Staying Warm And Toasty During Winter

This past week provided a respite from the cold and snow that we received prior to Christmas and right afterward. It felt good to walk outside without a coat when I took my dog out for her evening constitutional. Of course, more snow and cold temperatures are in the forecast so we cannot get used to nice weather yet.

That got me to thinking about how I keep warm. Years ago we installed a gas furnace that uses propane. It works very well. I continue to update it with service scheduled prior to the start of cold weather when needed. I also change the filters periodically to make it function more efficiently. I also added a small propane burning fireplace. Even if the electric goes out the fireplace will run. However, the fan will not circulate the warm air. I can deal with that because there are pocket doors between my living room and dining room. I just close the doors and stay warm and toasty.

Life was not always this easy. When I was growing up we had a metal monstrosity in the basement that provided the heat. It seemed like it was 10 feet high and wider than I could measure, but it fascinated me. It took up about 1/6 of the basement. I was not allowed to tend it, but I knew that a coal fire burned in the front chamber and you removed ashes from the back side. Other than that all I knew was that warm air came up through the cast iron registers in our living room. I stood on those registers to warm up after an afternoon in the snow. It also kept the basement warm so we could dry our clothes on the clothesline that hung there during the winter months.

Finally, I was allowed to put water into the hopper in the back. Then, I was allowed to remove a bucket of ashes. It was not nearly as much fun as it looked when my grandpa did it.

When I moved to the farm I found more metal monstrosities. The farm house where my in-laws lived had a coal furnace. I remember my mother-in-law telling a story of frugality. Her husband ordered a load of soft coal to save money one year. When they delivered it, the coal went down a chute to the basement. As it went down, coal dust came up. By the time the delivery was finished there was coal dust everywhere. Even my mother-in-law did not escape. When the man came to the door with the bill he saw a woman with a very black face – only her eyes sparkled. I am sure they sparkled because at that point she was very angry.

She had a huge amount of cleaning to do. I am sure they could not have saved enough money to make it all worthwhile, but it was a favorite story that got passed on.

Hickory Heights also had a wood/coal burning furnace in the basement when we purchased it. We tested it and it worked so we were all set. Heat flowed upward to warm the house. Having dealt with a similar monstrosity, the installation of a new furnace was at the top of my list. Shortly after we moved in we installed an oil furnace. That worked well, but we replaced the burner twice before we eventually changed to gas.

The year that we moved up here, we came in the fall so the furnace was not needed at that point. The Home Comfort stove that was the focal point of the kitchen did a good job of keeping the main floor warm in the milder weather. I had never run a wood stove of any kind, but I knew that I had to learn for self-defense. It was a challenge, but it cooked our food and kept us warm. I even baked the children’s birthday cupcakes as well as Thanksgiving dinner. We had a new furnace before Christmas.

The one thing I really liked about the old furnace was the heavy registers. You did not have to worry about them bending when you stood on them. When we replaced the furnace we did not change the registers. The children fought over them as they stood on them to dress each morning for school. We eventually set up a schedule – one child got a whole week, then the other one got the register the next week. Of course, sometimes they had to fight with their dad to get out of the way.

This house was not unique. All of the old farmhouses on this road had wood/coal furnaces until they modernized. We just did what was expected of us. We used what was in place and updated things as we moved along. Young people are not willing to do that today. They want everything fixed – right now. They do not want to experience any inconvenience.

As I watch episodes on HGTV I am amazed at the wish lists of some of the people featured. I would not have dreamed of asking for that much all at once. We were careful with our money because we did not have much. We did not mortgage our future to have luxury. We fixed things as the money was available. We paid for things as we did them. We also rolled up our sleeves and worked to make our home better. I do not care what kind of home you purchase; if you are a homeowner there are bound to be repairs.

My husband did not know how to do everything himself, but he learned alongside of his dad. When we could not find someone to plaster over the old lathe in the kitchen, they undertook the job themselves.

I do not regret doing things the way we did them. We not only survived; we learned how to do many things in the process. During this time my son and daughter watched all of the repairs. When it was their turn they did not run away from remodeling, they embraced it as a way of life.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.