January 16, 2009

(Almost) Everything I need to know about home heating I learned in Fort Liard.

When I lived in Fort Liard and my friend Norris came to visit, he asked me why I didn't hire a painting company to paint my house (I had recruited volunteers to help). I explained that Fort Liard was a small community with 600 people; there were no painting companies. The closest dedicated house painting company, I figured, was a six hour drive away.

"What about plumbers?"


"What about...?"


"What about...?"


"What about home heating?"

I explained that (at the time) the closest dedicated furnace technician was a six hour drive away, albeit from a different direction - assuming that he was available to come and work on the furnace at all. An expensive service, to be sure.

"What do you do if your furnace stops working?"

I had asked myself that same question many times. Our furnace was a beast, possibly 40-years-old and big enough to heat a building four times the size of our little house. The nearest furnace repair business really was a day or two away and possibly more if the weather was bad or he had other emergencies which needed attending.

"Who do you hire if you need something done, then?"

That was the magic question. When you live in a small, remote community, you don't often need to hire anyone to get something done. Somebody in town probably knows enough to solve the problem or patch together a solution. If the first person you ask doesn't know, they'll call in somebody else and they'll keep calling until your problem has been fixed. If your problem is a particularly complex one, don't be surprised if you've got a half-dozen guys milling around your furnace, proposing and trying new solutions. With their collective knowledge, there isn't much that will go unsolved.

No payment is required, either, and most will consider it insulting if you even offer; you'll likely have a chance to return the favour in another way on other day.

And that's why I love living in a small community - everyone is self-reliant and everyone is willing to lend a hand if you need one. I learned more about fixing furnaces (and other home maintenance/repair jobs) in my four all-too-short years in Fort Liard than I had in my entire life before then or since.

I also learned that it's a good idea to have an emergency home heating plan, just in case. In Fort Liard, it was more likely that the power would fail than my furnace would fail. Without the electricity, though, the furnace wouldn't work. I bought some catalytic propane heaters that I could use around the house to keep the pipes from freezing, just in case. Since we were on a trucked water and sewage system, leaving the water running was not an option. I used them once, but didn't need to use them for very long before the power came back on.

Since then, I've loaned the heaters out on a few occasions for people who had extended furnace issues - and that's where the irony lies. I live in Whitehorse now, where there are many, many, many services available for homeowners. It's in Whitehorse that I've had to lend out the heaters. It's in Whitehorse right now, where I supposedly have access to 24-hour furnace repair and can't get a technician to come and fix my furnace because they're not answering the phone.

I know what the problem is with my furnace: The heating oil company didn't deliver heating oil when they were supposed to (they came about an hour after I called at midnight). The fuel line runs up past the oil tank, through the house, and down to the furnace - much like a siphon. Because the tank drained, the siphon lost it's, uh, siphonability. Now I've got a line full of air and need to pump the air out of the line and the fuel back through the line. Short of putting my lips to the line and sucking (no thanks) I don't know to draw the fuel through the 35' of line.

If I still lived in Fort Liard, somebody would know how to do it and I wouldn't have to get all frustrated with the 24-hour home heating company that must be operating on some magical 24-hour clock that has shorter hours than the clocks I use.

It's 03:01. It has been three-and-a-half hours since we clued in that the furnace stopped working. I suppose I'll try calling again...


Matt, Kara, Hunter and Cavan said...

No fun!! Hope you got it up and going. You are dead on with your description of small community services!

Jennybell said...

Could you try hooking it up to a shop Vac(wet/dry vac) and sucking out the air?
I wondered what type of fuel you used for heat. We use natural gas (bill over $300 last MONTH)
I want a wood burner or pellet stove in the basement for back up!
We have a fireplace but it's a joke. The kids could crawl right in and there's only about 18 inches from the front of the fireplace to the carpet!
About Ft. Laird, here's the difference between U.S. and Canada. In the U.S. a Town like Ft. Laird may not have a plumber, furnace man or electrician, but they would have city Codes to follow and inspectors to come out and put a stop work order on your project if not done by a liscensed professional. :)

Anonymous said...

Griffith's is a waste of your time. Call Lance Couch, at Certified. He is an independent contractor and seems to be responding to calls at all hours (he lives on ny street)

Anonymous said... MY street, i meant to say.

Meandering Michael said...

They are, supposedly, on their way and we're the first call of their day. That was an hour-and-a-half ago.

Apparently, the 24-hour service they claim in their phone book ad is from LAST YEAR'S phone book. They stopped taking calls at 23:00. About 45 minutes too soon for me.

I tried calling another company that had an ad for 24-hour service. There were out of town until tomorrow.

I'll keep Certified in mind, for sure! Thanks for the tip!

Peter Tyrrell said...

M, if you do figure out how to slurp fuel through a 35 foot line, please make an instructional video. Or really any video, I so enjoyed the bushfire one. Speaking of which, you may need to build one if you can't get the heat on again.

Anonymous said...

That's too bad Michael, we've had really good service with Griffith.

Your furnace troubles remind me of the Eastern ice storm of '96 when we went 14 days without electricity and thus, furnace heat. My clever brother duct taped a dryer hose from our Honda Civic's dashboard heater to the stove fan exhaust vent on the side of the house. The car heater kept the house heated at around 16C!

Meandering Michael said...


I've had mixed experiences.

I was in Ottawa for the '98 Ice Storm. What an experience! What your brother did was very clever and creative. I'm impressed it was able to keep the house so warm!