Sunday, June 13, 2010

Temperature Control

I had a girlfriend in college who used to say, "Temperature control is a 24-hour-a-day job." She lived in one of those small college one-room apartments where you don't have control of the thermostat. So the only way she could regulate the temperature was by opening and closing the windows. It was indeed a constant struggle to get the right temperature.

Despite the fact that now I own my own house and have supreme control over the thermostat, I still find my friend's words to be truer than ever. Because I really like fresh air, whenever the temperature is between 65 and 80, and not too humid or rainy or windy, I have to shut the thermostat down and go around the house opening all the windows. And then do the opposite when the fickle weather moves away from my "window" of conditions.

And then there are the times when I'm simply a dumbass.


Air conditioner season only started a last month, and already I've had two situations where I misread the knob.

It's one of those old circular models that has a little switch between A/C, off, and furnace.

Only the switch doesn't exactly correspond to the labels, so it's more of a relative positioning system. That is, if it's on "cool" and you want to turn it off, click it one position higher. If it's off and you want to turn on the heat, do the same. Because this time of year the weather goes in and out of being acceptable open-window conditions, (cool at night, hot during the day, for example), I'm constantly turning the thermostat on and off.

The other day I came home and the weather was beautiful, so I opened some windows and turned off the A/C. About half an hour later I was in the kitchen and heard something running in the utility room. That's where the furnace and water heater live. What's on in there? I thought. It sounded like the furnace running, but that wasn't possible. I went and looked at the thermostat. I moved the little switch and realized, to my horror, that when I thought I had turned off the A/C, I had actually turned on the heat. For half an hour I'd been heating my house in 80 degree weather. D'oh!


The following week I did a similarly stupid thing. What I usually do, when I'm home during the day on a summer morning, is I open all the windows to get as much cool, fresh air into the house as possible. As the day warms up, usually late morning, the A/C will kick in and I'll go close all the windows. So I did that. A few hours later I noticed the house was really hot. I checked the thermometer and noticed that the in-house temperature was creeping up past my thermostat setting. I turned down the temperature on the thermostat to see if the air would kick on. It didn't, as far as I could tell.

But the vents are in the ceiling, so maybe it was working but I just couldn't tell. I went out to the side of the house to check the condenser unit. When the A/C is on, it will be blowing air. It wasn't doing anything. I went back inside and turned the thermostat even lower, thinking maybe it was just being wonky. (As it sometimes is.) Still, nothing happened.

Oh, no, I thought. Not this again.

Last January I had to pay $800 when my furnace broke in 15-degree weather. The following month I shelled out about $1100 because my sewer line was busted. (Any time you hear the word "excavation" as a homeowner, be afraid. Be very afraid.) Now was I going to have to deal with a broken air conditioner?

In desperation, I clicked the switch on the left side. I heard a click and the vents started pushing out beautiful, cool air. I had never turned the damn thing on.

My embarrassment was mitigated by my double relief: the physical relief of getting cool again, and the emotional relief that my house was not about to demand another ransom-- this time for my air conditioning.

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