Disaster happens a little bit at a time. There was a very bad hail storm in Valier over a year ago. I stood between rooms and heard the smashing of my two closed-over windows which had been wall-boarded over many years ago in preparation for siding that wall outside. The storm windows had been left in place in the meantime, so I had just sort of forgotten about it.
That was the beginning. All over town this summer people were using insurance money to reroof their houses, particularly since the new technology of steel roofs had developed and it was a chance to convert from vulnerable shingles. But that meant that roofers were very busy. Too busy for me, but I got on a list. I don’t have insurance.
Then a contractor appeared and offered to get my roof done by fall. His girl friend’s son did the actual work. I borrowed the money. When they got to the vent for the two gas furnaces in my crawl space — one a floor furnace to heat the house and the other the hot water heater — it was too corroded to vent the gases. They just roofed over the vents which shut off the heaters.
When the electric replacement water heater people came, the only way to get the new heater into the crawl space was by removing the floor furnace which couldn’t be on without a vent anyway. The vent was inside the wall so it couldn’t simply be replaced. Now I had hot water but no heat. The idea was to install a wall gas wall heater that vented directly outside. The first price estimate was $2100. I had expected something more like $500.
I paid for the water heater installation with the money I’d saved for a washing machine, since the laundromats I’d been using for twenty years were closing down. The only one left was in a Covid hotspot. Now I just washed undies by hand and went dirty. It was the laundromat which was often empty, the problem was getting quarters.
The original roof contractor’s girl friend had worked at LIEAP, a federal organization to help the elderly, and assured me they would pay for the wall furnace and she would help me through the process. As soon as the contractor was paid, she disappeared. LIEAP said I qualified for their help and sent an installer. He freaked me out. An old guy, he’d had no formal training and was very nosy about what I did and had. Google revealed and it turned out he was a Seventh Day Adventist. I spent ten years as a UU minister, quite liberal, and had strong ideas about congregations who gather old, poor, challenged people because they are easy to control. Call me prejudiced and wary.
LIEAP is supposed to advertise for installers and choose the lowest priced ones, but they had gotten used to using this man and had not used anyone different for more than two decades. They claimed that when they advertised, the old guy was always the lowest anyway. Standards have changed. The story of the girl friend was that she had been fired from LIEAP. The story of using gas has become one of danger from fumes and explosions. The gas line next door developed a leak not long ago. A gallery in Bozeman on main street exploded, killing the manager.
A robocall from Northwestern Energy said they were sending a team to walk the town with a “sniffer” to look for leaks. When I worried about the pipes still under my house but theoretically not functioning, I called the company to turn off the gas at the meter. When the workman came, the meter was an antique that was leaking gas. Now I have a new meter, locked until needed.
After much difficulty and searching I found a gas wall heater I can borrow to pay for. A local young gas man with technical training will install it for cost. We worried about whether the meter would fit into the spot on the wall where I wanted it, but then I realized this is my house and if necessary I can cut a hole in the wall that crowds the location. But the heater won’t come for a week.
It’s cold but I have an electrical heater beside me and a mattress pad heater on the bed where the cats are hanging out. Tomorrow night and the next night the temp will sink to ten degrees. I’m obsessing about the pipes not freezing but I have a heat tape on one pipe and foam “pool noodles” to put on others for insulation.
I’m not living on the sidewalk in a tent. I have a hot shower and an operating cooking stove. The heated post office is always open if I got desperate but I couldn’t take the ten cats. I put up a plastic in the doorway to make the space to heat smaller, but need to bring the geraniums to this side. Poor people have to calculate like this all the time. I remember a time in the early Sixties where impoverished people with only wood stoves for heat tore up their floors to burn.
In the Eighties when I was circuit-riding around Montana in an unheated van, my policy was that if the forecast were under ten degrees I would accept home hospitality in someone’s guest bedroom or on a sofa. But the van had no water pipes to worry about. Once the reverse gear froze and no service garage was empty enough to let me thaw out in one, so I had to be careful to always park where I could drive off frontways. But at the time I was half my present age.
I had the idea that I was making it possible for four small fellowships to have clergy that would help them think and grow. It wasn’t until decades later that it developed they thought I was a loser or I’d have a proper church and that they didn’t feel like Sunday services were worth their pledges. Wasn’t church supposed to be free?
Though there are plenty of poor people on the east slope prairie, money is not so much the problem as the distances — which DO of course translate to money. I could have a million dollars and my new heater would still have to be brought here from some other place. I’m terrified someone will call to say they won’t deliver anything this far.
After this spate of snow and low temps, things will be a little more moderate but we still haven’t seen the Arctic storm bubbles that climate change is peeling off the jet stream to send our way, sometimes to sit, double-digit sub-zero for days. YouTube programs advise, “Cut off the water pipes from the town supply and empty the house pipes.” Egad.