Leslie Salerno's furnace was "hanging on by a thread." The furnace heated the three-story frame home in Millvale she shares with her daughter and three grandchildren.
The furnace that once had warmed Warren Pleasants' two-story frame house in Penn Hills had "rusted through and was absolutely shot."
They now have new furnaces, thanks to the Heat for the Needy program sponsored by TUDI Mechanical Systems of McKees Rocks and Standard Air & Lite of Crafton.
"Now it's my turn to nominate someone for a new furnace," said Mrs. Salerno, 64, a secretary at the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at West Penn Hospital, Bloomfield. "Maybe your readers would like to nominate someone, too."
Maybe they would, during the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but they don't have much time. The deadline is Dec. 4.
Since 1999, TUDI and Standard Air have installed 110 heating systems valued at more than $500,000 at no cost to low-income individuals and families throughout the city and county.
Bob Tudi, chief executive officer of the company that bears his name, said the goal this winter is to install at least 13 new furnaces. TUDI and Standard Air employees donate their time. Local suppliers and vendors also contribute to the program.
Anyone can nominate an individual or a family who needs a new furnace but can't afford one. Each nomination is read, evaluated and ranked according to need. Personal visits are made to the homes of the top nominees to validate their level of need.
On Jan. 4, TUDI and Standard Air will notify the individuals and families who will receive new furnaces. They will be installed Jan. 22.
Mr. Tudi and Tom Blaney, vice president and product manager of Standard Air, said they have tried to move up those dates over the years, but they haven't been able to because fall and early winter are the busiest times of the year for heating companies, their employees and suppliers.
The installation of the new furnaces begins with a buffet breakfast at TUDI Mechanical for all employees and volunteers, continues with the installations and ends with a buffet dinner at TUDI's headquarters.
"Six men showed up and installed my new furnace in three hours," said Mr. Pleasants, 85, who drove a Yellow Cab for 40 years. "They were very nice and very thorough. I am so grateful because everything was done before we got all that snow last February.
"I still can't get over it," he added. "It has made a real difference in my life. It's like a miracle."
To nominate someone for the Heat for the Needy Program, send their name, address, telephone number and current form of heat in an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax it to 412-771-7737 or mail it to TUDI Mechanical Systems, c/o Heat for the Needy, 343 Munson Ave., McKees Rocks, PA. 15136.
Southwestern Pennsylvania has one of the oldest populations in the United States, and some older residents may have a tendency to forgo an annual furnace inspection because of the cost, usually less than $100.
If you're looking for a Christmas gift that will be much appreciated by older members of your family or a deserving neighbors, give them a gift certificate for a thorough furnace inspection.
If your heating contractor doesn't serve the area where your elderly relatives live, ask your furnace company for a referral, then check that company with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org; 412-456-2700) and the state attorney general's office (www.attorneygeneral.gov; 1-800-441-2555).
Lawrence Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and/or cell phone number(s). Due to volume, he cannot respond to every e-mail and phone call.