It's gotten cold here in New York recently. Damn cold. And when winter is on the horizon, there are two things you'd like to have buffering you from the chill: your water heater and your furnace.
Which brings me to my latest tale of woe.
Yesterday. while I was on the phone with Kira and making the boys chicken nuggets for lunch, an alarm started going off somewhere in the house. I disabled the smoke detector in our bedroom because it went off every time we took a shower (the steam activated it), and yesterday, since I had had the basement door open the whole time I had been cooking, and there is a smoke detector just inside the door, I checked there first. I couldn't be sure the beeping was coming from the smoke detector, so I tried pressing a few buttons--at which point I discovered that it hadn't been on because suddenly, in addition to the constant beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep I'd been hearing, it added its ear-piercing alarm to the din, momentarily deafening me, which was followed by a loud robotic voice announcing CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED! CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED!
And then I had two shrieking little boys making excited figure eights under my legs, screaming (John) and joyfully mimicing the alarms (Sam).
I ran downstairs to the basement, scanning the ceiling for more alarms. The water detecting alarm beside the washing machine was silent. There were no more fire alarms anywhere. And no matter where I put my ear the sound got louder, but it seemed to be coming from the ceiling right beside the water heater/furnace. I ran upstairs (boys running with me screaming and beeping) and found nothing to explain the noise. I tried to tell the boys to be quiet, but they were boys, hopped up on the idea of pretend danger, and could not be quieted. By this time, I was growing concerned that the sustained beep was actually water pressure builing up in our steam system or there was some alarm I was unaware of attached to our water heater, that was going to blow me, our house, and the boys to kingdom come.
And of course, Tom was out of his office, and my mother-in-law (the only person I could think of who'd ever had steam heat and would be at home) didn't answer the phone.
By this time, I was hysterical from the noise, beyond irritated with the boys, and desperate to know what, if anything, was about to explode.
I went downstairs, got on my hands and knees, and crawled around the water heater/steam furnace looking at every gauge and button and lever until I spotted it... Sitting in a dark corner, in a hole beside the water heater, was our spare water-in-the-basement alarm (that I learned later Tom only put there a few weeks ago) and it in the middle of a small puddle of water.
It did not want to shut up. I dried it off but it still wailed at me. So I had to wrench the batteries out before I could get some peace. The boys were quieted by their chicken nuggets. And I thought that was the end of the drama (mostly). I called Tom and told him about the water heater because I knew that leaking was bad and monitored the puddle the rest of the afternoon, but it didn't seem to be getting any bigger.
Our neighbors Jen and Joe came over later, and he and Tom fiddled around with the water heater and discovered a leak near one of the feet. After dishwashing and baths, the puddle had gotten bigger. Tom pronounced the condition terminal. Looks like we'll be getting a new one this weekend... *sigh*
While Joe was over, Tom asked him to give us a steam heat tutorial--how to adjust the radiators, how to program the thermostat, and regulate the temperature, etc (which sounds like it would be pretty cut and dry, but requires some steam-heat finesse). And in turning on the system, they discovered that it isn't working either. Tom suspects that it has something to do with the thermostat being installed improperly, but in any case, we're not getting good sustained heat for longer than about five minutes, and now Tom is going to want to fix it himself. And that is never a good idea, because being an engineer, it 1) has to be fixed perfectly and 2) he's likely to find something else to fret, worry, and fiddle with while he's at it.
It's times like this that I am very grateful for the wood stove. Back up plans are good.