Cactus Freezicus

Last weekend it finally got cold here in Vegas. One week removed and it will easily reach the mid-sixties today, but it was cold for a few days – which is the most one can generally expect here in the Desert Southwest, and almost more than its inhabitants can handle.

Two days into the new winter weather I was rudely reminded of some advice I was given exactly one month earlier, and by the HVAC technician who had visited to run his semi-annual check of our system. He’d recommended replacing a part which one of his tests measured as having higher than average “resistance”.

I don’t work on furnaces nor do I have much more than the most rudimentary knowledge on the workings of electrical systems, but I used an internet search to understand better what he was talking about and if it was really a necessary preventive measure. The news was mixed – some saying it was a good recommendation and others saying leave it alone until it fails (could be weeks, or years). Days removed from egregiously priced dog surgery and Christmas shopping under way, it wasn’t taking much to produce sticker shock as a natural reaction. I elected to wait.

Back to January’s cold snap. I notice that the furnace is cycling on every five minutes. My formerly mentioned rudimentary knowledge tells me this isn’t normal – even when it’s 23 degrees outside. With an hour to kill between noticing the problem and being able to speak to a live person about it, I sit and think. I think about how the furnace won our little game of  chance and whether or not the issue is the one the tech spoke of a month ago. If not, will it be something worse – more expensive? Will the guy climb down from the attic with an “I told ya so” look/attitude/smirk on his face and bill in his hand? And then my mind went somewhere entirely different.  That’s when I noticed something else. Something I hadn’t given any thought – R-value. And immediately we’re back to “resistance”.

As cold as it was outside, and with the heater not working properly, I started thinking about what was keeping the house warm because it wasn’t cold inside. I went to the thermostat to confirm it – heater set to 68, room temp. also 68.

Second thoughts about the call made to service company – maybe the furnace was working properly.

Second check of air at register – nope, air is lukewarm as best.

So what’s keeping this place warm? R-value. The insulation in the walls with its “thermal resistance” is doing what it was designed to do. It is being the barrier it was created to be. An hour earlier it was not on my radar, but suddenly it’s an important component of the structure around me.


A few hours go by. The HVAC tech comes through with the repair, the furnace was back to good and everyone involved on with their regularly scheduled program. But I kept thinking about the insulation and its importance. I thought about it for days.

I don’t know the exact R-value of the stuff in my house’s walls. I’ve never met the people who installed it. I’m not certain that the job it did that morning was ordinary or extraordinary compared to other types of insulation.

I do know my wife and I consciously and purposefully bought a house which has insulation. I do know that it was a feature touted by the builder. I do know that it worked as designed.

To me, the idea behind insulation – the R-vaule was and is a perfectly transferable application. My house uses it to resist drastic changes in temperature. At its least, it keeps the place comfy and at most, keep us alive. It’s there on purpose. It didn’t just happen on its own – it was installed for the exact purpose of being a barrier.

As I’ve thought on this, I’ve wondered about less tangible, but more important types of insulation and their R-value. What’s my financial R-value? What about personal safety, or the R-vaule of what I teach my kids and it’s ability to keep them from danger and wrong choice? Of what quality are the barriers I have installed between myself and quandary and where am I missing some needed insulation from elements which may attack?

Maybe the analogy is corny, or maybe it’s brilliant. I’m not sure, nor do I care because it served a purpose in forcing personal assessment – an inspection of the premises to see if it’s up to code. Some areas have passed with varying degrees of “sufficiency”, others need to be bolstered.

Oh, and regarding the service tech, not a single “told ya so”.

Image credits:  Shutterstock.com, Green Fiber

About Rob

robrights.com...where Rob writes and sometimes "rights the write" of other writers. View all posts by Rob

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