Monday, November 15, 2010

Home Heating Miracle

Ever think back about how home heating has improved over the years? I did this morning as I opened my eyes and stepped out of bed to a warm home without having to go down to the basement and stoke the furnace. Everything is on automatic today whereas in my childhood it took considerable time and effort to heat the house. We heated our home in 1940’s and 50’s with a coal burning furnace – a huge monster sitting in the middle of our basement with 30 foot 5 inch galvanized arms going out in all directions to each of the registers – looked like a giant octopus! There was little room for anything else in our basement because the furnace took up all of the available space. This setup was pretty modern compared to many of our neighbors who had wood burning furnaces that required a lot more work to be comfortable in the winter.

The fuel for our furnace was coal. It was delivered once or twice each winter to our driveway by a huge dump truck – Guess everything when I was young seemed huge. My job was to shovel each truck full of coal into our coal room next to the furnace. What a job! Not only was there a lot of coal in every truck load but it was dirty!

Stoking the furnace was also dirty job – seems a wonder to me that I didn’t contract black lung disease or the like. We had to shake down all of the burnt embers and ashes to the bottom reservoir. The fresh coal was shoveled from the coal room into a feeder box on the side of the furnace. Most houses had a furnace that had to have someone shovel coal in a door in the front every few hours or so. Not ours – it had an automatic feeder. Somehow it knew when to add more and it magically dumped more in the main chamber.

Another job I was assigned was to shovel out the ashes from the bottom of this monster. I’d shovel it into “ash cans” the size of today’s garbage cans which I struggled to the front curb on garbage day each week.
Another neat feature was the thermostat on ours was a series of chains hooked to a thermometer. When the temperature hit a certain minimum set point, it pulled a chain which in turn pulled on several other chains which caused more coal to be fed to the furnace and louvers to be opened allowing the gravity fed hot air to be dispersed into the rooms. We were fortunate because my Grandpa Ralph was an engineer who designed these automatic features into the heating system. Most people did not have much of this and therefor had more to do to get the house warm in the mornings.

We eventually graduated to natural gas fed furnaces and then to forced air propane hot water in floor heating that we have in our country home today. In fact we just upgraded to geothermal system for both heating and cooling. All of the heat is extracted from the water circulating through tubes under the ground that is pumped through the heat pump in our basement. This heat pump occupies a 4 foot by 3 foot by 4 foot area in our basement. It sounds much like a dehumidifier - super quiet! . This small unit heats the water that flows through tubing buried in the floors in 4 different zones on the first floor, second floor, basement and garage – each separately thermostatically controlled. The heat pump is quiet, clean, 40% as costly to operate as the propane boiler that it replaced and has a dramatically smaller carbon footprint to boot. This same heat pump heats our tap water to 135 degrees, heats our hot tub and cools the water to 42 degrees for air conditioner in the Spring and Summer.

When I stepped out of bed this morning it was to a warm floor heated with geothermally heated water. What a change over the “good old days” with no smoke billowing out the chimney, no coal dust in the basement no ashes to put out to the garbage trucks – just warmth, comfort and quiet.

Good to be living in the 21st century!

Here is wishing you a wonderful, productive week!

Ralph Taylor Guest Blogger for Ed Winkle

Ed and his wife LuAnn are in Middle Europe on a much deserved cruise vacation. He’ll be back in the saddle sometime next week before Thanksgiving.


  1. The new heat pump should really cut down on the wood we burn this winter. The geo thermal should be great after all this stored up heat in the earth. Saw we are 12 inches below normal rainfall and they spoke of fires in the News Journal. The Melk Abbey was beyond words.

  2. Wow! The Melk Abbey is awesome - for sure! Let me know what you would like your readers to see from trip. I'll be glad to post it.