Thursday, January 5, 2012

On Heating Problems and the Lesser Concerns of the American College Student

Talking recently with the daughter of a family friend, who just moved out to Long Island to attend Adelphi, I found myself wrapped up in a conversation about cheap winter living. For her, this meant loading up on a variety of Ramen packets, cutting down on showers, and spending as much time as possible at her boyfriend’s house in Astoria. For certain, these are all scrappy, if ultimately small-scale ways to live one’s winter on the cheap but for most of the people I know, including a great deal of NYC handymen and other service providers, the way of living cheap in winter is locating the essentials and knowing they are all budgeted.

One of the more important essentials, of course, is heat and a year does not go by when I don’t field a dozen calls or more a month, between December and March, about lack of heat. Now, any NYC plumber will tell you that the first thing you have to do in the case of no heat is check the boiler and see how the pilot light and burners. Okay, so maybe first you should be making sure that the safety switch is on but after that, its important to check that your pilot light is working. This would often be fixable by simply lighting a blown-out pilot light with an extended grill lighter, if that’s the problem. If the pilot light is working, however, and the burners simply aren’t catching, this is a problem that would call for a plumber. They will likely want to know if you use oil or gas and, more importantly, when the heat initially stopped working.

There are also times when the problem is not the boiler at all but the radiators in your home, which are separated as either steam or hot water powered. Hot water radiators run along baseboards and are far more regularly found in apartment buildings, covered by aluminum casings often. Steam radiators are typically what you think of when someone suddenly screams out “Radiator!”: a classic metal unit, three or four feet high, usually placed near windows. Steam-powered radiators are also largely typified by a hissing sound when they are turning up, a universal winter annoyance. The problem with steam radiators often comes back to whether or not it is pitched correctly or, in some cases, lack of regular bleeds; there could also be a problem with the pressure valve.  Hot water radiator problems, on the other hand, invariably lead back to piping, which could mean there was a poor soldering job done, problem with connections or even worn-out pipes.

In any case, these jobs are a professional plumber’s bread and butter, and they will likely be able to diagnose the problem and locate the solution within a few minutes of arriving at your home with the proper information provided.  Far be it for me to propose that this is something a college student should know or think about: if someone had given me a tutorial on home heating in my college days, I would have likely assaulted them with the closest empty Rolling Rock bottle. In fact, I’d rather them enjoy their unwashed, Ramen-fueled days for the time being and let them come upon these less exciting though unavoidable concerns in their own time. The tedious, inescapable boredoms of adulthood have a way of revealing themselves at the right time.