of the leak. But after a five minute tour of my house, the technician was done. There was no leak. So he packed up his equipment and drove away.
A few days passed and I still had this weird feeling that something was wrong. So being the inquisitive person I have become, I started playing around with my heating unit. Stephanie asked me if I knew what I was doing and I responded with a curt “of course I do.” In reality, my subconscious mind was shaking its head “no” and mouthing the words “he has no clue what he is doing, this is an explosion waiting to happen” to her. Fortunately, for me and for Stephanie’s sanity, she couldn’t see my subconscious screaming “Take the kids and RUN!!!” at her.
Armed with nothing but a flashlight and my limited technological background in home heating units, I went into the basement and started to check all of the connections to make sure that all of the wires were connected properly. I peered under the heating unit to make sure that I didn’t have a water leak. Wires connected? Check. Water leak? Nope. Power? Check. Central operational panel? Working properly.
I was dumbfounded. Everything seemed to be working perfectly but I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something wasn’t right. So I did something that had never dawned on me before; I opened up the access panel in the wall to see if there was a problem with the chimney or the duct work.
“HOLY $$$$$$$!!” I yelled.
Inside my wall, my duct work from the heating unit to the chimney had split open like the top of a loaf of Home Pride Butter Top Wheat. My heating unit was pumping CO2 straight into the wall of my home. I immediately ran to the emergency shut off switch and turned off my heating unit.
I started hunting for the telephone. I was a little pissed off for two reasons. First of all, my CO2 detector hadn’t worked. What good is a CO2 detector if it doesn’t discover the very gas it was designed to warn me about?! And secondly, the representative from the Natural Gas Company had just left my home a couple of days ago with a death vapor wafting through my house because of the open duct work. The only thing I could say was “thank God it was summer and the heating unit was rarely used.” I could imagine how much more dangerous this would have been if this had happened in the middle of winter when the heating unit runs constantly.
I found the phone and quickly called my Natural Gas Company. I told them what I had just found in my wall and the customer service representative for my local Gas Company responded by saying, “I am very sorry, sir, your service contract does not cover duct work in the wall. I suggest you call an HVAC technician as soon as possible and have that duct work fixed quickly.”
“You think?!” I responded rather snidely. “I just had a conversation with one of your representatives six months ago and it was explained that critical and emergency services were covered. The fact that a deadly, odorless gas is being released into my house doesn’t strike anyone at the gas company as either ‘critical’ or ‘an emergency’?!”
“Once again, I am very sorry, sir. I empathize, I really do, but there is nothing I can do for you. We do not cover duct work and we don’t replace duct work. Is there anything else I can help you with tonight?”
“Sure, why don’t you order me a pizza and some Do-It-Yourself manuals so I have food and a wing and a prayer while I try to fix the duct work that your ‘professionals’ are unable to repair?” I said as I slammed down the phone. I was angry and the customer service person was just placating me; it was irritating! She may have tried to sound helpful and maybe she thought she was empathetic but in the end, the customer service person had just done absolutely nothing for me except to infuriate me beyond the realm of reasonable sanity!
I picked up the phone again and called my friend Rich. I asked him if he knew anything about duct work and thankfully, he did. He dropped everything he was doing and immediately came over to the house, assessed the situation and then we went out to our local building supply company to buy the materials to repair the damage. He spent a couple of hours working on the duct work while I helped him out the best that I could. It was getting late into the evening when he realized that he would have to rebuild the exhaust system from the heating unit to the chimney; he was not going to be able to replace just the broken duct.
Before he left for the night, he gave me a list of supplies that I needed to pick up at the local plumbing supply store. He also told me that because of his work schedule that he would not be back until Friday and at the time I didn’t care about when he came back, I wanted the duct work repaired and I wanted it repaired correctly. Although, this sounded like a good idea in theory at 11:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night, it was why I spent most of my Thursday morning screaming like a school child in the shower.
Rich came back on Friday and he replaced the entire duct work from my heating unit to the chimney. But he did more than help out a friend when he fixed my duct work, he protected my family from a dangerous situation. Every year, I open up the wall panel and look at the duct work to make sure it is still safe. As I was looking at duct work last night, I remembered the fear that went through me when I first saw the broken duct two years ago.
I also remembered that I woke up the morning after Rich fixed everything and I took the longest, hottest shower I have ever taken. It was awesome. I think we were in the middle of a heat wave and it might have been ninety-five degrees outside, but knowing that I had the ability to take a hot shower was worth it. But more importantly, it was a reminder that I had great friends who cared about my family. It was a blessing to know that we had good people in our lives that were willing to drop everything and help us out in an emergency; we should all be so lucky!