An Air of Comfort

furnace and blankie 0419
Two of my oldest friends.

It could be that my forced air days are coming to a close.

Not Air Force, but forced air, as in a home heating system. Here on Irwin Street, we have natural gas that is delivered through a series of ducts to nearly every room in the house, blown out through vents to provide warmth, a susurrant comfort that has sustained me for most of my 56 years.

I have a very early memory of taking my blankie into my parents’ room, way back on South Forest Street in Denver, at some point one night when we all (parents included) were supposed to be asleep, and setting up camp in front of the furnace register. I must not have been as quiet as I remember, because I woke my parents up, and one of them groggily escorted me back to bed.

I’m not sure how any house I lived in actually got heated, because growing up there seemed to be at least one kid, and sometimes several, in front of a heat vent pretty much any time the furnace was running. Maybe it was radiant: warm up the kid, who then slowly releases that same heat into the air around him/her.

At one point my family (by which I mean my dad and his friends) built an additional room onto the back of our house — it was way before anyone thought to call their rooms “great,” but that’s what it was — with a glass fireplace in the middle of the room. While attractive, that fireplace was also a hazard: at least three of the glass panels on the backside shattered due to heat. But I did like to take my life in my hands and sprawl on the wooden base, my head resting on the nearby chair arm, watching TV, often in the reflection from the fireplace glass (easier on my neck that way).

But then I went off to college and other places of my own, and warming up was always easiest to accomplish by sitting in front of the heat register, or a space heater. When I bought the house on Irwin, it came with a woodstove, which in theory provided better warmth than a fireplace (there’s that radiant theory again), back it lacked the ambiance.

I did have a little mesh curtain made of metal to string across the opening in order to see the flames, but embers still popped out, making it not the best thing to sit near. And then Lynn came along, and our enthusiasm for the wood gathering/splitting/stacking/carrying process waned. Eventually we had the stove removed.

But there was always my trusty heat register, and my same childhood blankie (now cloaked in a second layer of fabric since the first was pretty well worn through), and me still collecting the heat with my body before radiating it into the rest of the room.

As my knees have gotten older, my time on the floor for any purpose has grown less, but I still manage, on cold Gunnison mornings, to drop myself in front of a vent and soak up all the heat it offers.

But now it is April, and midway through the month, finally starting to feel like it, giving the furnace less and less reason to speak up each morning. For awhile I’ve been pretending that this is artificial, because the wall the thermostat rests on gets struck by the spring sun, inflating the temperature being sensed.

But today, with calls for temperatures in the 60s, I have to face facts: it might actually be 64 degrees in the house by the time I get up, and so the furnace will not be coming on.

And here’s the other fact I had to face this morning: this might be it for my forced-air mornings.

It should — should — only get warmer from here on out. There may be a stray snowstorm or two left yet in our spring, but chances are high that our well-insulated house will limit the need for further heating assistance until next fall. But I won’t be here next fall, and the furnace will go on without me.

I will be in our new house, which does have a heating system, but it’s in-floor. (Technically, not in the floor but under it.) More radiant heat. No whooshing of forced air. No vents to sit in front of.

When I saw my Some Day neighbor Mr. Leonard on my way to work a couple weeks ago, he and fellow Food Pantry volunteer Joe were both waxing enthusiastic about their in-floor heat systems, and how comfortable and enveloping the heat is. I’m actually very excited about our new heating system, even if I never made it into the crawlspace to take it in. (I imagine now it’s completely covered in insulation.) But it’s definitely going to be a change. A way-of-life change.

Now, I did get talked into a gas fireplace, so there will still be something I can plunk myself in front of to suck up all its warmth on winter days. (I could publish the picture Lynn took of it, looming large in our Good Room, but it’s still under literal wraps and doesn’t look like much other than bulk.)

But I don’t know how necessary that will be, with our warm floors radiating heat up past my toes. And maybe the fan on it will make some noise, but it’s not going to be the constant of my existence, a sound that offers a comfort that nothing else does in the dark of a winter night, the movement of air through the ducts and vents of a forced-air heating system.

I shall miss it.


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