Floor Furnace <3

My house is 90 years old and many of its conveniences are also that old, for example, the furnace.

I have a floor furnace. I love it. The first night I slept here — October 20, 2014 — I slept on the sofa (no furniture) with Mindy. In the night, my furnace came on with a bang. It was the most comforting, homely sound. I cuddled Mindy and enjoyed the furnace coming on, going off, the metal popping as it cooled and then the thing would happen again and again.

In California I had a beautiful, poetic little house but heating was a problem. Lots of people think Southern California is warm but in winter, it gets down to freezing even near the ocean. Where I lived it snowed a couple times a year, and it was often in the teens at night in winter. I had a wood stove in the main part of the house which was a stone cabin built in the 1920s as a summer home. Wood was extremely expensive. $350 a cord if I bought it early, $400 if I waited until I needed it. I burned three cords a year. I came to look at a large woodpile both as wealth and as an attractive landscape feature. Here’s the living room. Some of the stuff is mine (I sold my furniture with the house) but you can see the wood stove. Believe me, the walls were NOT this yellow…


The wood stove heated up the room well, and, after 11 years living with it, I became a master at starting a fire — even with wet wood — with one match in five minutes. I was the Goddess of fast-fire starting. Fatwood, by the way. An essential component of a fast fire in a wood stove.

Naturally I was proud of my skills, but having a furnace? Oh man… The best.

It stopped working a couple of days ago. It seemed to be the thermostat. I called a plumbing/heating company and they sent a guy out to replace the thermostat. He was great, hilarious and smart, but it wasn’t the thermostat. We looked deep into the bowels of the furnace and saw it was pretty dirty way down in there where I couldn’t reach with my vacuum.

“Dude,” I said, “I don’t want to pay overtime to clean out the furnace. I’m OK with the space heater tonight if you can come back tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I heard the boss warn you.”

“I figure if someone’s going to warn me, it must be bad.”

“It is. I’ll set it up and come back tomorrow or someone else will. First thing. How’s that?”

“Great. I really hope we can fix it because I love my furnace.”

“You love it?”


He laughed.

So he came back the next day and cleaned the furnace. We hoped dust was blocking the connection, but it still didn’t come on. Next thing he was in the crawlspace with a flashlight.

It was a loose wire. He replaced the wire and set everything up perfectly. Now I have a clean furnace, a new thermostat and heat, again.

He said he’d never seen a floor furnace. I thought he was kidding. Most of the houses in my town are old, and most of them have not been updated very much. People just live in them. “No, really. The boss said if I couldn’t fix it, we wouldn’t replace it.”

“Really? They still make them.”

“No way!”

“They do. I did a ton of research last night.”

“Well the plaque here says…” and he read off the company that made it and the model number.

I looked online, and the very one is still made by the same company. “Dude,” I said, “they still make that one.”

“But the boss says they’re dangerous.”

I thought about that, given all I’d learned about them. Here are their advantages. They work even when the electricity is out. They vent below the house. They don’t need ductwork. They work. OK, the mostly heat the room in which you find them, but if a house is small enough, that’s enough. In my case, it’s fine. They’re comparatively economical to buy and install. I knew this because I had stayed up most of the night trying to figure out what I’d do if it were really broken and couldn’t be repaired. I would have to get a new furnace. I thought about more modern furnaces with their ducts and vents and filters and the 18 inch entry into the crawl space, or putting it in the house some place, but where? And these walls are not hollow plasterboard. They’re lath and plaster. I worried about money…

The furnace just “clunked” on. Dusty sleeps near it. We love our furnace.


21 thoughts on “Floor Furnace <3

  1. It is so interesting to see how daily problems are in other countries. I have had all sorts of heaters in Switzerland, even a similar wood heater as you show on the photo, but not mine, belonged to the house where I had a room. Switzerland is country of central heating, most of it by oil, which can be expensive, so you buy it in Summer when prices are cheaper. We also have floor heating, but not our own as we live in an appartment in an estate, but the best I have ever had. It is run by gas somewhere in the cellar. The floors are warm, and it adapts the temperature according to the outside. In Summer it does notrun, only in Winter. It was interesting to read about your system and it really sounds good – and it still exists. Most things these days change all the time. They had to replace our heating with a new “boiler” or whatever, because the old one was no longer available.

    • The house where I stayed in Obfelden had floor heating downstairs. It was WONDERFUL. The best I ever had were radiators — water-filled — in an apartment where I lived in Denver. That was beautiful. My old furnace is just right for this house and I’m grateful for it in winter because it is terribly cold here. We’ve had a very harsh winter this year with some parts of the valley getting 4 meters of snow! Not this side, but the east side. Crazy.

  2. That was very interesting. My home was built in 1927, yet despite living in an area with homes of such age, floor furnaces were previously unknown to me. I am trying to wrap my head around how they don’t ignite floors or otherwise scorch the woodwork around the grille. Additionally, doesn’t it render a large portion of the floor too hot to walk on?

    Now you have me looking online for more information about this…

    • No, they don’t heat up the floor. They sit in a metal box that’s about 6 inches on all sides from the heat. The heater itself is about 20 – 24 inches deep into the floor (crawl space). It heats by convection; in a way, it’s a radiator set in the floor. Even the grill above it never gets really hot. 🙂

  3. This is beautiful, I love old homes. I once had a floor furnace in a house I rented. It certainly keeps a house warm!

    • Fatwood is pine that’s full of pitch, sometimes comes from the root of fallen pines. Here “Fatwood, also known as “fat lighter,” “lighter wood,” “rich lighter,” “pine knot,” [1] “lighter knot,” “heart pine” or “lighter’d” [sic], is derived from the heartwood of pine trees. This resin-impregnated heartwood becomes hard and rot-resistant. The stump (and tap root) left in the ground after a tree has fallen or has been cut is an excellent source of fatwood. Other locations, such as the joints where limbs intersect the trunk, can also be harvested. Although most resinous pines can produce fatwood, in the southeastern United States the wood is commonly associated with longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), which historically was highly valued for its high pitch production.”

  4. A house doesn’t need to be 90 years old to be “obsolete.” The design of our entire well and septic system is legal … but replacing it with the same arrangement would not be. When it broke down about 5 years ago, I had to find someone who knew how to fix these old systems … which, I should add, are the only kind that would work given the lay of our land. If he had not been able to fix it, we’d never have been able to come up with the 20,000 – $40,000 dollars it would cost to replace it … assuming we could find a way to do that on this piece of property.

    The same with the well. We were able to fix it, but it was touch and go. Our furnace is obsolete too, but so far, so good. I don’t even think about what would happen if it were not repairable. I can’t think about it. I’ll just cry.

    And this house was built in 1974!

  5. If any one kb=nows where to find info on the age of a sears floor furnace by the serial number I would appreciat it. The town is beaking my chops for a permit for the installation of same. If it is older than 1967 it can be excluded by the “grandfather clause”. I need written proof of the manufacture date. SN FJ 6573723. I think it is 1965, any input??? Thamks Bill

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