11 February 2010

Encore une panne

That means "another breakdown" — another piece of equipment is on the blink. It's the boiler — la chaudière — which is what serves as a furnace at our house. It runs on fuel oil to heat water that is sent as steam into the big cast iron radiators in every room in the house. Or at least it used to.

It started acting funny about a week ago. By Saturday, it was clear that there was a real problem. I called the company with which we have a contrat de dépannage — an emergency service contract. A technician came out Saturday afternoon, took the thing apart, cleaned some of the heating elements, and declared the chaudière to be dépannée. « Pas de soucis », he said — No worries.

Yesterday afternoon in the vineyard. Snow was coming down
hard, with a brisk wind, but you can't see it in this picture.

Well, he was wrong. We didn't need to turn on the boiler Saturday evening. We had a fire in the wood-burning stove instead. Then we used the boiler for a few minutes Sunday morning, and everything did seem sort of okay. There was a strong smell of fuel oil in the utility room where the chaudière resides, but I told myself that would soon go away. We turned the boiler off by about 10:30 a.m. because we were going up to Blois for lunch and a long afternoon. It wasn't particularly cold outside.

Look what the camera saw when I turned on the flash.

When we came home in the evening, I turned the chaudière on again. I heard the usual whoosh of the burners firing up. But the house didn't really get warm. I didn't think a lot about it, and at bedtime, I went downstairs and turned the boiler off without paying attention to see whether the reset warning light was glowing.

Monday morning, it became clear that the thing wasn't working. After a few minutes, the boiler would conk out and the yellow reset warning light would be shining. I pushed the reset button a few times, but the boiler would run only for three or four minutes before stalling out again. I called the emergency service number.

The woman on the phone said they could send somebody over Tuesday morning. Great. The temperature outside was dropping, and we had snow flurries during the day. We built a fire to keep at least the living room warm.

Trudging back home in the blowing snow —
the light suddenly turned very blue.

The technician — a different one — came by as promised the next day. We had the boiler running. He looked at it and listened to it. When it cycled off after heating the water to the programmed temperature, he listened carefully.

« C'est la pompe. Il faut la changer, » he announced — "It's the pump. It needs to be replaced." I thought he meant the pump that sends water/steam to the radiators. We've had trouble with that before. It gets stopped up. We've figured out that if you take a big screwdriver and take the face plate off of it, a little water dribbles out and it starts working again. That's easy.

Callie doesn't mind the snow, but this time
her back was covered in big wet flakes.

"No, it's the fuel pump," the technician said. That made a lot of sense, given that the boiler room smells to high heaven of fuel oil. It didn't use to. "I'll take down all the information and get you an estimate on a new pump." He said he thought it would cost between 150 and 200 euros. We went upstairs and built a wood fire.

Yesterday morning the temperature was in the mid-20s F when I got up. The boiler worked for an hour or two, and then it conked out again. So we built another wood fire. I called the service company to let them know this is urgent. The house is getting cold.

The hamlet is just up ahead.
Snow was coming down hard.

This morning the temperature is in the mid-20s (-3.5ºC) again, and right now it is snowing. The boiler is working for the moment, and the wood fire is going too. We put a couple of big logs in the stove at bedtime last night. I woke up at 4:30 and went to check on it. There were live embers, so I put some more logs in, threw in some twigs and crumpled paper, and got it going again. I went back to bed.

I hope it doesn't take long to get the new fuel pump. The boiler just this minute stalled out again. Temperatures are supposed to stay below freezing for the next four or five days. As you can see from the pictures I took yesterday afternoon, we had snow that stuck. Nothing like Washington and Baltimore, but it's cold here too.


  1. You can bet that your boiler will always break down when you need it the most. Ours did a few years ago.

    I hope the engineer gets his act together and fixes it for you quickly so you can be nice and cosy again. A cold house is so miserable.

  2. In my experience, any piece of equipment breaks down at time of greatest need. I am glad to think of you both with a fire as at least some form of warming!
    It has been unrelentingly hot and very humid here for days. We have had a thunderstorm here this afternoon and about 3 hours of heavy rain. Yay! Our poor crispy garden certainly needs it. Rain looks so unfamiliar. I can't stop looking outside. Wonderful, and not hot tomorrow I believe.

  3. As you can see, I didn't read Walt's post yesterday, so I ended up on the same theme. It's proof that we don't coordinate our posts.

    I just talked to the people who service the boiler. Yesterday they said they would phone me with the cost estimate so that things would happen fast. Today, it's a different story. I have to wait for the post to deliver the envelope. Then I have to sign it and take it or send it to them.

    I complained. This has been going on for nearly a week now. And there's enough snow that I'm not sure about going down and back up our steep hill in the car. The bread lady got here this morning but told me not to expect her tomorrow -- it's too slippery. I told her not to come up here Saturday either. We're making cornbread.

  4. None of the difficulties you have had so far with "Living the Life" even begins to lessen my envy of it. You even make a cold house sound delightful when taken with spicy Thai food.

  5. Forgive me, but I had to chuckle at the idea of the estimate for the repairs having to come through the post. Perish the thought that they should bend the rules because you are freezing at home.

    The more I read in blogs about life in France the more I see there is an element to it that would probably drive me mad.
    But it wouldn't put me off.

  6. Ken,
    You & Walt may not have co-ordinated your posts but it proves the point that "great minds think alike", and if i remember correctly there was a follow sayiny to that. Hmmm, I wonder what it was?

  7. The picture taken with the flash on is really wonderful. Like being inside one of those snow globes.

  8. Ken, Does your 'burner' man has an e-mail address? In that case you can scan the signed 'devis' and mail it to him. It'll save you the ride up and down the hill and a stamp as well :)!

    We've had some pretty heavy snow too, especially yesterday morning. A lot of my colleagues didn't even make it to the office. I had a slippery but save journey both ways!

    Keep warm. Martine

  9. Jean, no devis in today's mail. We did get mail though -- a water bill for over 300 €! Oh well. Maybe the estimate will come tomorrow. Learning patience all over again...

    Hi Martine, e-mail? Laisse-moi rire ! We are lucky we have telephone contact. Anyway, the boiler seems to work for an hour or two in the morning. That warms up the house, and gives us time to get a good fire going. Firewood is running low, however.

  10. I love these snow photos, especially the one with the flakes so visible.

    Sorry to hear about the boiler/pump issues :(( And... 300€ for a water bill!?!? No wonder the French freak out when you take a long shower! Is that for one month's water use? I think that ours is quarterly, and it's probably about $70 quarterly.


  11. This is a cold hater's nightmare.

  12. judy, that water bill is for six months and includes our sewer charges, too. They bill us only twice a year, and this bill is an estimate until they read the meter, which they do once a year in June.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?