Yesterday I woke up to a cold house. Not that unusual, since I get up before the heat kicks on at 5:30, but by 5:45 I noticed the radiator still wasn't growing warm. I put it down to the time change, but later my husband investigated and discovered the boiler was out.
I only had a vague idea what a boiler was, but I knew it was a bad thing when they went out. I'm still not up on where they go when they "go out" but I've heard horror stories about what happens when they do, especially if it's over a holiday. And it wasn't just a simple matter of relighting the pilot light (which would be something I'd call in an expert for, frankly) but the thing was really, truly, "out".
It meant that the water that flows through the radiators wasn't being heated by the boiler, which is apparently its job. The boiler is equal to a furnace in the States, then. Without one, the house doesn't have heat.
The house was already starting to chill. I called the aptly named Frost (our estate agent, which is like a real estate agent), who sent a plumber out to discover what the problem was.
That's right; a plumber, not an HVAC specialist, which is what would happen in the US. Because the boiler uses water, it's a plumbing problem.
Fortunately the plumber isn't an ordinary Joe Plumber; this guy is really good at what he does. He's identified plumbing problems before and fixed them, after other plumbers were stumped. It's almost enough to make me take back every bad thing I've said about British plumbing. Almost.
He got to work and made some calls, wrote down some part numbers, and identified two parts that needed to be replaced. But there were other problems with the old boiler, which caused it to exhaust carbon monoxide to the outside vent. As soon as he said the word "carbon monoxide" I swooned. Not really, but I did stop listening, and apparently the landlord did too, or else saw lawsuits in his future, so the plumber was quickly given the go ahead to replace the whole thing with a newer, energy efficient model.
Except not so quickly after all. Not-Joe the plumber will have to re-route the gas lines from the laundry room to the garage, where the new boiler will reside. It will be Tuesday or Wednesday before the thing is up and running. Meanwhile, he's loaned us two space heaters.
And that's not all: The hot water heater, which runs from the same boiler, has an electric immersion backup, which blew up when the plumber tried to turn it on, creating a shock in the tank—fortunately, the fuse box did what it was supposed to do and averted disaster, though not a nasty scare when we heard the "pop!". After our discussion about carbon monoxide I was in swooning mode again, frankly.
Fortunately, Not-Joe the Plumber was able to find a new electrical immersion element and replace the old one, which was corroded and twisted. He seemed to think that was awesome, and even took a photo, so I did too:
Here's the thing: I'm always a bit nervous when repairmen come to the house. It's hard enough for me to convey what's wrong with some gadget or another, not knowing the least thing about boilers and toilets and other residential mechanical ailments. But add to that my ignorance of the language, and I hesitate to say anything. The first time anyone came here to fix something he asked to see the "loft". "We don't have a loft," I replied, wondering if he'd mixed our property up with a chic London flat. He was incredulous, since clearly, we had an attic. It took both of us a few minutes to realize we weren't simply ignorant; we were speaking two different languages.
Even after all these years, yesterday I stupidly offered the plumber a flashlight. I quickly backtracked and offered him a "torch" instead. Which still strikes me as a bit ludicrous. A torch was the last thing I wanted to light, with possible gas leaks about the place.
And then there's my reluctance to say the word "garage", the source of most things mechanical, including the "consumer unit". (That's a fuse box, for those of us who prefer a more descriptive English.) The word "garage" has a funny pronunciation here, as if someone who hated the French tried to pronounce it in the least French way they could, so it comes out "gair-ridge". That's just a sound that's fundamentally difficult for my American tongue to wrap 'round.
So I ended up handing the garage door opener to the guy, pointing in the direction of the "gaRADGE" and told him to open the "door". The word door is easily understood by anyone, I've found.
Since I'll be spending three days with Not Joe next week, I'll have to brush up on my British English and figure out new ways to avoid saying "garage". Maybe from now on I can call it the "boiler room".
In the meantime, I'm rethinking that torch idea. Some old fashioned fire would feel good just about now, but if I want to light my fireplace I'll have to call the gas service man, and who knows how that conversation would turn out.