Turning on the Heat Is Cold Comfort Living Here

I turned on the furnace a couple weeks ago.

It had been in the 90s just a few days earlier. You’d think having lived in Minnesota my entire life that I’d be used to the sudden change in seasons. One thing for certain – we can’t ignore the cold and expect to survive in these parts.

So, we just shudder and start wearing the jackets from the lighter end of the coat rack. You try to ignore the parkas on the other end of the rack, under which reside your largest, warmest boots that take five minutes to put on. You’ll need them soon enough.

And when the weather finally starts turning toward spring, you just start going back toward the lighter end of the rack again. Such is the vicious cycle of living here. No matter what climate change may ultimately do to us, I suspect this routine will be with us for a long time yet.

Seasons change everywhere, of course, and people everywhere have their own hot/cold sensitivity threshold. People in Dallas think the world is ending when the overnight November temperature drops into the low 30s for just one day. One chilly summer morning when visiting relatives in California, they turned on all the burners on their gas stove for heat. I remember my dad shaking his head about that.

Around here this summer, with a 10-degree drop in the daytime high, you’d hear people everywhere quickly mowing their lawns before the heat came back.

Cold is not cool

Anyone who has grown up here knows that we’re not allowed to get too comfortable or complacent. You keep up with your seasonal chores or you will pay the price. Drain the hoses and put them away or you’ll be buying new ones next spring. Get your snowblower ready or you might be the last one to clear your sidewalks and driveway. And that just makes you look bad.

Those who have lived in this climate have been kept warm from numerous types of heating methods. The heat in the house I grew up in was from an ancient turn-of-the-previous century fuel oil burner. It was directly vented to the kitchen and dining room only. The bedroom we boys slept in upstairs had one tiny vent in the dining room ceiling that relied on the science that heat rises.

If my brother Bruce was mad at my sister Laurel in the next room, he’d shut the bedroom doorso she’d get no heat. If we kids were jumping around, Dad would order us to stop it or the furnace would go out. We were always dubious of that logic but it was a battle we knew we couldn’t win.

Catherine remembers the hot water system they had in their house. Every fall they had to bleed the air out of each radiator. During the winter her dad would completely shut off the bedroom radiators at night and open the bedroom windows a bit for fresh air, making for some very cold rooms in the morning. He learned this from his mother who always did it.

I remember the steam heat system at Colvill School. Thinking back, it was always warm everywhere we went at school during the heating months, certainly aided by a couple hundred energetic kids. Steam heat puts out a lot of heat quickly. The drawback was that there were times every day that the expanding and contracting pipes banged so loudly the teacher had to stop talking until it ended. Coal was used for fuel until natural gas became available. But the banging continued.

Heating trade-offs

Our church had steam heat and the banging pipes competed with a lot of sermons. But it could heat that large building in short order. The drawback to steam, other than the noise, was that it required daily attention by a licensed operator. That system was replaced by a hot water system that’s more efficient but takes longer to heat the building and doesn’t keep the church warm enough when the outside temperature is below zero. But they’re saving money.

During Christmas vacation when I was young we used to make the rounds visiting relatives. Back then I remember a lot of their homes had a big propane furnace in the middle of a central room, usually the dining or living room. These were often an upgrade from heating these old houses with wood. When it was very cold, those things kicked on and off a lot and the house alternated from hot to cold every few minutes due to poor insulation. Someone once told me it’s “like heating a corn crib.”

Heating your house with wood was common way back and is actually still popular today with some people like my brother Dave who has done it for many years. I even heated our last house with wood for five years. I paid for it by having surgery to both shoulders.

Some may think it’s too early to turn on the heat. Good for them but I’m retired, I can afford it and I’m starting to shiver.

The heat goes on.