No heat or hot water for three days.
Last week, during a blizzard and below-freezing temperatures, we lost heat and hot water in our house from Wednesday night to Saturday morning. Since this ordeal is still fresh in my mind, here’s the story from beginning to end.
Our home has oil heat. I’m not a huge fan of oil heat for environmental reasons, but it came with our home and we don’t have the budget to replace it yet. Our oil provider never refilled us in December, and thanks to unusually low temperatures we used more heat than we usually do. On Wednesday night of last week, our hot water ran lukewarm and finally cold, followed by our heat. I called our oil company for an emergency refill. I was on hold for over two hours. When I finally got through the customer service rep, who possessed the tone of someone who had been yelled at all night, informed us that we wouldn’t have a delivery until Thursday or Friday. We were upset. We went searching for diesel fuel as a quick holdover, but all surrounding gas stations were out of gas(!) or only had one gallon jugs of diesel left. There was nothing we could do. We bundled up and prepared to face the cold.
We wore jackets indoors. We bundled up our three-year-old and kept him moving around by playing catch-me, and so on. Our excellent space-heater (I highly recommend Dyson after this) kept our son’s bedroom nice and warm overnight. We piled every blanket we owned on our bed. We kept our fireplace going for days. We did everything we could to keep the cold at bay as the snow hammered down and the temperature continued to drop.
I called the oil company on the day of the blizzard to see if there was an update on our emergency delivery. I discovered that my call from the previous night, that I had waited two hours to get through, had never been recorded and our ticket never submitted. I pleaded for them to do something, citing our dropping indoor temperatures and that we had a toddler in the house. The customer service rep put a new ticket through and told us to call back the next day for an update. We bundled up and endured the cold some more.
I called back the next day. It was now Friday, and we hadn’t had heat or hot water in the house since Wednesday night. The customer service rep, who turned out to be the nicest one of this bunch, informed me that we wouldn’t have a delivery until Saturday. I broke down at that moment. I didn’t yell at her. That would have solved nothing. I told her our whole story; of being without a December refill, of our original call being passed over, of my worries regarding the health and safety of my son in the brutal cold. I knew it wasn’t going to push us ahead in the queue, as we weren’t the only people with children who had lost heat in these temperatures, but I needed someone to finally hear me. She was extremely nice and helped me feel like I was at least being heard. She even called me “the most pleasant person she’d dealt with all day.” Beyond that there was nothing else to do, so we buckled down for another day.
Friday night was the scariest night we had to endure. Leto’s room was warm thanks to the excellent Dyson space heater (I seriously recommend that thing), but temperatures outside were below zero. I was shivering in my bedroom. I could see my breath indoors. Our cats actually climbed under the covers of our bed with us. I was convinced our pipes were going to freeze in these temperatures and our oil delivery would mean nothing thanks to bursting pipes. We did not sleep well that night.
A technician came by early Saturday morning to have a look at our furnace and give us an emergency ten gallons of oil ahead of a proper delivery. He was stunned to hear that we’d been without heat or hot water since Wednesday night. He gave our furnace some minor repairs and stuck around to make certain our pipes were okay. They were, to which he said, “You guys are really, really lucky.” We gave him coffee for the extra effort, and waited around for a refill. A few hours later, an oil truck refilled our tank and our house began the long process of heating up again. We made it.
This whole ordeal helped me realize how fragile our modern comforts are. Indoor heating and hot water are luxuries to some people, and after being without both for three and a half days I was reminded how fortunate we are to have them as basic utilities. But all it took for it to go away was a company’s error, and for a few days we faced dangerous cold.
But it wasn’t as dangerous as it could have been. Thanks to the Dyson space heater (have I mentioned that I really absolutely seriously recommend this thing?!) our son was warm at night. We never lost power. We had a working fireplace to huddle around. Even with no heat, our house retained warmth surprisingly well, keeping an internal temperature still high above the near-zero temperatures outside. Our pipes did not freeze, nor did they burst. If I hadn’t called to check on the status of our original call during Thursday’s blizzard, we would have been without heat or hot water until Monday! This was bad, but it could have been a lot worse. As the technician said, we were very lucky.
Most people I spoke to have told me to break my contract with the oil company, or publicly call them out for their mistake, or any number of outraged consumer things. I’m severely disappointed with them for forgetting to refill us in December and failing to record our original call for service, but on the other hand this company has taken very good care of us since we moved in to our house four years ago. This was very out of character for them. So I’m going to explain this situation to them and see what they do about making up for their mistake. If they make amends appropriately, then I will forgive them for their mistake and move on. If this is brushed off, then rest assured you’ll all know the name of this company.
Do your best to stay warm and safe, folks. The cold is closer than you realize.