I woke up Tuesday morning to find the place a little cold, and discovered that the furnace was 'on' and there was a motor running, the pilot light wasn't coming on.
I called my father because he's the family's Mr. Fixit, and he poked and prodded and determined that the issue is no gas is being supplied to the pilot, and it looks like the Honeywell Smart Valve is the problem. Replacing the smart valve is out of his area of expertise and he doesn't feel it'd be safe for him to try, so he gives me the name of the heating people he uses for such problems - Precision Plumbing. Now, Precision does have a reputation for being expensive, but they're also very good at what they do.
The gentleman with Precision who's been working with me is named Mark. Mark has been nothing but patient with me. Without any prompting or hints on my part, he came to the same conclusion that it looks like the smart valve is the problem, it's not supplying gas to the pilot. He quotes me $900 to replace it. But he also asks if I have any other gas appliances, and the furnace is it. The stove is electric and the water boiler is shared by the entire building, so I don't have access to it. He decides to check the gas pressure going into the furnace to make sure it's not just a problem of no gas. A 'good' reading on his meter is supposed to be 7.5 (inches of water is the measurement, I believe?). The gas pressure he gets makes his meter read 99 and then Error. In layman's terms WAY TOO FUCKING HIGH WHAT IN THE HELL.
He checks my meter outside, which shares a regulator with three other units. He has me call the gas provider, Xcel Energy. He says that the regulator valve on the meters is probably broken. The woman on the other end sets up a work order and tells me they consider this issue an emergency, so someone should be out immediately. She asks if I can stay at home this afternoon, and I agree. Mark offers to stay and wait for Xcel, after ensuring me I'm not being billed for his time, only for actual work done - and he doesn't consider poking at a gauge 'actual work'. He sits out in his truck and reads a book while he waits. I call my boss to let him know I'll be gone all afternoon.
An hour and a half later Xcel is no where to be found. So I call and this time speak to a gentleman. Now, it's hard to convey tone, but he spoke to me as if I were calling 911 over a hangnail. At no point in this conversation was I anything but polite. I even clarified "I'm not angry at you guys at all, I know you're busy, but it's getting close to the end of the work day and I want to know if someone is still coming, since I have to wait for them." He tells me that what the other CSR meant when she said 'immediately' was '1-3 hours'. He implies I'm being unreasonable through his wording, that their techs can't be taken from real emergencies just for mine. I thank him for his time and we end the call.
I decide not to be angry about it, because I worked loyalty/disconnections for Qwest one summer (this, by the way, is why I am nothing but nice to people on the phone, no matter how mad I am, because I know it sucks to be at the other end of a RAGE fest you aren't responsible for), and I know at the end of the day a lot of bitchy calls can put you in a bad mood. Maybe he was just having a really bad day and didn't realize I was trying to be calm and respectful.
After another half hour Mark calls from his truck and says he needs to head home, and I thank him for waiting at all.
After another half hour my father calls and asks how things were going, and when I explained I was waiting for Xcel, and he laughs and tells me "The last time I had to call them for an emergency, it was the transformer out in front of the house smoking. And they refused to come until the fire department insisted." So now I feel really safe! He also looks up the smart valve part - just in case that was still an issue after the gas is fixed - and it can be purchased brand new from amazon.com for $133. What.
Five hours after the original call Xcel is still no where. I've been at my computer and keeping the condo silent so I can hear a knock on my door. I call again, and this time get another woman who's sweet as pie and puts me on hold to call the dispatch to see what's going on. She gets back to me and says they were actually at my place three and a half hours ago, and that they had called Precision Plumbing, since I'd mentioned that's who was doing my repairs, instead of my goddamned number on the account to let them know it was fixed. So, I just took an afternoon off work for no goddamned reason. Nice.
In a fit of hopefulness, I turn on the furnace to see if it magically works, no dice. It is, of course, now far outside Precision's office hours. I'm also pissed about the 900% markup on a part, so I start looking around at other options for heating people. I go Tuesday night without heat.
Wednesday morning Mark calls me at about 8am, asking if Xcel ever came. I tell him they claimed to have called Precision about a half hour after he left, but never contacted me or knocked on my door to let me know it was fixed. He asks if I'd tried the furnace and I say it still doesn't work. He says he never heard anything from Xcel or the office, but he can come out again today to try to get the damned thing working if I set up an appointment with his office. After I hang up I think about it, and while I've found a decent looking competitor, Mark is at least aware of the situation, and I don't mind confronting him about the part price if he still feels its necessary, or telling him to leave if he doesn't change his tune. So I call Precision's office and set up an appointment that means I have to miss all morning at work. I let the boss know.
