Sunday, January 19, 2020

Hotter than Dutch Love: Topical Floor and Toridheet

Its builders promised "Tropical Floor Heat". 
And it cranked that out and more.

Cookie had a bit of an unusual childhood.

While I grew up in Shaker, the older I became and the more tenuous my parent's marriage and divorces became, we started spending more time in Marion, Ohio.  It was never my mother's plan.  But it happened as her parents grew older and needed more care. By the age of eight, the time spent in Cleveland on any given weekend grew shorter, and the time spent in Marion became more frequent.  I wasn't complaining, I loved Marion because were always doing things, going places.

But then I saw this picture, above, today and I started thinking about the "heat" in the places I grew up in and how that heat played out.

Shaker Heights was all forced air and pure comfort. Until the first energy crisis hit and then my mother went into heavy conserve mode.  Drafts were the enemy and the furnace never went above 65 in the winter or 75 in the summer for the AC Unit.   Everyone was doing it - it was our duty to weather the crisis.  Things got really scary when there was a national rail strike in the 70s and the coal supplies at power plants became the number one concern.  Thank God a plumber had to pay a call to our house once and admonished my mother for turning the heat down to 55 at night.  "That's when you start causing problems that cost money and help send my kids to medical school," stated the plumber.

In Marion, we had forced air at my grandparent's house, but horrible ductwork.  So the furnace ran, but only the first floor got warm.

At the farm where my mother grew up, and my uncle lived on and my miserly grandfather owned (no penny went unaccounted for, no credit was sought, no loans were given) my aunt and uncle heated with a Siegler Oil Heater - almost exactly like the one in the picture above - a newer model than the one in the ad to the right.  The beast sat in the living room, partially blocking the door to the dining room, and had to have been five feet high by three wide and three feet deep, but it sat 18" from the wall.  It's outer skin was a "porcelainized steel jacket in mellow tones that harmonized with the smartest room decor."  The grate window on the door glowed orange through the screened over the window on the door showing the firebox and heat exchanger.   My cousins and I would park ourselves by the ducts, which cranked out the most delicious hot breeze.  The stove had to heat the whole first floor, and the house was built in 1914 - before the advent of insulation like any of us could imagine.  So the wind whipped through the walls, but that stove kept up with the best of them.  I am not sure how you control the heat on this model in the picture.  Theirs had a small dial on the front that operated the thermostat.

When I would try and describe the heating stove to kids in Shaker, they thought I was lying.  They couldn't comprehend that anyone lived like that.  I knew differently, and it was very cool.  But then again, they also called me a liar when I told them about the vacuum tube and brass cylinders that shuttled money and receipts between the service counters in the local department stores - Uhler Phillips Company and Frank Brothers - in downtown Marion. They also never got to see a litter spring piglets being born to the prize-winning Poland China sow that my grandfather kept, either.   Their loss, certainly not mine.

When Mom bought our house in Marion, it came with a new beast - a hot water boiler system that used "MODINE" convectors.  The idea behind the convector, which held the copper waterline and passed that pipe through a baffle of aluminum fins, was that it was a rectangle box, that reached up just until the bottom sill of the windows, and was about 8" deep.  The front had an open register at the bottom, a steel panel, and then at the top front was a door that you opened or closed to control the flow of heat.  Without all three in place, the system couldn't warm your hand let alone a room.  But when everything was installed properly, it was toasty warm.

The apartments in Columbus both had old coal fire furnaces, converted to gas and ran on a gravity system.  They were expensive and didn't work well. One was an old Iron Fireman unit with an inch thick blanket of asbestos sitting square on the top.

Our house in Columbus came with "THE NIaGRA", a monster of a coal furnace retrofitted with a gas unit, and a blower housing.  When THE NIaGRA (that's what the sign said on the front, and stated it was built in Cleveland, Ohio, by Forest City Enterprises - oh that of the Ratner Family) burner came on everyone knew it.  It sounded like a jet throttling down with a large CHUNK and a hiss.  After two years, it went away and was replaced by modern heating and cooling.

