Winter has arrived and we are all heating our homes once again.
With all of the talk of how plentiful natural gas is, we should have favorable heating expenses for the winter. The fuel oil folks, whose price is linked more closely to the price of crude oil, may not fare as well.
It’s interesting to see how home heating methods have evolved over the years, with some of the old methods coming back in favor. When I was a child, our house had a gravity-fed fuel oil furnace without a blower motor.
The house, built in the early 1900s, had grates in the ceiling on the ground floor for the warm air to rise to the second story, but we truly never were warm upstairs. We used lots of blankets to keep warm and would come downstairs and stand on the large grate directly above the furnace for as long as we could stand it to get warm in the chilly mornings.
Occasionally, the fuel oil in the barrel located next to the house would run out. A telephone call to the tank wagon man, usually affiliated with the local gas station, would be made. Thankfully, these stout and friendly souls would venture out in any weather and make sure that we got the fuel we needed.
Lighting the furnace, to us kids, was a grand adventure. First, the heavy grate would be pried open and leaned back. Then, the lid on the burning chamber, much like an old wood burning stove, would be pried off. The “tool” to be used in this exercise was a butter knife. “Can’t do the job without the right tools,” my father, the Chief, would always say, just before using a butter knife for everything from a pry bar to a screwdriver.
But I digress...
After the lid was lifted, a lever would be turned to regulate the flow of fuel oil. We would watch in anticipation of the arrival of the thick, black substance. As soon as it entered the burn chamber, a tissue would be lit with a wooden kitchen match and the flaming tissue would be dropped, igniting the fuel oil.
As a kid, it was an awesome sight to behold. My father and mother were mostly relieved that we would stay warm.
Eventually, the furnace was replaced with a forced air natural gas furnace and a thermostat, something that had never existed in our home. For the rest of their lives, my mother and father fought over that thermostat. One would turn it up, the other would turn it down.
The first home I owned had a fuel oil furnace, a huge cast iron behemoth that was converted from burning coal. I always liked the “heavy” heat of fuel oil, but soon realized that the furnace would need to be replaced. There was a single person in town that could repair the old cast iron monster, and he was not a young man. So, we put in a high efficiency propane furnace AND central air conditioning. It was wonderful!
Now we have a natural gas furnace. Hopefully, it lasts for many years, but I have my doubts. Things don’t seem to last as long as those old cast iron fuel oil furnaces.
And I still remember the heavy warmth and strange smell.
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