The house was its quiet self as I lay in bed. One of the cats was snuggled up next to me, exploiting my body heat and quietly purring its pleasure. Since it was on top of the covers I didn’t mind, and there was something kind of comforting about having the little purr box there, quietly singing its gravel-like note. I listened to the cat as I stared at the ceiling, not that I could make anything about it out in the darkness. In the back of my mind though, there was a discomforting sense. It wasn’t so much an alarm as a feeling that something was amiss, but nothing to get excited about. I listened more carefully and after a while realized that there was something about the house that was harmonizing with the purr of the cat.
I listened a while. and the more I did, the more curious I became about what it was that was gently tuning itself to cat’s output. I got up and started hobbling from the room to the hall, pausing to listen that I might get a direction as to where the gentle noise was coming from. As I stood there braced against the wall, I realized that I was hearing it from all over. I put an ear to the wall and quieted my breathing to hear better. It wasn’t necessary because as soon as my ear pressed to the wall, I could hear a thrumming noise very clearly. I moved around from place to place, eventually sinking to my hands and knees. This was partly to listen and partly because it was beginning to hurt too much to keep standing. But listening more, I realized that the noise was coming from both the hot air ducts and the cold air returns for the furnace. “Huh.” I said to myself. This would be something to look into. Not that long ago the furnace had been upgraded, and I’m the kind who likes to protect his investments. So as business hours began the following day, I had my wife call the people who’d done the furnace work. An appointment was made for someone to come check things out.
A pair of technicians showed up and I gave them instructions to the furnace. They disappeared down the stairs to the basement where they stayed for about twenty minutes. They announced that they were done, and handed me the shards of a badly shredded grocery bag. “Here’s your problem,” the apparent ranking technician said. “Somehow this bag got into your cold air duct and it made its way down to the furnace. It was stuck in the fan.” He smiled widely. I smiled back.
“So,” I said. “That’s it?”
“Well, yeah. That and your electrostatic air cleaner isn’t working. I shut it off so it wouldn’t short out or something. Not that I think it really would.”
“Do they do that? Short out?”
“Not that I ever saw.” He smiled again. I smiled back. “There’s no charge.” he said.
“Woo hoo.” I replied, meaning it. He then said that the electrostatic cleaner was actually a piece of crap, and that I shouldn’t bother to have it fixed. Instead, he suggested that I just buy a filter for it at Home Depot or Lowe’s. He wrote down a part number for a filter and told me it would slide right in where the old electrostatic elements now sat. “Just pull ‘em out and shove the filter in.” he said. He went on to explain that the replaceable filters were actually a better thing than even the best electrostatic cleaners. That a lot of the dirt just wafted past the electrostatic wires made to grab passing particles. The filters would grab it all. The only downside was that the filters should be changed yearly, unlike the electrostatic cleaners which had to be serviced annually, and only required a wiping down of the collection plates. A typical service like that, if I called them to do it would cost about $50. But a filter, which I could easily replace, would cost about $30. To replace the electrostatic cleaner, which he had pronounced toast, would run about $300. I decided on the $30 filter.
It turned out to be $33. But he was right, I yanked the electrostatic elements out and the filter, whose part number he gave me, slid right into place. Simple.
The furnace came on and the odd noise was absent. I felt proud to have performed a repair so complex an intoxicated gerbil could have done it and returned upstairs to consider how a grocery bag could make its way down the duct work and into the furnace fan. As I made my way to my room I noticed that the grating for the cold air return in the hallway was off. I remembered how my wife had removed it back when we had a mouse problem. She opened the grating so the cats could get into the ducts, which the mice were using as a freeway through the house. Since we found a number of mouse corpses presented as gifts laying on our bed in the fall, and we no longer found mouse traces or gnawed paper and cardboard items, we assumed the cats were successful. I also remembered that the cats took great delight in playing with empty grocery bags, and with a stroke of genius figured out how a bag might make its way to the furnace.
I replaced the grating, having found its storage place on a top shelf in the living room.
In bed that night the friendlier of my wife’s cats hopped up on the bed, snuggled in next to me and began to purr. Somehow, it just didn’t sound the same.