The climate control tug of war


Oh sure, there are already human gerbil balls. But do they have thermostats?

It’s mid-May in Kansas, which means it’s central air time. After watching my electric bill climb every month last winter (did I mention Grandma keeps the basement hot enough for Bikram yoga?), I hoped for a springtime reprieve. The heat was still on earlier this month, but just weeks later it’s already hot and muggy and miserable. So it’s time to flip the cold air switch.

It also means another round of climate control fights with Grandma.

Last summer we had a new central air system installed by a company that had done other HVAC work for us. I was confident they would do a good job.

Unfortunately, once the new system was in the upstairs thermostat continued to hover around the mid-70s. I called the company to explain the temperature wasn’t reaching my setting, and they came out to investigate. While the technician was there, he muttered something about redirecting the air at Grandma’s insistence. When he left I point-blank asked her if she’d talked to him. She denied it. I didn’t think much more about it at the time.

A few weeks went by, and the house was still uncomfortably hot. I called the service company again; this time they sent the owner. He walked through the house with me, pointing out leaky windows and closed vents. I acknowledged the problems, but noted they didn’t seem to matter before. He locked windows to seal in more air and tweaked the system again. Surely this time we’d notice a difference.

The next day the house was still hot. I took a picture of the thermostat’s digital readout with my phone and dialed the owner’s direct number, ready to go into high-gear complaint mode. When he answered, I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of events since the new, expensive system was installed and told him I wasn’t happy. Then he explained what was really going on.

Each time I called the company out to fix the system, Grandma had called the next day, telling them to switch things back. When the owner explained he’d have to charge me for what would be their sixth trip to the house, I was livid. Grandma lied to my face about talking to the servicemen, and I looked like an idiot for making these poor guys try to please two people with very different ideas of the ideal temperature.

I apologized and asked the owner to let me know before they made any more modifications. Then I confronted Grandma with her lies. She flat out repeated her denial, stomping her foot as she proclaimed her innocence. I forbid her from contacting the company again. When I added that even if she did they were under strict orders to contact me before making any more service calls, I thought I’d made my point.

The next day at work I received a call from the owner. “We’ve added a note to your file to call you before doing any work,” he assured me, “but I thought you should know your Grandma called us again. She told the salesperson that someone was impersonating her. She was quite angry.”

What could I do but apologize again?

The owner generously suggested one more improvement that might help us reach a truce, so I agreed to the charges and told him to go ahead. There were no more calls — from the company or Grandma. I’d won the fight, but never the battle.

Last night I noticed Grandma’s heater was on, warming the air just as fast as I paid to cool it. Just for good measure the window was open and the fan was on too. I pictured the electricity meter whirring so fast the numbers were blurred. “Jesus. I’m paying for hot and cold at the same time,” I said out loud.

“I’m cold,” Grandma complained.

“It’s 85 degrees outside!” I said. “Are you going to run your heater all summer?”

I didn’t wait for an answer. I’m resigned to ever higher electric bills until someone creates a heated human gerbil ball. Or an air-conditioned one for me. Either would do.


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