The bad news is my furnace is indeed kaput. Like the inexplicably popular mean girl in high school, it's pretty on the outside but rotten on the inside. It's a long story, which begins many years ago when the thing was first installed. Badly, it seems. Apparently, you can install a furnace in such a way as to slightly impede the flow of air through the hot bits so that they actually end up being a bit too hot. Huh. What a thing. Turns out, getting too hot on a regular basis is bad for the hot bits. They could crack. And cracked hot bits are bad.
I suppose the best way to consider it is that I'm lucky I found out before carbon monoxide eventually started spewing out and killing me slowly. Reminds me of the time when a couple I knew were feeling sick and tired and headachey for a few days, thinking they were both getting the flu. Then their cockatiel keeled over and they realized it was carbon monoxide. (The bird survived. They took it to the hospital with them and the nurses set up a little oxygen tent for it in a closet.)
Funny thing is, the cracked bits weren't what had made my furnace not work. That was a burned out air-induction motor. (Or something like that. I don't know. I only just learned about furnace innards, so my lingo may be off somewhat.) But the technician guy started saying "this isn't right ... that way this is installed ... the air can't be moving correctly through this thing ..." and whatnot, until he finally said "I need to look at that heat exchange unit because if you're going to spend $400 or so on a motor, I want to be sure the furnace is worth it."
I started thinking "No! Looking for trouble is bad! See no evil! Don't go in there! Oh nooooooooo!" But I just stood there ... well, crouched there because it was the crawly part of the basement ... and felt the dread growing.
Anyway, blah blah blah, lots of anguish and advice and estimates later, I'm getting a new furnace on Friday. And I'll qualify for federal tax credits for being so dang energy-efficient, too. And PSNC will give me a $100 credit on my gas bill, which will presumably be a little lower because of all the efficiency that will be going on around here. And I will use less energy or create less pollution or both or whatever, officially making me a Better Person. Yay me.