Mark comes, and as soon as he's in the door tells me he looked at the meters, and they look exactly the same, with the same regulator valve. He grabs his pressure gauge and it still does it's 99 SHOOP ERROR message when hooked up to the line running to the furnace. So, yay, I call Xcel again while Mark waits.
The woman I get this time has an amaaaaazing attitude problem. I'm still being nice as possible. I explain that yes, I know they were out here yesterday, but the problem is still here. She puts me on hold without telling me why and no corporate hold music so it's just dead air. When she comes back she demands to speak with Mark, since he's the one with the pressure gauge insisting that something's wrong.
And proceeds to argue with him for five minutes. Then puts him on hold with more dead air and no explanation. She comes back and they argue some more, but it comes to light that when Xcel's tech came out and screwed with the regulator, they didn't actually bleed the line - so the gas pressure already built up is still in the building. GEE, THAT SEEMS IMPORTANT. Mark hands me the phone and bleeds it himself right there into my condo (which to me sounds like A REALLY BAD IDEA but he assured me that the levels of gas being released were not dangerous. I just. Ok.), then hooks up his gauge and it reads the 7.5 it's supposed to be. He thanks the woman for her time and hangs up. He then attaches the gauge to the side of the smart valve that feeds gas to the furnace proper, and it reads 3.1, which he told me was about correct and probably had been adjusted to lower than normal because of the size of my living space.
Mark puts everything back together and turns the furnace on. The ignitor turns on, the pilot lights, and thirty seconds later warm air is circulating through the condo. He shut it off and on again just to make sure. And it keeps lighting! He writes out a work order, documenting that he was there, and says there's no charge, despite all the time he's spent screwing with the thing. He mentions some maintenance work, like taking care of one of the old elbow joints on the gas line to the furnace, and fitting in the air filter correctly, that should probably be done in the next year, and writes those on his work order with estimates, checks to make sure one last time that the furnace will turn on and the pilot lights, and then leaves.
Edit: Now, why lowering gas pressure makes the furnace work I don't know, I assume the smart valve has a mechanism that refuses to supply gas to the system if there's too much pressure pushing on it. Which seems like a safety feature.
I go to work happy, and around 2 in the afternoon receive a call from Precision's secretary asking if the customer service was acceptable, and if the whole thing ended there I wouldn't be writing this.
I woke up this morning with a cold condo and the one motor running, but no heat. I pull of the maintenance cover myself and can see the ignitor coming on, but the pilot not starting. Oh, god damn it all.
So I call Precision again, and at this point the secretary recognizes my phone number and we have a jolly good laugh. I'm positive that since the stupid thing was working yesterday that it's the pressure again, but I have no equipment to prove it. I set up another morning appointment with Mark, and tell the boss I'll be missing work again. Mark comes and we guffaw over the ridiculousness of it all, I apologize profusely for taking up so much of his time, and he pulls out his pressure gauge. And it's our good ol' 99 SHOOP ERROR message again.
So I call Xcel again. This time I get a polite gentleman who listens to my story and sets up another work order to have a tech come out. At this point I've missed roughly a day and a half of work (best spring break evarrr), so I ask if I need to be here, and he says no, since it's clearly an external issue with their meters I can leave. I ask about a time table and he says it'll be 1-3 hours again. I thank him and hang up.
Mark informs me that he can't do anything, and is happy to come back again, but he's been out 3 times already and he's going to have to start charging me at some point for the time. I agree, because that's completly fair, and he offers me a $99 charge that will be itemized as 'Furnace Inspection' if he has to come out again. I say that sounds reasonable. He advises me that if the line needs to be bled I can do it myself with a pair of pliers, but I must have given him quite a deer in headlights look because he took that back fast. I'm willing to pay $99 to ensure I don't accidentally blow myself up, it's ok dude.
Mark leaves and I'm in the process of locking up to go to work when a tech from Xcel calls. This call was where we slid out of 'Well someone made a mistake, that's okay!' into 'FUCK YOU'. This is paraphrased and was fresh in my mind when I started writing this, but was about two hours ago at this point :P
Tech: I'm calling for Ms. Fowler?
Tech: Hi this is Ted with Xcel Energy and I'm showing a work order for your gas pressure?
Me: That's correct.
