The Furnace Goes “Ka-FWOOUMP”

In the winter, I’d tape plastic over the windows to try to keep as much heat in the apartment as possible. Standard practice for someone raised in Michigan.

For the last couple of years, the furnace had been acting up; the blower would run continuously, but was blowing cold air; and more recently, making a loud sound when it kicked on. One of the technicians who’d come out in previous years had shown me a little button on top of the furnace that would sometimes stop the fan from blowing when it got stuck on, so I would get up and go hit the switch. This got to be almost an hourly routine, so that I’d leave the door to the furnace closet open a crack. When the furnace started booming, it would blow the door open, and then when it fired up it would shut again.

One day after the blower fan had got stuck on, I went in and hit the button on the furnace. As I stood there, a few short seconds later, the furnace fired up, with it’s characteristic Ka-FwwwOOOOOMP! and flames leapt out of the vent by my feet. Whoa. I repeated this several times, recording a video of what it was doing, and posting it online.

The apartment management company in general was pretty unresponsive until things got ridiculously out of hand. I had complained about a leaky shower manifold in my bathroom for months. They’d send their in-house repair guy out to replace a part, but a few weeks later it’d be leaking again. I was working with a plumber at the time, and was pretty confident it was the manifold. I started measuring the leak with a five gallon bucket. (after a few weeks of lying in bed listening to “drip, drip, drip”, you think of things like measuring). It was leaking something like 480 gallons per day, (I have pictures of that somewhere). After around 3 or 4 attempts, the repair guy finally took apart the kitchen cabinets to get to the shower access door and replaced the manifold. That’s just one example to explain how the management company dealt with problems. Another time the guy they hired to work on our gas clothes dryer left a leaky gas line filling up the laundry room with gas. The girl who lived upstairs alerted me, and I shut the valve before the place blew up. This is just to establish that the management company had in the past been negligent to the point of seriously endangering the tenants’ lives.

So, the history with the furnace went along those lines. I’d call to report a problem, someone would come out and a few days later I’d be having the same problem. At this point, the owner of the building was selling the place, and I’d had a chance to meet the new owners. I warned them about the problems with the management company. I showed them the furnace: click the switch, wait about 2 seconds, and then Ka-FWOOMP!, this time the flames shooting a good foot out of the vents. They seemed reasonably impressed that the furnace was dangerous. And a service call to the utility company was finally made.

A little after this, I went on vacation to visit my folks. There was an unoccupied upstairs apartment above me, and the Grandmother and her granddaughter living next door. Before I left, I turned the heat off, with the thought of not wanting to burn the place down while I was gone, with the furnace’s history fresh in mind.


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