06 October 2007

This Old MotherFucking House: Episode I

Episode I: Colder Than a Witch's Tit

Welcome to the TOMFH Series. Coming soon to the DIY channel.

It's cold. And I can't turn my heat on. Actually, I don't want to turn my heat on, because it is madcrazy expensive to heat my house, despite these facts:
1) my house is tiny
2) my house has newer, double-pane, vinyl windows
3) my house has a programmable thermostat, which goes down to 57* at night and while we're at work/school
4) this is Seattle, not Minnesota or Siberia. It only gets so cold, people.

Regardless, I can't turn my heat on yet, even if I wanted to start pulling gold doubloons out of my ass to hand over to the the local Public Utility District. Yes, its acronym is PUD. Those of you from my generation and/or with Midwestern roots, go ahead and have yourself a good snicker at that.

My house was built in '55. It was owned by a little old lady with an incontinent little dog for ages. Before I moved in, it was owned by a single dad who put everything he had down and bought the house as an investment. He had it two years and made $100K. Thus was the housing market in Seattle. I borrowed money from my dad, thinking to get in on this lucrative deal, live tight for a few years, and possibly retire before I am 93.

The first weekend in the house, the newspaper headline screamed HOUSING CRASH! Fuck. See, this stuff never works for me. Houses in my neighborhood now sit on the market for months with "Price Reduced!" signs on the lawn. Retirement is still on schedule for sometime mid twenty-first century. But I digress.

We did rip up the carpets, by the way. That was one nastyass little dog. At some point, I need to learn how to refinish wood floors, and replace the trim. I also have to redo the the single "cozy" bathroom if I ever hope to sell. I've already replaced the toilet (don't ask), but the 80s cheap wood fixtures remain, along with the linoleum, cracked sink bowl, and peach paint. The brown & olive laminate kitchen countertops will have to go too, along with the oft-painted kitchen cabinets and their coats of many colors.

Again, I digress. This house is just one bigass digression.

In order to change the furnace filter, one must first descend through the Portal to the Unknown at the back of the garage:

Once through the Portal, look left to see the water heater, also conveniently located sub-daylight. The passageway to the furnace is just beyond the water heater, another left:
The photo, cheerily illuminated by camera flash, is misleading. In reality, the crawlspace has more of a horror movie ambiance. You know, where the ditzy blond cheerleader goes down into the creepy cellar alone? Like that.

So, head on down past the water heater, and hang a left into this creepy passageway:
At this point, I am in full-on crawl mode. No crouching in the furnace passageway, no chance of a fast get-away. Luckily, I have yet to see any rats, possums, or the Undead. It's dark as fuck back in the furnace passageway. A flashlight is not a luxury in the bowels of my house's underworld, folks.

Finally I reach my objective. The furnace. Seen here in all its glory, innards exposed:

That cage, wrapped in blue, surrounding the motor is the "hammock". The blue is the actual filter. Right. Those framed rectangular filters that slide into a slot on the side of your furnace? The one conveniently located in your utility closet? Yeah, I can't use those. My furnace requires a specialty filter, called a "hammock filter". Of course it does. These usually come in rolls and, I learned, must be special ordered.

This most definitely is your father's furnace filter.

Here's how it works: cut a length from the filter roll, wrap it around the hammock, attach both ends to said hammock by screwing on the special "hammock clamps", and slide the whole shebang back around the motor.

Here is a photo from last fall, when I first discovered all of this. Behold, the previous owner's disgusting hammock filter:

The filter is actually a green-blue shade. That grey fluff? Dust. Filth. All manner of allergens, carcinogens, and all around funk. Nasty! How many decades was dude working that filter?! Actually, the previous owner rarely used the heat, so I suspect Nastyass Little Dog's owner wasn't one for crawling through the Portal of the Unknown. She probably died of Lung Funk. Which could, actually, explain the state of the carpets; who knows how long Fifi had to wait to be rescued.

Here is a picture of the hammock with the filter I had rigged up last year. This was taken yesterday. After a year of use:
Yeah, big difference. "But Cowbell," you may ask, "Why is one of the hammock clamps right smack in the center of the hammock? Aren't they supposed to be on the ends?" Why yes, and they would be, if this were an actual "hammock filter". Which it isn't.

See, last year, I didn't know shit about hammock filters. I didn't even know they were called hammock filters, let alone that they came on rolls, so when I went to Home Depot and Lowe's, no one knew what the hell I was talking about. They looked at me like I was crazy. Or stupid. One asshat even suggested I "have my husband take a look at it." Bastard. Fuck you, Mr. Macho, Middle-Aged, Home Depot guy. You probably still live at home with your mom. Why don't you have her take a look at it? Orange-apron-wearing assclown.

I tried the Internet, but, didn't turn up anything with search terms like furnace cage, wrap-around filter, extra large furnace filter, metal filter holder, filter cage, stupid motherfucking non-existent Methuselah-assed furnace filter ...

I came up blank.

Anyway, we had to have heat, so I bought the two biggest filters I could find (not from Apron Guy), used one of the hammock clamps to connect them in the middle, cleverly fastened the end corners with two of Teen Demon's hair clips, and called it a day, as shown in the photo above.

This year, I have hammock filters on order. I should've ordered them sooner. It doesn't matter though, because I couldn't turn on my heat even if I had them in hand. That's because I discovered this: It's a hole. In one of the heating air ducts. It seems someone in my house's past decided heat was needed in the garage. They cut through the wall of the garage, directly into the furnace ductwork, and put that vent in. When dude sold the house to me, however, he didn't repair it. He just closed the vent, covered that shit right up with some wood, foil, and duct tape, and called it a day.

Now I know why my heating bills were so high.

I can't get to the hole from under the house, so I'll have to tear off the wall panel (which may involve moving the workbench, which I believe is bolted to the wall), attach a piece of sheet metal with a specific type of screw (being careful not to collapse the duct), seal it with some heat-safe crap, insulate it, and replace the wall panel. I just love doing that stuff when it's grey and cold.

Also, my rain gutter is hanging off of the house at one corner. The one corner of the house that is about 18 feet up. Of course.


  1. It's always something, isn't it? Ah the joys of homeownership..

    I too need a weird ass sized filter than no one ever stocks and thus must be ordered. Damn, better do that this weekend! Thanks for the reminder-

  2. I've got some project that desperately need attending to as well. There's a wall in my home that's literally being held together by duct tape. It probably just needs caulk, but what the hell do I know? My porch needs to be stripped and repainted or I risk wood rot. And oh yeah -- I live in DC and there's no central air.

    Today in DC, it will be HOT and MUGGY. Wanna trade?

  3. I look forward to your new PBS show, "This Old Mother F***ing House!"

    You own that furnace!

  4. I've been there with furnace filters...the ones that don't fit, in a BRAND NEW townhouse I was cat-sitting for while wintering in Tahoe (that sounds so much better than, "living hand to mouth in the snow").

    The filters I replaced had about 1" of construction material stuff on them...and they too were a "special" size that the fellows at the ONLY hardware store could not help me find, but insisted they try "something" when I showed them the old ones.

    I grew up in LA, what exactly is a furnace? So they helped me jury-rig all FOUR filters. The one behind the screen on the 10-foot ceiling, that that was a laugh to replace...

  5. BWAAHAHA to Craig D! Exxxxcellent.

  6. I wish you weren't having all of these issues with your house my dear. I was thinking the same thing as lex, grow some bud down there, sell it, repair your house, sell it, buy house with less problems (get a very good home inspector this time).


I've got a fever ...