Tech: Are you in the unit at the moment?
Me: I was told I could leave and I'm heading out the door right now, but I can stay if I need to.
Tech: Can you explain to me exactly what the problem is?
Me: On Tuesday my furnace stopped working, and I had a repairman come out. He told me that the pressure on the line is supposed to be 7.5... inches of water, I believe was the measurement he used? And the pressure was so high that his meter was absolutely pegged. So I called and you sent someone out here. But my furnace still isn't working and the repairman was here and telling me again today that the pressure is still 'astronomical'.
Tech: Okay it's just that I spoke to the tech who was out there for your last work order and he said everything's fine.
Me: I'm aware that you had someone come out here on Tuesday at roughly five o'clock, but my furnace is still not working and I'm being told the pressure is still way too high.
Tech: Your meter shares a regulator valve with three other units.
Me: Yes, I know.
Tech: If what you're telling me is true you wouldn't be the only one having this problem.
Me: I've told you everything I know.
Tech: The problem is probably a separate regulator on your furnace building up too much pressure. Which isn't our fault. That's your problem, not ours.
Me: Oh, really? I'll keep that in mind if it's still not working this evening.
Tech: What I'm saying is if I get out there and I see nothing wrong I'm leaving.
Me: ... Okay... that's perfectly reasonable.... now if you do find something wrong, can you please remember to bleed the excess pressure the system? I know that's kind of like telling you to tie your shoes since you do this all the time, but your tech Tuesday forgot and my repairman had to do it in my unit.
Tech: MA'AM we have absolutely no control over the pressure once it's in the building, you have to handle that!
Me: Oh. I... wasn't aware of that. Thank you.
At this point I hear a click. He hung up on me. Towards the end of the conversation it was increasingly clear that I was being accused of wasting his time (Münchausen by furnace?). By the end I was extremely irritated with his insinuations and my voice probably conveyed that, but I strained very hard to keep the call professional. I know that what he told me looks pretty harmless on paper, again it's difficult to convey tone.
At this point I was most of the way to my car and decided that no where during the call had the tech told me I needed to stay. And I really didn't feel like calling him back. So I decided to go to work, and as I looked left to see if the way was clear to turn out onto the main road, I saw an Xcel truck turning onto my street. Well, at least it didn't take five hours to realize someone had come out this time.
That was about three hours ago now (it's taking a while to write this). Since then I haven't heard anything from Xcel or my Dear Friend Ted.
I work with a bunch of engineers so I've asked around, and have been told that a regulator on the furnace wouldn't be building up pressure on my line. This makes logical sense to me. I could see a regulator taking care of pressure in the furnace proper, in fact, I imagine that's what the smart valve this whole shit started with does, and that's the second 3.1 reading Mark took on Wednesday. But how would that valve in any way control pressure to the main line *into* the furnace? Maybe I didn't properly convey this to Xcel?
Secondly, how and why in the fuck am I expected to bleed the line? I know Mark told me I can, and gave me a basic idea of how (Edit: and it only really seems like he was suggesting it because he felt bad about charging me :/), but if you are a tech working for the gas company, would you really tell an everyday costumer to release highly pressurized natural gas into their home because it's 'not your problem' as the gas company? Am I overreacting or is it standard procedure to tell someone to do something that incredibly dangerous with no equipment to tell if they've done it right? The engineers here thought it sounded like a baaaaaad idea, but they're not experts and neither am I.
Anyway I've been advised to call Xcel and complain about the Tech who personally called me, and if the problem continues to go over Xcel's head and talk to the Colorado Utilities Commission that regulates them.
So that's my fucking cold because I have no furnace story bro, may the typo and grammar hunt commence! :3
Update: I caught one of my neighbors on my way in from work as he was going out to walk his dog. I asked if he'd had trouble with his heating this week, and he said yes, he'd woken up yesterday with no heat! He told me he called his own furnace repair man and was told the furnace was fine, and had made his own calls to Xcel energy. He said he saw the tech that I saw driving in (presumably the one whining that I was wasting his time) working on our block of meters, and sure enough, when I went back to look there is a brand new piece of equipment attached to them.
When I got into my unit I turned on the main gas valve, flipped the switch, and my god, I have hot air blowing at me.
Still need to talk to Xcel about some billing weirdness (which is more C_S than B_S I'm afraid, maybe someone working for them will post about me this week), so I will still be talking with them about their tech. But hey, at least my building isn't full of highly pressurized natural gas anymore.