Wondering about winter warmth

By Tom Poland

The cold season is upon us. The need for heat is upon us. What type heat do you prefer?

As long as I can remember, my parents heated their home with gas.

As long as I can remember, a propane tank as big as an atomic bomb sat beneath the hickories outside my late parents’ home. It sits there still and after Dad died, Mom took on paying the bills. Come winter she often complained about the high cost of propane. She’d fret over the thermostat and keep an eye on the weather.

“Why don’t you get a heat pump?” I’d ask. “It’s economical and heats and cools.”

“No, I’m never going to be cold again,” she’d say, and she was adamant.

Mom had heard that heat pumps weren’t so hot, literally, though they’re passable here in the South. She wanted no part of one, being used to “real” heat, and you know what I mean. Firewood and gas had seen her through many a Georgia winter. A heat pump? No way.

We tried electric heat for a while in one small room. It worked so-so, and though we had a fireplace with a wood stove Dad built himself gas space heaters ruled our home for a long time. I remember huddling close to one, soaking up its warmth as I watched its ceramic radiants glow red.

During the rare snows we had in childhood, I’d come in frozen blue and I’d get as close to a space heater as I could. Years later a day of sleet here in South Carolina made me long for a space heater, one I could back up against for winter warmth.
A heat pump offers no such comfort. With a heat pump, there is no instant heat, and instant heat is what you need at times.
As a boy I’d stand next to Granddad’s wood stove until my jeans were smoking. The flue glowed cherry red and that black iron stove was as hot as the sun. Instant heat.

Special heat. A roaring fireplace warms the spirit and the body. Ever see Christmas cards where Santa stands by an electric heater or over a heat pump’s register? Didn’t think so. Nor do you see him standing in front of gas logs. No sir, he stands in front of a roaring fire with logs Paul Bunyan would appreciate.

There’s something genuine and timeless about burning wood. In my comings and goings, I visit country stores and still see an occasional woodstove at work. That seems right. Outdoors, I have seen many a man warming himself by an oil drum burning old tires. That seems not so right.

I have tried electric, oil-filled heaters, but my favorite source of winter warmth remains a fireplace. It adds cheer to a wintry day, and food tastes better in front of a crackling fire. Thank you, Cracker Barrel.

A fireplace does your restaurant right, just as it does log cabins right. Someone, however, has to cut the firewood, but you know what they say about that. Wood warms you twice: when you cut it and when you burn it.

When I make winter visits to my sisters back home in Georgia, I enjoy my brother-in-law’s big fireplace. He has a Buck Stove in it, and it heats much of the home. The fan kicks on and hot air rises and banishes the cold. He and my sister live among hardwoods so firewood is no problem. Like a pioneer, my brother-in-law is ready for winter. Out back long stacks of cured split wood wait their turn to ignite, glow, and spread comfort throughout the house.

I was there one cold Sunday recently. I got up early and ventured out to photograph fall color. The cold soon turned me back toward that stove.

As I approached the stacks of wood, a welcome plume of smoke rose from the chimney and I caught the fragrance of wood smoke. At that very moment, a feeling of peace and comfort overtook me.

“Ah,” I thought, “that’s what a home should smell like on a cold winter morning.”

When it comes to winter warmth, nothing beats a fireplace or wood stove filled with blazing logs.

It’s primitive, it’s reassuring, and best of all it looks warm. You can’t say that about a heat pump. Combustion has its advantages.

Author: Rachel Howell

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