An unexpected application of the First Law of Thermodynamics


This past winter, my furnace failed catastrophically. (The furnace repair person told me that when furnaces fail, it tends to be catastrophic failure.) It was a few days before everything was back in order, and the very day everything was working again, the furnace belonging to one of my relatives stopped working.

This was an application of the First Law of Thermodynamics with which I had previously been unfamiliar.

Fortunately, the repair on the second furnace was very simple and was done in just a few hours.

After I informed my friends of my discovery of this law of the universe, one of them wrote, "Our furnace broke on Sunday. I can't help but feel like you're kind of responsible."

Comments (24)
  1. Nathan_works says:

    Blame the second law.. Say they were doing their part to increase entropy..

  2. So let me guess .. the furnace wasn’t heating your home properly, and all that heating energy had to go (or stay) somewhere … your furnace overheated.

    Now let me figure out your neighbor’s reasoning that you are responsible .. this is probably due to the laws of quantum physics, which state that things do not really exist until they are observed. So, by observing the first law of thermodynamics, you caused it to resolve to the quantum state where it exists in its form where it can destroy furnaces .. so you ARE responsible for destroying your neighbor’s furnace!

  3. I was just kidding … we all know that quantum physics wasn’t responsible … by fixing your furnace you made the furnace hobglobin have to go out and find a new home .. that’s why your neighbor’s furnace failed.

  4. Aaargh! says:

    > It was a few days before everything was back in order, and the very day everything was working again

    What kind of furnace do you have ? Must be something different from the onces we use over here (.nl) AFAIK modern furnaces here have very few parts all of which are easily replaced. Worst-case, the whole thing needs replacing which shouldn’t take too long either.

    [The replacement part was nearly 1/3 the cost of the entire furnace, which was itself over 3 years past its planned lifetime. (The furnace repair person pointed out another expensive part that looked like it had about ten months of life left in it.) The time was spent shopping for a new furnace and waiting for its installation date. -Raymond]
  5. Me says:

    Ray got taken by that repairman:)  The same way I charg folks 100/hr to defrag their hard disk.

  6. Joshua Muskovitz says:

    In our house, there is a conservation of total functioning lightbulbs, but only when I am present. Regardless of how long I wait to change a bulb, within 24 hours of changing it, another will burn out.

    The strangeness of the law is that if I go out of town (but my family stays home), no bulbs will burn out until I return.

    Apparently they love me, but in a cloying, stalkeresque way. (The bulbs, not my family.)

  7. Bob says:

    You kill lightbulbs merely by being there. That explains why your family doesn’t love you.   :)

  8. Brian says:

    My parents’ restaurant is just the opposite from your lightbulb’s antics.  Every time they leave on vacation (no matter how long it’s been since their last one – one, two, three years) – a freezer or refrigerator goes out.

    I hate it when they go on vacation.

  9. MadQ says:

    @Aaargh!: I’m guessing that Raymond has an HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning.) These things force hot (or cold) air to be blown out of vents in the floor of each room. I’ve never seen such a setup in either NL (I’m Dutch, btw) or Germany. In Europe most houses have radiators in every room for heating, and they’re SOL on A/C.

  10. Jonathan says:

    …when furnaces fail, it tends to be catastrophic failure.

    It’s because they don’t do proper error code propagation, and just return E_UNEXPECTED (which resolves to "Catastrophic failure").

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  11. Cheong says:

    configurator: I have the same problem.

    Whenever I buy a new computer to replace my working one, the old one stop working within 3 days to a week. Buying new computers to other family members doesn’t invoke this phenomenon.

    This is kind of strange…

  12. Worf says:

    @porter Perhaps he bought the computer online, and when it ships to him, his old computer dies?

    I know Dell takes a week from when they ship it to when I get it.

  13. configurator says:

    Hmm. Whenever I buy a computer the previous one stops working *completely* a few days before I get it… CPUs burn, power units fail, etc.

    I once brought home an old machine to act as a Linux server – to learn Linux and for backups. While I installed it, my Windows machine bluescreened because my hard drive had died (yes, before I had the actual backup). A week later I had finally got a new hard drive and started installing windows, and there was a power surge. No electrical equipment in the house was damaged, besides the motherboard of my linux server…

    I never thought about it like that, actually. Perhaps every man has his computer-count-limit and mine is unfortunately one.

  14. Big_Stew says:

    You have a furnace?

    Are you smetling iron ore, or making glass?

    In the UK, we have condensing boilers.

  15. porter says:

    >> Whenever I buy a computer the previous one stops working *completely* a few days before I get it…

    I’m trying to understand the sequence in time here, (a) buy computer (b) go back in time and previous computer stops.

    The important window of opportunity with the old machine is just before you buy the new machine, because as as soon as you have bought the new one then the old one will have been dead for some time….?

  16. danmeland says:

    Maybe move closer to the sun??

    Just a thought….

  17. Josh says:

    @danmeland: Ah, but if he moves into a hot area, he eventually has to use AC.  And the thermodynamic efficiency of AC for cooling is less than that of a heat pump or furnace for heating.  He’s optimizing his life for lower overall energy costs.

  18. In the US, we the common usage of the word furnace is for any large device that lives in a basement, burns some sort of fossil fuel, and distributes heated air, water or steam to the rest of the house.

    Proper usage of the word furnace is for these devices which heat air and re distribute it. The word boiler is reserved for those devices which heat water or steam then redistribute it.

  19. steveshe says:

    In most areas of Texas we don’t have basements, our furnaces use either natural gas, propane or electricity, they live in the attic and double as the forced air generation point for A/C :)

  20. mike says:

    Researchers have discovered a high correlation between the appearance of a furnace repair person (for any reason, including periodic maintenance) and an emergency furnace replacement. What happens is that a repairman shows up and wields a mysterious "CO meter," which then detects evidence of a (invisible, odorless) "CO leak" which the homeowner is assured (warned, panicked about) is fantastically dangerous and for which the ONLY  fix is an immediate and complete furnace replacement. Fortunately, we can do that today. That will be $7000, please.

  21. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    When I bought my house, the furnace was already pretty old (though it had a control board with some IC on it, most likely a timer).

    After a while, the blower mptpr would not turn off; its control relay would not disconnect.

    After some fidgeting with the board I found that the DC VCC voltage after a rectifier was much lower than it should be from the input voltage. I guessed that an electrolythic capacitor dried up of old age. Went to Fry’s and got a new one. All works now. A repairman would just have replaced the board and charged like a thousand dollars. Or replaced the whole thing. It helps to have EE MS diploma.

  22. Nick says:

    You could have saved money by waiting a few hundred years.  Once our planet’s population reaches a hundred billion or so we shouldn’t have a need for furnaces any more.

    Of course, sometime after that we’ll need to come up with a way to move the planet further from the Sun, but that’ll be somebody else’s problem.

  23. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    Not a problem. A series of sufficiently powerful nuclear explosions should do the trick. You might want some astrophysicists to do the actual math, but a couple of thousand of them, placed around the planet on the equator, and each detonated at about 6PM local solar time on the equinox should it. Speed up the orbit, we move slightly further away from the sun.

    There might be a few side effects, but they’ll be somebody else’s problem.

  24. Прошлой зимой моя печь катастрофически отказала. (Мастер по ремонту печей сказал мне, что, когда печи

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