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The Day the Gas Company Called



If you live below the Yellow River in China, you are quite familiar with these: the air conditioner. Yet, Chinese air conditioners aren’t single-purpose as they are in the States. Rather, they have a heating function, which allows us to use copious amounts of electricity in the attempt to heat the concrete shells called “apartments” that we live in.

During our first couple of winters, we ran the air conditioner in an effort to keep the apartment temperature above 50F.  It was just Sandra and I back then so we could shut the bedroom door, turn on the air conditioner, get under our electric blanket and basically live in one room from December through March.



Just after Schäfer was born, we had a good friend bring over a ventless natural gas heater. The first day I had it hooked in and turned on, was were astounded. The apartment actually got above 60F!  Better still was that natural gas was so much cheaper than electricity.

But then the walls started weeping. Really dripping…

Our Yichang apartment was so well sealed that the moisture put out by the natural gas combustion had nowhere to go. We were forced to use the heater in conjunction with the air conditioner (as a dehumidifier). Not exactly the most efficient situation.

When we returned from birthing Selah this past winter, I hooked the heater up for the first time in our new apartment. Incredible.

We had enough ventilation that the walls didn’t drip. We still had to wear our layers inside, but we couldn’t see our breath.

Two weeks later the gas company called.

Them: “We need to come over to inspect your apartment. We think you have a serious gas leak.”
Me: “No, we just have a gas heater.”
Them: “Do you have permission to use that heater?”
Me: “We need permission?”

Thus began several days of phone calls and visitations from technicians coming over to inspect our oddity of a heater, etc. Finally, they said that we might need to have a third line installed and a new meter put in that could handle the heavy usage. It would probably cost RMB3000 ($456.96).

Now, I have nothing to complain about. My friend’s north of the Yellow River easily spend that in a year for their public heating utility. (Though their heating is much warmer and more efficient than our little gas heater.)

However, I would prefer not to pay RMB3000. Our conversation ended with the a tentative date for a supervisor to come make the final inspection and decision.

The weather warmed up.

The heater was stored away.

The supervisor has not come. We are seven days away from moving apartments.

I may have to go through another round of calls from the gas company next year.

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