Toridheet: Hotter than Dutch Love
That brings us to Baltimore - a city with a long, long, long history with "rads" for heating.  They sayRAD-ee-aters" here, but they are RAY-de-ators to the Husband and myself.  Big miserable cast-iron beasts weighing hundreds of pounds and taking up valuable space in each room.  In the first house, they were all exposed - because a "boxed rad will lose 10% of its efficiency." 

The plumber assured us that the rads were more than ample for a 2,500 square foot house.  "You're well over the recommended capacity for a house like this." 

But that charming house was masonry walled and stuccoed over, making it like a kiln in the summer and meat locker in the winter.  And no matter how high you had the "ToridHeet" (A name that sounds more like a bodice ripper than a boiler conversion unit) cranked up, you had to have a coat on your back to keep from the cold that came off the walls, got under your skin and made your bones ache.  Even a new modern boiler didn't help.  We moved after two years of torture.

The current house has a more modern boiler, gas-fed, and it does an admirable job of heating the house, but no clever names or spellings.  It's Blue, and Named COLUMBIA. It is almost silent.  Same big ass radiators, but they are all boxed.  Contrary to popular demand, heat may rise in a room, but not in a house like this between floors.  So the first floor has two toasty public rooms and a freezing kitchen, and lukewarm bedrooms.  The good side of it is that it brings everyone up to speed quickly.  The downside is the $200 bill from the plumber who comes out every year to flush and rebalance the system.

It's funny what you think of, but looking back, a furnace simply wasn't something in the basement. In the case of that stove, it was in the living room with us while we played, while our parents played cards and something you never touched, or bumped into when you squeezed through the door to the dining room.  It was simply a fact of life.  When it worked, it was delightful.  When it didn't, baby it was cold inside, too.


  1. it's RAY-dee-ators to this philly girl. my parents house had a gas furnace in the basement, my condo had electric heat (fuck dat shit!), my current house has a gas furnace in the basement. winter and summer the furnace stays at 75F.

    HNY cookie and husband!

    1. Yeah, I just don't they whole "Rads" thingy. And I don't get Pit Beef. And I certainly don't get why this bleak municipality is called "The Charm City," either.

  2. Gosh - an encyclopedia of ancient domestic heating methods of the US of A...

    Over here, most houses historically had multiple open coal hearths, and in the more modern dwellings the water was heated in a boiler located behind the hearth. Sometimes this hot water was pumped around a series of radiators, sometimes not. It was only after the austerity years of the 1950s that many people began to get recognisable central heating systems - and even then, the boiler was still (as I remember) located behind the fire; which was eventually upgraded from coal-fired to gas (especially after the arrival of North Sea Gas in the 60s and 70s). None of this changed the fact that once the coal had died to embers, or the gas fire and radiators went off, everything was freezing cold again. Eiderdown counterpanes and multiple wool blankets were life's essentials. Jx

  3. I never really thought to appreciate the type of furnace I grew up with until reading this post. I can't stand feeling cold, that sounded unpleasant. Right now I'm in the house where I grew up, it has both an oil furnace and wood furnace in the basement. Both put out good heat but only to the first floor. Oil is so expensive now I try to use only wood.

  4. Apartments here have no heat, but it does get chilly in the winter. I do have a space heater, but it is expensive to run, so I use it for just a few minutes to take off the chill.

  5. HA! Fun informative post. Two comments, I grew up on my grandparents farm which had forced air on the main floor only. Heat to the bedrooms was by an open grate in the ceiling/floor. Not really very effective and I spent years bundled in bed with so many blankets and quilts on top of me I could barely turn over. But a side benefit was I could hear EVERY conversation that went on the main floor. I'd lay in bed, sometimes with my visiting cousins, and we'd fall to sleep listening to the adults gossip.
    Our 1906 current house has an ancient "octopus" furnace taking up huge amounts of space in the basement. Radiator heat in all the rooms. We get it serviced and every year the guy says the same thing, it has hardly any moving parts, it's built like a tank, it plugs along. We wouldn't be saving much by upgrading, especially with todays "built to quit" forced obsolescence. I give it a friendly pat on cold days and plan on keeping it forever.

    1. That's kind of where we are. But a neighbor did upgrade his to the new steel radiator system and it is astound how much room it frees up.