(One of) A Minnesota Home Owner’s Worst Nightmares: (or how I learned to stop worrying and love CenterPoint Energy)

I woke up Sunday morning and knew something was very wrong before I even peeled back the covers.

It was cold, too cold.

My house is over 100 years old and notoriously drafty in the wintertime, particularly during these wicked mid-winter deep freezes. Any insulation that was in these walls when the home was built disintegrated decades ago, leaving little barrier between me and the sub-zero nastiness we are currently experiencing.

Most of the time, I seal up the windows, keep the closets closed, and hope for the best.

But this was a different.

I put a hand on one of the radiators. It was ice cold.

I checked another. Same thing.

I put on my thickest snowboarding socks, wrapped myself up in my bathrobe, and went downstairs to check the thermostat, hoping that I had turned it way down before going to bed, knowing full well I had not.

Sure enough, the thermostat was right were it should be, but the temperature in the house was down to sixty degrees, and dropping fast.

It was 8:00 am. I got on the phone and called CenterPoint Energy (formerly Minnegasco).

The last monthly bill I paid to them was over $200. This month’s is even worse. I couldn’t recall if I was up to date on my ‘Home Service Plus’ plan that covers repair and maintenance of my gas appliances, but if there was any hope of getting my furnace diagnosed and repaired on a frigid Sunday, it was our local natural gas supplier.

The first, bright-eyed technician was there by 11:00, cheerful and positive he could get my heat working lickety-split.

“It’s the mercury switch”, he said when he came back upstairs, “Should just take me a few minutes.”

Half an hour later he came up again. “You need a new motor too”. Thankfully, he actually had one with him.

Installing the motor took a while, but when the technician finally came upstairs, repair bag in hand, I could tell from the look on his face that I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

The motor was in, but now I needed a gas valve, and he didn’t have one.

He called in the order and told me they would deliver it to the house within three hours. When the part arrived, I was to call CenterPoint and they would send out another technician to install the part ASAP.

Three hours past quickly (and coldly). The part did not arrive.

By 5:30 pm the temp in the house was fifty degrees, and not going up.

I put in another call to CenterPoint. The helpful customer service rep told me that the part was en route from Prior Lake and would be at my house shortly.

Almost two hours later, the small box arrived.

I called back CenterPoint and they assured me that a technician would be calling me directly.

Keep in mind, this is Minnesota. If the temperature in your house gets too low, bad (read: expensive) things can start happening. If the water in your pipes start to freeze and burst, you are in a world of shit.

I tried not to panic as the temperature in my living room dropped below fifty, knowing that it was certainly colder in the basement.

The technician finally called just before 9:00 pm. This one was nearly unintelligible over the phone, but I was elated to hear his voice.

Half an hour later, the tech (Diimitri) showed up. I told him how grateful I was that he was available to come save my ass on a Sunday night. He grunted, and I led him downstairs.

I am not usually one to hover over a hired service professional as they do their appointed work, but in this case I had no intention of taking my eye off this guy until I saw the gas in the furnace ignite.

I held the utility light for him and handed him his tools with the speed of a surgical assistant.

Installing the valve was quite a process and required disassembling the gas intake, and rewiring nearly all the electronic functions.

I don’t think Diimtri and I said two words to one another the entire time he was at work.

Finally, he tightened the last pipe down, flipped the breaker on the furnace and we both hoped for the best.

The pilot light ignition switched clicked impotently. “It takes a while”, said Diimitri, “There is a lot of air in the line.”

Finally, a couple minutes later, the pilot light stopped clicking, and the furnace fired to life. Diimitri, checked the functions one last time and at 9:40 pm deemed the furnace fixed.

And not a moment too soon.

It takes quite a while for temperatures to regulate in a house with radiant heat, but by this morning I was toasty warm.

Total cost for all of this weekend/late night service (and three furnace parts): $0.

Home Service Plus, people.

If you don’t have it, get it.


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