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From the Publisher: The Heat Is On

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Published November 9, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


© DENNIS COX | DREAMSTIME.COM

It was unseasonably warm in Vermont last week — more "Summer Review" than "Winter Preview," which is the theme of this week's special issue.

It was hotter still at my house. On Wednesday morning, I woke up in a pool of sweat and tore off the covers. It was almost 50 degrees outside, but every baseboard radiator in the bedroom was cranking as if it were 20 below zero. We'd had this problem before: The zone valve on the furnace that controls heat to the upstairs was stuck open.

The heating system here runs on hot water, so my significant other, Tim, called our regular plumber and got the bad news: The earliest Benoure Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning could send someone to the house would be November 10, eight days hence. Tim booked the appointment and joined the cancellation list but kept calling other outfits. One wasn't taking new customers but recommended another, which was booking into January.

Finally he found an Essex Junction company that had a service slot on Friday. It was too cold out to kill the furnace completely, so we opened all the windows and, for the next 48-plus hours, tried to regulate the temperature in the house, wasting precious energy — and money — in the process. It was like driving in a convertible with the top down and the heat on.

On Thursday, we got a "scheduled visit reminder" email from the plumber we were expecting on Friday, but with no appointment time designated. We were still waiting mid-afternoon on Friday when we got a call from Benoure saying they'd had a cancellation. A guy could be here in half an hour. Should they dispatch him?

For the love of God, yes! Tim called to cancel our existing appointment with the Essex Junction outfit, but no one answered. He emailed, too, and the auto-reply explained that the office was closed for the day due to staffing issues.

In the end, a Benoure technician saved us, and the upcoming weekend, by skillfully swapping out the faulty valve. He also fixed the long-disabled faucet in our kitchen sink.

It felt like we'd won the lottery.

Seriously, though, winter is no joke, and having a functional furnace — or woodstove — is vital in Vermont. So is being able to afford the fuel that goes into it. Kevin McCallum writes about the latter in a news story this week, one of many cold-weather features.

Prior to the pandemic, Benoure checked our finicky heating system every year to make sure it was functional. Now I count myself lucky if they can come when it breaks down. Even here in Chittenden County, we're feeling the shortage of skilled tradespeople that Anne Wallace Allen described in her October 12 cover story about efforts to build the state's construction workforce, part of our yearlong "Locked Out" series.

There's reason to worry this winter about the Vermonters who can't get service in a timely manner. Valves get stuck shut, too. And when it actually is 20 below, that's a real emergency.