Remember when…

I live in an old house. I guess that’s pretty clear by now if you have been following along. Old houses are not the pillars of efficiency when it comes to staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The work we have done on our place over the years has helped, with many newer windows and some fresh insulation but there’s plenty more that could be done on “the list”  some of which may or may not ever be completed.

Our old house is heated with oil and if you’ve ever purchased a tank full of heating oil, you know it can be very expensive. Not that the other common heating fuels around these parts, natural gas and propane, are much better, but heating oil tends to be on the higher end. But I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of oil vs. other heating fuels. In fact, I have this sort of “old house romance” with the idea of these heating oil guys that have been servicing this old house for decades (no, let’s get this straight… not with the actual guys… just the idea of the same company servicing this place for so long). The day we moved in, we found a nice note on the kitchen counter from the oil company, saying something to the effect of, “we have serviced this house since 19–, here’s our phone number.”  Of course, sitting next to the note was the obligatory oil-company promotional calendar with a different scenic nature photograph displayed for each month.  Sure, they were protecting their business, and the calendar reminded me of the stuff we used to see lying around my grandmother’s old house before she passed away.  But it was good customer service, and now it’s become part of the history here and I like that, even though it may not be the least expensive way to stay warm.

Let’s just say, in the winter, we burn a lot of oil. In our basement, there is a big old boiler (circa 1950’s or 60’s we think) that burns the oil and heats up the water, and industrial looking pumps that move the hot water through old cast iron radiators dispersed throughout the house. Upon my first viewing of this boiler it was a frightening octopus of a monstrosity that sits in the middle of our basement, and a beast that I feared I would never understand. But I’ve since learned to work with it, understand its operation, and enjoy it as one of the quirky remnants of folks that have lived here as caretakers before us.  When servicing time comes around there is an old-timer that we call, an oil-soaked guy with black fingernails and the permanent stench of petroleum on his clothes who comes in and does the yearly maintenance. You can tell he enjoys working on it, a past relic from his generation and not one of these new-fangled, super-efficient pieces of machinery that are in most homes these days.  In 16 years, the old boiler has never failed us (knock-on-wood)…

Each room of the house has a cast iron radiator sitting in a corner or up against one of the walls. I love old radiators!  Ours aren’t particularly ornamental, but they are quite functional and now that I have lived with them for some time, I am not sure I could ever live in a house that doesn’t have them.  Many people find them burdensome, space wasters, but not me. I appreciate their durability, I adore their architecture and I especially enjoy the heat that they provide.  During the cold, wet winter months, the radiator in our kitchen has a perpetual stack of hats and gloves and mittens stacked on top drying out for the next day’s use, and piles of boots laying on the floor in front, with muddy, melting snow dripping off the treads. Radiators, though, are a complex species and getting them all to heat at a consistent proper temperature seems to be an impossible task of adjusting and readjusting the amount of water flowing through their pipes and each winter, after they have been closed down for the warmer months, the process begins again. Although we manage to keep the lower floor rooms at a mostly comfortable 65-67 degree temperature in the winter, the upstairs, where the bedrooms are, tends to always be cold.  To get the upstairs radiators to really fire up and stay consistently warm means the downstairs is too hot and with the cost of oil through the roof, we choose not to burn it excessively.  So the bedrooms can be a tad cold, but folks always say, its good for sleeping when the air is cool.  Our motto here… if you’re cold, put on a sweatshirt or wrap up in a blanket!

The other night the Midwest and a good portion of the US, was socked with a major winter storm that brought blizzard conditions and significant snowfall.  Our area received somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-16 inches of snow and schools were closed for two days, while the plows dug everyone out.  During the first evening, when the snow began to fall and the winds started whipping up, our power was knocked out, leaving us in the dark with no electricity and no water as our house is served by a well. In typical pioneer spirit we fired up the wood stove, lit some candles and prepared for what we thought would be a night without lights, without television, without video games, and a night spent sleeping around the warmth of the fire in the stove.  Thankfully our power was restored after only about an hour or two, but when we went upstairs for bed that evening, knowing we would all be home, snowed-in the next day, our son’s room was very cold from the heat being off for even just that short time.  We got him and his sister into bed, warm jammies on, and covered in their huge piles of blankets.  My wife and I then went to bed and as we were sitting their chatting before the lights went off, she laughingly said to me, “do you think they’ll remember it, when they’re older, how it was always cold upstairs?” “They’ll say to their friends or their own kids, remember when Mom and Dad were too cheap and never wanted to use the heat so we had to have piles and piles of blankets on our beds to keep warm.”  Thinking back to the obscure things that I remember from my childhood, it made me chuckle and I said that yes, I was sure they would remember it!

