Saturday, January 31, 2009


It has been rather cool here the past few days and I thought I would add the following story about heating in the house where I grew up.

The first house that I remember living in was small. It had two bedrooms and a bathroom on one side of the house, a living room across the front of the house, a dining room and a small kitchen on the back side of our house with space for our kitchen table. Our square-shaped house was heated with a floor furnace in the middle of the house between the living room and dining room. The floor furnace had a gas heater down below the metal grate that covered the hole in the floor of the house. I am not sure of the size of the metal grate but I am guessing it was about three by five feet.

Each fall Daddy took the grate off the furnace and checked to see if any toys or small objects had fallen through the grate during the warm summer months. Then Mother used the attachments on the vacuum cleaner to clean out the dust bunnies that had accumulated since the furnace was used the past winter. Finally, Daddy unbent a coat hanger and attached a match to fire up the pilot light of the furnace. This was quite an ordeal and usually required lots of patience on the part of my dad—especially with the three of us children dancing all around the open hole in our floor. At times when the pilot light did not stay lit, Daddy had to call a repairman to come out and remove the whole furnace from the hole in the floor and take it outside on the front sidewalk to work on it.

When the furnace was finally lit, it created a great deal of heat in the center of the house, and the grate was hot enough to burn the bare skin. Talk about danger! I knew enough to stay away from the grate with my bare feet but I often walked across it with my leather-soled oxfords and felt the heat through my shoes. If I stood on the grate long enough I was able to burn a copy of the grate on the bottom of my shoes. I thought that was interesting. I often straddled the grate and let the hot air blow up my skirt until it became too hot to stand there any longer. Mother sometimes put a wooden clothes-drying rack over the floor furnace and dried clothes that she washed out by hand since we did not have a washer or dryer all the years we lived in that house.

For supplemental heat on very cold days, Mother often turned on the oven and left the door ajar to warm the kitchen. We also had a gas space heater in our bathroom wall by the toilet and a standing space heater in the fake fireplace in our living room. The space heater in the bathroom was wonderful because it heated the whole room when the door was closed.

The standing space heater in the living room was only good enough to warm one side of my body at a time. On cold mornings Mother let us dress in front of the living room space heater. I started by facing it for a while until my face and cheeks began to burn with the heat. Then I turned around and absorbed the heat until my back was nice and toasty. It took several turns to stay warm during my dressing process.


  1. Pat, when I was a kid, we only had heat in the kitchen (wood stove) and a space heater for the other rooms. We spent most of our winter days around the wood stove. I always promised myself that when I grew up, I would have a warm house.

  2. We had a coal furnance and those huge grates in the floor too! I loved it when the heat came up through them! I wonder if my dad checked for toys too???

  3. We had a coal furnance and those huge grates in the floor too! I loved it when the heat came up through them! I wonder if my dad checked for toys too???

  4. It was interesting that in my writing group two different people wrote about floor furnaces—maybe more prevalent in this area—and several wrote about wood stoves and gas heaters. We decided that those were NOT the good ole days! We like our central heat much better!