A heart warming story

When I was a kid, central heating was virtually unheard of.

We used to have a small range in the kitchen that was always burning and in the evenings we use to light a fire in the sitting room.  There were fireplaces in the bedrooms but I never ever saw a fire in one.  Bedtime in winter just meant freezing and on really cold nights the beds would be piled high with overcoats.  It was common to find ice on the inside of the windows in the morning.

My first encounter with central heating was when I started school in the dreaded convent.  There were long echoey hallways and there were two great pipes that ran along those halls to feed great cast iron radiators in the classrooms.  I very quickly learned never to touch those pipes in winter.

My first real experience with central heating was back in the Seventies.  We bought our first house and its heating consisted of two ugly fireplaces and that was it.  I don't know where I got the idea from but I decided to install a back boiler in one of the fireplaces and some radiators.

I had little or no experience of plumbing and zero knowledge of central heating systems, so I got a book out of the library.  I then went and bought a rake of radiators, a moxy load of half inch copper piping, a load of tools and set to work.  It took a while, as the fireplace had to be demolished, and a large pit dug below it to take the ash-can.  Holes had to be drilled through walls, ceilings and joists.  It was fun.  It was also a roaring success.  Its only drawback was that the house wouldn't heat up until someone lit the fire.

Then we moved house.

The next house actually had a boiler house, piping, a boiler chimney and an oil feed from a communal oil tank.  The only drawback was that there was no boiler or radiators.  We decided to put in central heating.

I don't precisely know why but we decided on a solid fuel range to power the system.  The oil company had decided that communal tanks weren't a particularly good idea so the communal feed was being disconnected and that may have had some bearing.  Anyhows, I bought and fitted radiators and we got a dirty great solid fuel range installed in the kitchen.

It was a fucking disaster.

The main problem was the chimney.  It had been designed for an oil burner and apparently wasn't big enough to take the fumes from a range.  As a result the house used to fill up with fumes, and if you have ever burned Extracite you'll know it gives off a very sickly, eye-stinging sweet stench.  The kitchen had to be totally redecorated twice a year as everything rapidly gained a black sticky coating.  The only time it really worked efficiently was when there was a very strong wind from the west.  After tolerating it for a decade or so we finally got rid of the cooker and went back to lighting fires in the sitting room.

Then we moved house.

Once again, we had no central heating.  There was however an oil fired range in the kitchen with a back boiler so we decided to investigate installing a system.

We called out the experts and they reckoned that the cooker was barely powerful enough to heat water and that we would need a replacement.  No problem – we got an oil fired little range with a high output boiler and got radiators fitted.  That was fun as the walls here vary between six inch concrete block and two foot solid granite.

It was a fucking disaster.

Once again, the chimney was at fault.  It was the right size and all that but this are has strange wind patterns with all sorts of down-draughts so if there was any kind of a wind, the kitchen would fill up with kerosene fumes.  We tried all sorts of cowls for the chimney but none of 'em worked.  We just had to put up with it and on cold windy nights we'd sit with all the windows wide open, which sort of defeated the purpose of the heating.  There was also the ongoing snag that it had to be manually lit before heating anything.

This year we decided to get a proper central heating boiler.

It's a fancy little yoke – quite small and neat.  It's installed out in the garage and is fully automatic.  We have had a few frosty nights since, but I only know that from looking out the window and not by the icicles on the end of my nose. It's purring away gently as I type. 

So finally we have a central heating system that really works.

It only took a little over sixty years.

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A heart warming story — 8 Comments

  1. It's a miracle you and your family are still alive! Breathing all those fumes… The cast iron radiators in skool I remember.  When we moved in here in 1969 there was a simple solid fuel boiler, which had to be cleaned out and lit by hand each day. Just a simple switch for the circulating pump. Every  so often someone would forget that it had been lit and the dampers left wide open. Suddenly there would be a banging sound, and water spurting out the overflow!  Eventually I revamped the entire system and had a gas boiler fitted. At some point the old wooden windows were replaced with UPVC double glazing, so no more ice on the inside…

    • One of the problems we had in the second house was that the Extracite fumes sometimes built up in the cooker itself.  The gas would then explode with a loud bang.  It was a Tirolia solid fuel range with a massive cast iron hotplate and a very heavy lid.  The explosion would be enough to lift the lid and blow the hotplate skewwise.  It used to scare the shite out of Herself.

  2. I too have fond memories of the inside ice…fascinating to melt with your fingers and breath…never had central heating..never felt the need to be honest. Mind I have only lived in two houses over my fifty four years on this rock. The first was my parents, well the councils to begin with and there the council ripped out a glorious black fireplace with a warming oven, bread oven, water boiler all integral as well as a little swing thing to boil the kettle with. Best toast ever on the end of a toasting fork held over the hot coals.
    They replaced it with a tiled monstrosity and a small fire opening with a fitted back boiler and pipes (my mothers word for radiators in the three bedrooms…by the time I knew what the were they had silted up so were never more than lukewarm…heated oodles of hot water though.

    On moving to the present abode I installed a wrap around boiler to heat the water and it had to have a pair of radiators fitted to act as heat sinks…so one went in the bathroom and one went into our bedroom, furthest from the boiler=more unlagged pipe=bigger heat sink, only ever on when the fire has been on long enough to trigger the stat thing into running the pump, not often these days as we burn scrap wood not coal and am too lazy to rip the wrap around out and replace it with a woodburner, oh and it still works as well as it did when I first installed it so if it ain't broke and all that.

    Still never experienced any inside frost in this house and it's all single glazing…probably warble gloamings fault…if that is still a must have disease of the mind!

    • When I invested in the latest I was putting my money where my mouth is – the world ain't getting any warmer!

      The only small problem I have now is to remember that the water coming out of the kitchen tap is almost at boiling point.  I have scalded myself a few times already.

  3. The only time in my life that I lived without central heating was in Tucson Az.  None of my apartments had any heat… didn't need any.

    Growing up there was a huge, fire breathing oil-fired boiler in the basement.  It was always nice and toasty in the basement but my parents kept the thermostat turned so far down it was always cold in the rest of the house.  I mean wearing a sweater AND scarf inside.  Now that I'm all grown up and paying my own bills, I keep it 'shorts and a t-shirt' warm in my apartment. 
    Winter = bad  Heating systems = good

    • I wouldn't say it was "shorts and t-shirt" warm here.  It would be too much of a shock to the system if I have to go out.  Just nice and comfortable is all I ask!

  4. The sister in law is back living with us again………… 😉  I don't think she owns any heavy clothes, if you know what I mean …….. so I don't need any central heating! Phew!

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