I thought about that brief moment the next morning, and although it was just a passing comment during a bedtime conversation, it struck me as one of the first times she and I were talking about a time, which in reality is just around the corner, when the kids will be grown up and moved out and on their own.  Do we still have several years with them around?  Yeah, sure, but those years are passing so quickly, and at least in my daughters case, being thirteen and off to college in just over five years, it’s closer than I can really comprehend. That’s an emotion that I can’t quite grasp my hands around, spending all these years, raising our children to be adults, proudly following their every move and then one day sending them out into the world to spread their wings and be out on their own.  It’s a time that I look forward to with proud anticipation and a time that I am hesitant to think about and that brings tears to my eyes.

For now, I can’t really contemplate those days.  There are too many important milestones to savor in the present.  In the meantime, I am happy that they still want me to tuck them in at night, in their cold rooms and under their piles of blankets.


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14 responses to “Remember when…

  1. Have never heard of oil burning stoves. Wish I had a basement though. There are alot of “old” houses towards downtown that have them, but our house was new. We found it in 08 about 70% complete so we got to pick out everything but the kitchen cabinets that it was built with..kinda “our own creation” & I love it…but I do like the old ones too. My last house that I had by myself before I met my wife was old…built in 1950, but it was way too small for a family!

  2. Sorry Jason, maybe I wasn’t clear enough… the stove is a wood burner, the boiler downstairs burns oil. The woodstove has saved our ass a few times when the power was out as it can get the room its in stoked up to 80-85 degrees. Its funny to think of homes without basements, I know a lot don’t have them down south. Almost every house in the north has them, unless its a modular home built on a cement slab. Ours isn’t very functional… its what they call a Michigan basement, built out of stones. Very small and not a lot of useful space.

  3. “For now, I can’t really contemplate those days. There are too many important milestones to savor in the present. ”
    The world needs more dad’s like you 🙂

  4. I heat my whole house with my wood stove, it is such a great heat, my house is older too, but with a new furnace that I hate using 🙂 Great post, thanks for the smile.

    • We love our stove too. It doesn’t heat the whole house but great for the room that it sits in. Haven’t figured out a good way to move the heat throughout the other rooms. Actually, what happens when we are burning it, because there is a thermostat in that room, the boiler shuts off so the rest of the house is freezing!

  5. Your upstairs sounds like our winter!
    I walk around with two pairs of stockings on, under pants…. and boots! At night i can not get warm enough- often wear pj’s and a gown to bed, of course socks. OUR cold CANNOT possibly be compared to your cold. BUT our homes are not catered for cold at all. The newer more modern houses have underfloor heating which makes a difference, but that is not any of the homes i have lived in.
    And yes- i remember so many moments growing up…. like asking my mom if i could have a glass of milk, and her actually saying no. Those moments stick.
    So nice to have you back in the blogging world.

  6. How cold does it get during the winter there? It’s about 8 degrees here today (farenheit), with windchills putting in at about 10 below. COLD, COLD, COLD! Probably not as bad as it gets in Edmonton though!! Glad to be back!

    • I work in celsius….. Not farenheit- so not sure. You can do conversion…. Probably around 1-10. Compared to you, I am sure it is summer. We just not catered at all for it….. So even friends ffrom switzerland say that it literally eats to your bones.

      • That’s still chilly if you’re used to it being warm most of the time. 1-10 C is about 32-50 degrees Farenheit (32 is freezing). The 8 degrees F that it is here today is somewhere in the neighborhood of -15 C, I think.

  7. I used to live in Rochester, NY in a 150-year old house and we had that same kind of heat through a big oil burning contraption in the basement!!And I remember the radiators in every room.

    I think I’ve been cold ever since. Although it did make me appreciate a good fire in the fireplace. 😉 Stay warm!

  8. bblog45

    Have your furnace heat the water and just use the Boiler as a holding tank, works well, cuts the cost of heating hotwater by an enormous amount. Very nice blog by the way.

  9. I grew up in a 100 plus year-old house. We had those real old radiators. As kids, we loved to sit on them after playing outside in the snow. Or we’d lay our mittens and hats on them to melt. My room was upstairs next to the attic. I do remember how cold and drafty it was in the winter, but as a kid, I never semed to notice. Fond memories. Wish I still lived in that house now!

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