Monday, December 20, 2010

This Was Supposed to be a Hunting Report

This photograph is an artistic statement meant to symbolize the vastness of my reserves of cash, hunting days, paid time off, and sanity.  It also represents our home heating situation from about December 1 to December 16th.  What is it really? Well, if you must know, it's where this guy used to live in my basement.

That's right - a state of the art (when it was built & installed in 1945) home boiler that could be fueled with either coal or fuel oil. Whoo-wee! Any of you who have recently shopped for a new water heater, boiler, furnace, or heat pump in the last several years have learned about "percent efficiency" - how much of the fuel and electricity that go into the heating system actually heat your house?  You also know that products on the market these days are most likely to be 80, 90, even 92 or 93 percent efficient.  That's a good product, and not so bad for the environment.  Our boiler? About 40 percent efficient.  More than half of the $1000 - $2000 per year we spent on fuel oil (plus electricity to run it) went directly up the chimney.
The furnace was one of the few things that had not been replaced or updated when we bought our home in 2004.  Like most things of that magnitude, we kept putting it off.  We occasionally checked replacement costs and found that we were looking at a $5,000 to $10,000 project.  Especially given the two inch thick layer of white pasty material which coated the house's original boiler.  Have a closer look:

Ladies and gents, that is asbestos.  Many of us under the age of 40 (me too) have never seen asbestos, except occasionally as very thin pipe insulation in old schools and apartment buildings.  But this here, this is a lot of asbestos.  The state of Maryland is pretty particular about how and where you dispose of it. And doing it right costs a lot of money.
So back to reality.  We returned from near-perfect weather in southwest Florida to find temperatures in the 20s in Maryland.  Many of you all have been experiencing this - a very strange southern shift to the jet stream which is just punishing us with a continental polar high pressure cell.  The weather has been normal - for the period between January 20 and February 10.  The dry, cold, cloudless conditions have made it difficult to plan what I'd consider to be a "high percentage" hunt.
To keep this post readably short, I'll just say that a combination of impossible factors, including this relentless cold, pushed us to request bids for a new heating system .....ASAP.  Bid process = losing 1.5 paid days off at work (during hunting season).  Once we selected a contractor, I lost a half-day of work (and a canceled goose hunt on opening day, on a snowy, foggy morning!!!!) to the initial contractor visit (sawing off the pipes to the furnace, draining the water out of the system), and then another half-day of work (and another canceled goose hunt) for the asbestos abatement crew to show up and get the old burner out.

After creating a tent-like scene like that part of E.T. with the medical unit, one guy in full haz-mat gear carried out the asbestos.  Wow - so glad that was in my basement for 6 years.

Eventually, this MMA style dude started carting out the "clean" portions of the old boiler/furnace.  What they left was the empty space in the first photo.  18 hours later, the contractor showed up to install our new 83% efficient gas boiler.  It's tiny! But for the first time in 2 very cold weeks, we have heat. And for the first time ever, I feel better about our choice of power source.

So yeah, in a way it's a thing of beauty, but just like all the soot in that picture (there's plenty spread throughout the whole house), it's come at a tremendous cost.  I don't even feel motivated to go hunt.  I've had enough cold for awhile.  I don't think I can stand the frustration of having (literally) all my gear in the truck again, just to have a hunt canceled for home repair reasons, again.  This has been a very expensive year for home ownership, and right now there's just no option for spending money on fun stuff, gear, or fun (non-family type) trips we'd like to do.  It's hard not to wake up with these burdens and feel like you are just recently on your own again - no road map and no money.

I hope that the next time you hear from me, I will have written of a beautiful sunrise and birds in the air.  Keep warm everybody!

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