Monday, February 25, 2013

When the Basement Finishes You

The unhappy diagnosis of one of our annual boiler cleanings was that its efficiency was at levels that get entire departments fired, meaning we needed to replace it.  

 "No problem!" we thought, “We have American Home Shield for just such things, and they'll get us a new one now.”

American Home Shield sent out their recommended heating and plumbing man. Luckily he was different than the last heating and plumbing man they sent out.  That man responded to our slightly leaky laundry faucets by adjusting them…leaving us with very leaky laundry faucets.  A follow up call to American Home Shield told us that laundry faucets weren’t covered, meaning he shouldn’t have touched them and they certainly weren’t going to send anyone else to deal with it.  They suggested we call him back directly to fix it.  We decided bringing him back in our house could lead to an exploding washing machine, and we called Denville Plumbing and Heating, our own infinitely reliable Plumber Guy.

The new Boiler Man’s review provided us with the wonderful information that even though the boiler had taken to burning oil simply for its own amusement, there was no reportable mechanical defect.  Therefore our insurance to cover everything that could break in our home wasn’t going to cover this major broken thing in our home.

American Home Shield would offer us a discount toward replacement, but in case we were overwhelmed with them suddenly being useful, the discount was minus any already incurred service fees. We’d already incurred several of those trying to convince them the boiler was broken, based purely on the ridiculous idea that it had ceased to boil anything.

The Boiler Man then offered us the option to replace it through him.  If we did, he'd give us the full discount with no reductions.

His quote was good, and they were rated "A" by the better business bureau.

What could go wrong?

Their plan was to deliver and prep the new unit and take out the old one the first day.  They’d leave us space heaters overnight and finish installation the second day. 

Again, what could go wrong?

The Tuesday of delivery came the first week of December, the start of the best season to have the heating system ripped out of the home for a night.  Well after they were supposed to show up we got a phone call informing us that the wrong boiler was delivered, and they were sincerely hoping to get the right one the following day.

They did get the right one on Wednesday, but Boiler Man, who had been to our home already to take measurements, showed up alone with it. While he could put all the fittings and pipes in the garage, he couldn't get the boiler all the way up the driveway by himself, because he was Boiler Man not Superman. He left it half way up, unencumbered by any kind of fixed shelter.  He did wrap it up really well, but since it was supposed to rain, I called and offered to round up people to help get it in.  He never called back, increasing my confidence immeasurably.  Several Boiler Men showed up the next day with him.  Once they brought it in, we found out they didn't like to do the “of course it will only take two days” removal and installation because if something wasn't finished, we'd have no heat over the weekend.

The boiler spent the weekend in the garage, and I spent the weekend making uncouth comments about the boiler in the garage.  Boiler Men returned the next Tuesday as promised, left us space heaters that more than took care of the house, and performed the installation the next day. 

Luckily (for many reasons) my wife is exceptionally handy and went downstairs to paint something or other a couple hours after they left.  She found water on the floor in the boiler room.  It turned out there was a pinhole leak in a fitting that either opened after they left (our original belief) or they flat didn’t notice (our updated belief). The water ran down the hall slightly into the carpet in the family room, but the main issue was the spray jetting directly on the wall soaked through it and into the downstairs bedroom.

I called the Boiler Man and yelled multiple urgent and rude things.  He said he couldn't do anything until morning, because the supply house was locked for the night. This was puzzling as he was the owner of the company which meant it was his freakin’ supply house.  He talked us through draining our own boiler, and shutting it down, which is the exact way we had wanted to spend our weeknight.

After a great deal of vehemently and angrily demanding "as early as possible” on my part, he agreed to show up at nine the next morning.   He did say he would cover a hotel room since we had no heat.  This was a pleasant but kind of a hollow gesture as we needed to spend much of the evening drying the basement.   My wife drove our daughter over to Grandma’s to spend the night in a heated house, and Grandma sent my sister over with her carpet cleaner and dehumidifier. (It was exceedingly nice to get active help after finishing my chat with Boiler Man.)

My wife pulled off the now saturated molding in the bedroom while I dried other areas.  The unpleasant surprises continued as she found some mold underneath it.  We had gotten water in the basement previously due to the wonderful home design features of:

A) Roof drainage, which went over the gutter, directly down the wall, over two windows and into the ground at the foundation.

B) A useless coal bin, which turned out to be less than useless, because it was in no way, shape, or form, sealed.

C) A pipe, coming from God knows where outside, that dead ended under a laundry room tile blocked only with a cork…’cause that’ll never rot.

The ever awesome Nofungusamongus Clean Up Guy came on the weekend to review it and let us know the mold was basically minimal and/or dead. He gave us instructions on cleaning it ourselves and replacing the molding.

Because of the newly existing need to deal with Boiler Man at nine, and to sit somewhere with heat for a while, we drove in to my work in the middle of the night to retrieve my computer and some files to work from home on while waiting for Boiler Man to come “as early as possible.”
At ten AM when I called wondering if he understood the concept of “as early as possible” he gave us the reassuring explanation that he forgot he had to drop off the old boiler and pick up a part.  The Boiler Man arrived after eleven, continuously stating how this usually doesn't happen; as if anything leaks it's immediate.  I showed him the area of water damage which only generated a flat “sorry" before he left.

This led to an understandably bitchy letter.

