Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Thanksgiving Gift to America

I am the cause of the collapse of gas and oil prices.

Call this version of chaos theory the Andersen Effect.

Just as the Butterfly Effect posits that a butterfly flapping its wings in Guatemala causes a typhoon in Malaysia, my decision to purchase an expensive wood stove has sent the global petroleum market tumbling.

Back in the summer, when heating oil was around four bucks a gallon, Kathie and I decided to seek an alternate means of heating our house. With an old stone house and oil heat we were facing potentially devastating heating bills this winter. I crunched the numbers based on our usual consumption and panicked.

I envisioned that the only way we could stay warm was sweating over how to pay the oil tab. Based on the numbers I came up with, Kathie and I could close the house up and move to Florida for the winter for free. However, since I have a working wife this was not a possibility. I couldn’t persuade her that we could at least save half by shipping just me and my golf clubs south.

We decided on a wood pellet stove insert for our dining room fireplace. This is a very expensive piece of equipment costing twice as much as the new oil furnace we put in a few years. However, based on the price of oil at the time I calculated a two year payback on the investment.

In August, we purchased our stove from a local merchant. We were not the only ones seeking alternate solutions to heating problems, so the stove we wanted was backordered. We made a down payment and were assigned an October 31 installation date.

Since that time the price of oil has marched steadily downward.

I also learned that since I did my research, which included investigating the supply and price of wood pellets, a pellet shortage had developed. Of course, the prices shot upward as well.

Another sign that things may not be going our way was the freak blizzard that arrived on our delivery day postponing it for a week.

Finally, the thing was installed. I was informed that I could not use it until it had been inspected by the local fire officer. After it passed, the installer would return and complete the hook-up. It took a week to get the fire inspector on the premises because he couldn’t find our house and then got mad at us and sulked for a few days. After five minutes of poking and prodding the thing, he pronounced it passed.

I called the stove merchant and for another week could get no one to return my calls. On one occasion, the aged proprietor put the phone down with me onboard and wandered off to tend customers. He never returned.

Finally I decided that a trip to the store was in order. After all, these people install woodstoves, a mid-nineteenth century technology, and obviously hadn’t caught up with phones and the like.

After launching into my grumpy old man routine, it was agreed the installer would be back the next day to complete the work. Mike, a nice and eager, though somewhat disorganized young man, completed the task.

For two days the stove did its thing. It made noises like the boiler room of the Titanic in its death throes, but it heated the house. On the third day it stopped.

Mike returned and pronounced the heat distribution blower dead. This thing apparently has more blowers than the Tijuana Brass. He said he had some coming in and would return on Monday with a new one. I waited all day but he failed to appear. I guess his horse and wagon broke down.

He arrived today and after much grunting and groaning got the thing up and running again. It didn’t inspire my confidence when I asked if he thought this would take care of the problem and he responded: “I know as much about these things as the next guy.”

As the price of oil continues to drop, I find myself in the awkward position of rooting for a rally. At this rate my break even point is fading into my twilight years.

I guess I should feel like a good little butterfly. My decision to buy a pellet stove has enabled millions of Americans to pack up the gas guzzling SUV and head for grandma’s house this weekend after all. Happy Thanksgiving, America!

1 comment:

Mary Lois said...

I wondered how you did it.