As promised I have some information on how the house was heated probably from the time it was built and up to when my current inefficient mess was installed. The pit is finally cleaned out, probably for the first time in 2 years. This picture was my inspiration for researching the old heating system:
Ah the pit. The one area in the basement where you don’t have to worry about hitting your head. It is about 6′ x 6′ and 6″ deep. At most times since I have owned the house it has been a collecting area for trash bags, wood scraps, and assorted debris. Its a weird area because you almost wish the whole basement was this depth and maybe then it’d be worth finishing the whole thing.
Anyways, as you can see in this picture there is a circle in the center of the pit where something used to sit. As I removed layers of dirt and dust I found that it is two pieces of cast iron set into concrete. Its actually in amazing shape considering its age. For the longest time I assumed a cylindrical boiler of some sort sat on top of it and heated the house, but after the second coal discovery this past week I was trying to put two and two together.
I did some research and found that what most likely heated the LocustPointRowhouse was a Octopus Furnace or “Gravity Furnace.” This type of furnace dated back to the late 1800′s and early 1900′s which puts it exactly in line with the age of my house. They were large, round, and setup initially to burn coal. Other iterations were produced to burn wood, oil, or natural gas. I also found that some were even converted to another source at one point, often natural gas as it became more prevalent in heated homes. If you look very closely in the upper right corner you can see where mine too was converted to natural gas.
Here are some pictures of what it might have looked like in its prime:
Its easy to see how it got the nickname “Octopus.” From what I can tell mine would have had five supplies coming out of it to feed the entire house. Each room on the one demising wall had a square vent with an ornate cast iron cover. The vents were stacked directly above each other, so for example, the living room had one in the center of the wall and then above in the master bedroom there was one in the same spot in the center of the wall.
Because the furnaces worked by gravity, the vents had to be stacked in series as they were. As the fuel burned, the furnace got hot, heating the air around the core of the combustion chamber. The air then floated up the main duct feeds and into the house. If you lean your head behind my main duct trunk lines in the basement, you can see the 3 feeds on the one wall that took the air to all of the rooms above. The kitchen and living room had their own supplies that merely ran across the basement ceiling.
The cold air return for this type of system was usually located somewhere near the stairs. Mine was no different and we actually enlarged the opening and reused it as a return for the first floor in the current system. These “Gravity” or “Octopus” furnaces were almost always located in the basement as this was the easiest means of loading the wood or coal and the basement was usually the coolest place in the house. Although I don’t see evidence of it in my basement (may have been the window previously), some houses had coal chutes that came up at ground level.
From what I read online these furnaces were horribly inefficient (wow worse then my Montgomery Ward???), with likely more then 50% heat loss going up the chimney.
That’s all for now. I hope to pick my shower door up this weekend and get rolling on that install.