Good News Is, Our House Didn’t Burn Down and No One Was Hurt

But the boiler is dead, Jim. Dead, dead, dead. Both daughters and their significant others were plenty scared, when—with Allysen and me away in Puerto Rico—the smoke alarms at home went crazy and they found one of the steam-heat boilers in the basement smoking and starting to glow. I believe terrifying was the word Jayce used. I got a not-quite-panicked call, “How do you turn off the boiler?!” with a lot of beeping and commotion in the background. I said, “Unplug it and get out of the house and call the fire department!” The firemen got there fast, turned off the gas to the unit, and confirmed that the boiler was toast but it was safe to stay in the house. I don’t know how long it took the family to stop shaking. (Connor remarked later that the boiler was glowing orange at the bottom and looked like a rocket about to take off.)

What happened was, it boiled dry, and the automatic low-water cutoff failed. The result: our own mini Three Mile Island meltdown. But as I say, no one was hurt, and the house didn’t burn down, and the smoke alarms worked, so I choose to regard it as a win-win. Plumber Mike came the next day and started making plans to replace the unit.

It was mostly my fault for not properly briefing everyone on checking the water level from time to time. Anyway, why is it that every time I leave for Puerto Rico, there’s a major plumbing problem while I’m gone? It never fails.

Because we had ductless minisplits installed a few years ago for cooling and bumper-months heating, there is still heat available in our apartment; no one had to freeze. So that’s a win, too. There is actually a statewide effort to get people to use electric heat pumps instead of gas heat, so one could argue that we should just switch over. But our experience has not sold us on that method of heating in winter. And forget running a heat pump in a power outage with a small backup generator, which I can do with a boiler. We are all in on offsetting climate change, but I guess our solar-electric panels and our solar hot water will have to be our contribution for now.

Here’s the boiler with the phaser blast marks.


  1. Mary
    | Reply

    Yikes! Glad everyone and the house is okay!

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