We had noticed kind of an oil/burning smell the first week the unit ran, but figured it was just breaking in.  It got more "oily" a Saturday a blizzard was due.  Considering Boiler Man was useless after sunset on a weeknight, we went straight to calling Petro, our own turbo-reliable 24/7 oil company.    Upon removing the water traps we put down after the initial leak, my wife actually saw some oil on one of the lines.    We were supposed to be meeting some friends at Grandma’s house, but left to come home as the blizzard started and meet our Boiler Guy.  He looked at it and immediately started shaking his head. They had connected a 3/8" fuel line with 1/2" fittings, because they didn’t believe the labeling or something.  The water traps we were afraid to move after the flood masked the oil leak. Better Boiler Guy fixed it and left saying:
"I don't like to talk about other people's work...but that was dumb."

Side note: It turned out there was some more delayed release dumbness.  When one of our baseboard pipes cracked, we learned they didn’t install any shut off valves for the downstairs loop.  Luckily our own Plumber Guy is as awesome as our own Boiler and Clean Up Guys, and he put one in immediately to let us shut it down until he could schedule the repairs.

The knowledge of the initial dumbness led to the second even more understandably bitchy letter, this one invoked the better business bureau’s name and was sent by registered mail.

We were going to go back to Grandma’s to meet up with our friends. Luckily my wife had already packed stuff in case we got snowed in.  Starting while the good Boiler Guy was still there, she began cutting the drywall away.  This was partially to see if any oil had seeped through the wall, but mostly to vent her current level of frustration at the not good Boiler Man. The mold spots went higher up than we first thought and, more importantly, an unpleasant amount of oil seeped through, turning our wall into wick. We decided to get our Clean Up Guy to clean it right. 

After she was finished digging a knife cathartically into soiled portions of our home, she went upstairs to wash up while I vacuumed.  We didn't want to contaminate our regular vacuums, leading me to use the wet/dry shop vac.  I sucked bleach water into and through it before and after the cleanup as a makeshift sterilization method. 

Unfortunately, with the drywall mask on, my glasses completely fogged up.  This kept me from noticing everything else completely fogging up when the shop vac exhaust blew a cloud of drywall dust throughout the house.  Rosa, came out of the shower to find herself in a toxic cloud, and immediately sealed our daughter in the playroom.  She called the pediatrician's 24 hour help line to find out if our child would be all right (Yes) while we frantically turned on any air blowing device we owned with a filter on it.  We then cleaned as much as we could without inhaling too many potentially evil fumes, and ran away over to Grandma’s for the night.  Our friends had an equally eventful evening, ending up getting a flat tire in the impending snowstorm and not coming that night after all.

We came back home the next day: me to dig out the completely blanketed in driveway, and my wife to vacuum the known universe.  Luckily, though the cloud looked pervasive, it wasn't dense enough to leave a visible, smellable or feelable residue anywhere. We finally got to meet up with our friends at Grandma’s and swap horror stories before bringing our daughter back to the defogged home. 

Clean Up Guy confirmed that we did all the right stuff and would be fine. He came in to do the full clean up including cutting out the drywall (with CORRECTLY filtered vacuums), clean coated and primed the inside of the walls, and left a commercial air scrubber with us for a week.  Just to be safe we moved the giant atmosphere sucking behemoth from room to room to insure it drew in any leftover bad vibes.

My wife repaired the half removed wall (have I mentioned how lucky I am she’s exceptionally handy) and we reassembled the room. We also bought a special drywall filter for the vacuum.

Boiler Man sent us a letter that was obviously only a reply to my first letter, offering to cover half the cost and apologizing about a series of unusual random chance things happening to one customer.

Then I faxed the total bill for the cleanup work, along with our materials cost, and a mention of the fire hazard from the oil collecting in the wall and water trap due to improperly sized fittings put in place by the Boiler Man Gang. 

They answered the fax with a phone call stating a check was being issued for the full amount, which arrived a couple of weeks later, needing only a single short prodding phone call to complete.

That is the only reason I’ve referred to this genius as “Boiler Man” instead of by his company’s name.  Well, that and the fact that our awesome Boiler Guy, Plumber Guy and Clean Up Guy said it was a very good boiler.

Object lessons:

1) American Home Shield turned out to be less than useless.
2) Don't vacuum drywall without the proper filter.
3) Understandably Bitchy Letters work infinitely better when they mention the Better Business Bureau and fire hazards.


longbow said...

My experience has been that the BBB is useless and is their to protect the B's from complaints.

Whenever I hear a story involving things like American Home Shield I think of the line from "He, She, and It" describing insurance companies as "Large corporations that used to make bets with individuals that something bad would happen to the individual"

Jeff McGinley said...

Ah, so it's really the Better FOR Business Bureau. Thank you, that explains a great our gutter covers that kept everything, including water, out of our gutters.

Brian said...

This account pretty quickly killed my image of Boiler Man as a slightly overweight but peppy middle aged man with a red cowl mask, safety goggles,blue body suit, red cape, red boots and the emblem of a flame under a bucket of water across his chest. So I guess this wasn't the "Boiler Man" I was thinking of.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thank you for that foray into awesomeness.

If only that were the case, he could have teamed up with Python's "Bicycle Repair Man" and Mike Myers "Middle Aged Man" to be the ultimate team of Home Improvement Super Heroes.

thanx again!