The Rapidian

My furnace adventure, part one

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Self defined as part of the "working poor," Creston neighbor describes her experiences replacing her furnace in the cold of spring.
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By Sharon Zils

Please excuse me for borrowing the title of the spaghetti Western classic starring Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach, but when you get to the end of this story, you’ll understand why. My home owner drama began during the record breaking cold snap the weekend after Mother’s Day. It deserves to be called: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Let’s start with the bad. It was a cold, dark, and stormy night. Wait, not stormy. Furthermore, I’m not Snoopy and I’m not writing this from the top of a dog house. But it was a cold Friday night. I was reading the Grand Rapids Press at the dining room table, wearing the hood up on my sweatshirt (because who turns on the furnace in May!?) when my married-no-longer-lives-with-me daughter’s 15 ½ year old cat who still- lives-with-me (you all know why) came up to me meowing pitifully.  Anyway, I took pity on her and got up to look at the thermostat…whoa…57 degrees…ok, then…click.

By Saturday morning the house had warmed to 62, and I didn’t have to be at work until 3pm. So I went down to the basement to clean up after the historic April flood. I had no idea where anything was and, more importantly, the laundry needed to be done. I was excavating boxes in the opposite corner of the basement from the noisy appliances. The washer had just begun its cycle and the dryer was also running when I heard the furnace fan turn on. Later, the washer stopped, the dryer buzzed and I heard the fan still running. With dread, I walked to the furnace. Just as I had suspected: stone cold. I pulled the cover to look at the igniter: dead.

I did a quick mental scan of my financial situation: only $300 in savings, just enough in checking to cover the current bills and the next pay check a week away. I wasn’t calling my furnace guy on the big bucks weekend emergency charge, so I unboxed my little electric heater and borrowed two more. I was going to tough it out. The temperature dropped even lower that night (Google it, if you doubt me), but the cat in her fur coat and me wearing triple layers, survived.

Fast forward to Monday afternoon, Frank confirmed my diagnosis and the heat exchanger was cracked to boot. Naturally, the furnace had a 20 year warranty that had just expired. Not good. I was in a panic, financial that is. What was I going to do? I thought I could borrow some money from my sister, but when Frank’s estimate came in just under $2500, I knew that was too much to ask. This leads me to the good part of my story.

A couple of options for home owners who need emergency furnace repairs or replacements and who can pay for it, there are the many area heating/cooling companies or DTE Energy technicians. But for those of us who are the “working poor,” living pay check to pay check with no cash reserves, there is the City of Grand Rapids Housing Rehabilitation Program.

I was born, raised and have lived in Grand Rapids almost all of my adult life, but never knew this program existed. My sister and her husband from whom I couldn’t borrow money were the ones who sent me the information on the program. And boy, am I glad they did…not only was a new 95%+ efficient furnace installed, but double hung vinyl windows replaced my original late 1920s wooden windows.

So that is the “ugly” of my saga.

Next issue, I’ll relate the timeline of the process from filling out an application to waving goodbye to the contractor and his crew. So if you are a Grand Rapids resident living in a qualifying area, a home owner, low income and need some housing rehab, go to the Housing Rehabilitation program's page on the City of Grand Rapids website to get started. Or call them (616)456-3030 and an application can be sent to your address.

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