Early heaters were located in the middle of the room

From our March 2013 issue

By Agnes York – Saskatoon, Sask.

Before the luxury of ducted furnaces, our central heating consisted of a fuel-burning heater in the middle of the room. It was usually fuelled with wood or coal. My parents used a tin heater that sat in the middle of the living/dining room and was fueled with wood. When lit, it made quick heat.

The heat from it also provided heat to the two bedrooms which had entry from one side of the living room. The bedrooms were always on the cool side in the winter, especially at night.

The heater damper was closed to allow a slower burn to hold the fire for the night.  There would usually be a few live coals left to get the fire going in the morning. I remember the floors in all the rooms were always cold.

As kids, the heater was a welcome spot upon rising and this is where we’d get dressed. First though, we’d drape our clothing over a chair and place it close to the heater to warm the clothing. While the clothing warmed, we wore warm wooly slippers to the kitchen where we got washed up at the washstand.

Hurried back to warm heater

The kitchen was heated by a wood-burning range. It was also lit with any live coals left from its overnight slow burn. If there were no live coals left, there was always kindling and paper on hand to restart the fire.

Water for washing up was heated on the range and poured into a basin. If the fire had been on long enough, there may have been warm water in the reservoir of the range. We stood with our slippers and pyjamas in front of the washstand and hurried to get back to the warmth of the heater.

As times progressed, we became modernized and an oil burning space heater was installed. It had a dial to set the amount of heat required but still sat in the middle of the room. The floor was still cold.

The tank that held the oil was attached to the back of the heater. During cold weather, it was filled on a daily basis with oil brought in from outside in a pail with a spout.

When it was extremely cold, the oil would be too thick to pour. The pail was set behind the kitchen stove for awhile to warm until it was pourable. The stench of oil permeated the house, but it was tolerated because we could now set our heat at a desired level. The convenience of burning oil over wood also made it tolerable.

Nuisances outweighed conveniences

These oil space heaters were somewhat temperamental. The heating apparatus would, at times, become clogged or sooted up and go out. Sometimes when lit, there would be a POOF that sent ash and bits of soot through the top that would settle and make a mess on top of the heater and surrounding items.

These heaters didn’t become popular. Their little nuisances outweighed their convenient heating value.

My parents eventually installed an oil fuelled floor furnace. The heat from this came from a grate on the floor, still in the middle of the room. This seemed to be quite an improvement over the space heater.

The oil was fed into the furnace from a tank set alongside the house and its operation seemed to run more smoothly. And a large area of the floor was now warm!

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