The adventures of thawing a furnace line


It was about 4:15 am…I was cold… Cold and in bed at that hour can mean only one thing… The water in the bottom of my oil tank had frozen… Again!

Yes, I know:  Winter blend, Diesel 911, dry gas…I’ve tried it all. There are two simple solutions…First, wait till the tank is just about empty, and drain it to get the water out, or second, build an insulated box around the tank with a low watt light bulb for warmth.

The only time my tank is nearly empty is when it is winter, and we are using the fuel that is in it. Then, there is never enough. I lay awake on super cold nights listening for the sound of the blower to come on without the burner firing. When finances allow, we add few gallons on payday, and say a prayer. Then comes the tax return season, and the tank gets filled.  The tanks sits there all summer with anywhere from half a tank on up to three quarters of a tank.

As for the box around the tank? I’ll just say that if I claimed to be a LOUSY carpenter, I would be bragging, and leave it at that…OK?

So anyway…4:15am. I have to get dressed, go outside, and use a micro torch to see if I can get the fuel flowing again.

I hear something behind me. One of my goats, I think it was Smeck walks up to the fence near the oil tank, apparently thinking I had a snack for him.  When he sees the torch in my hand, he realizes I don’t and says, “Hey Fat Boy!  Fuel lines frozen again?”

I chuck a big hunk of frozen snow at him, and he heads back into his little barn where I can hear him saying something to the others, and then I can hear all of them laughing.

I get the little torch fired up, and I run it up and down the filter, and all around the lines, muttering under my breath about frozen fingers, watery oil tanks, and smart assed goats.

Typically, when I am nearly frozen to death that signifies that enough time has passed so that any ice blocking the flow of fuel has been cleared, and I can go back inside where it is a balmy 35 or 36 degrees to bleed the furnace.

So I head into the house and quietly creep down the hall, in the dark so as not to wake up my wife, or my son.  Since the hall light is dim anyway, I work by flashlight.  I get to the furnace, and open up the bleeder valve.  I listen as some of the air in the line whistles out, but I know I wont get off that easy.

There is a trick to bleeding a furnace without making a mess… I don’t know what it is. But I’ve tried so many of them, I know I will come up with it eventually!

The best thing I have tried is a piece of airline tubing attached to the bleeder nipple. That works GREAT at bleeding the lines into an empty soda bottle. Unless of course when there is a lot of air in the lines. Then your bottle will be full before you can stop the flow of fuel in time and you will have heating oil all over the place and NO amount of Dawn Dish Washing Detergent will get rid of the smell!

I get my tube on the nipple, and run it into a bottle. Then I flip the emergency switch on the wall behind me to put the power back to the furnace, and I hit the reset button on the furnace burner. More air comes out of the line, followed by a spurt of fuel, followed by some more air, followed by a steadier stream of fuel.

I pull off some pretty impressive yoga moves as I hold the bottle in my left hand, and reach up and back with my right hand to flip the emergency switch off so I can tighten the bleeder valve again. As my fingertips graze the button, and before I can flip it down, the airline tube decides to pop off the bleeder valve.

Heating oil all over my left arm, and the area around the furnace! YAY! muttering some more, I hit the reset button on the furnace.  Thankfully I got it right on the first try, and didn’t have to repeat the process again.

I clean up the spilled fuel as best I can, and head for the bathroom. I’m still pretty tired, and I have a chance to sleep for another hour or so, but first I need a shower.

The light in the bathroom is much brighter than the light in the hall, and I feel that it would be rude to my eyes at 4:30 am, so I decide to shower in the dark.

I turn on the shower to let it warm up a bit since I had NO idea how long the furnace had been off…The LAST thing I want to do is step under an icy stream of water… ESPECIALLY if I still want to get a little shut-eye.

Once I feel the water warm up, I step into the shower, and put all 310 lbs down on my right leg as I step in the tub, and all 310 lbs comes right down on a pile of hard plastic dinosaurs! 004

LEGO’s? HA! If you think those hurt then you OBVIOUSLY have never stepped on one a pile of hard plastic dinosaurs! I don’t know how I managed not to fall and break my neck… Or even worse, impale myself on a T-Rex… imagine the paramedics taking selfies with me, as I lay there all busted up with a dinosaur stuck up my butt?

I made up a few new naughty words right there on the spot, and screamed in pain as I removed a spinosaurus out of the meaty part of the foot!   Naturally that woke my wife and son… But hey! If I gotta be up…they might as well be too!

Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.