However, blizzards that seriously interrupt electric service are so rare that one need not forego the decided comfort that an oil burner gives, just because some such chance may arise. Also, if the question of expense must be considered, steam can be used instead of hot water and will cost from one-quarter to one-third less.
The initial expenditure for both hot water and steam heating is considerably less, too, if coal rather than oil is to be the fuel. This calls for quite a little more supervision on the part of the householder. He can cut down some of the drudgery of stoking by installing a gravity feed type of boiler. This is equipped with a hopper and needs filling only once a day. Or he can use the old fashioned hand-fired type, with or without the services of a man of all work. There will be dust and dirt as well as the morning and evening rituals of stoking, adjusting dampers, shaking, and cleaning out the ash pit. There will be the periodic chore of sifting ashes and carrying them out for either carting away or for filling in hollow places in the driveway. But his fire will burn, no matter what happens to the current of the local light and power company.
However, as already stated, electricity is a faithful servant most of the time and there are devices that not only take away some of the drudgery of furnace tending but, in the long run, actually save money in coal bills. One of these is the mechanical stoker which is electrically driven and burns the finest size of coal. Another way of reducing the coal bill is to install an electric blower. This, as its name implies, is a forced draft controlled by a thermostat, and with it the cheaper grades of coal can be used. Incidentally, any coal-burning furnace that gets to sulking can be made to respond by placing an ordinary electric fan before the open ash pit. We have done this with a pipeless furnace and have been able to burn the cheaper buckwheat coal almost entirely as a result.
There appears to be no mechanical device for removing the ashes out of the cellar. So, if the householder puts in a coal burning steam or hot water plant as a matter of economy, and then in a few years covets an oil burner, it is perfectly practical and possible to have one installed in his furnace. Whatever the fuel, make sure enough radiation is provided with steam or hot water plants to heat the house evenly and adequately in the coldest weather according to your ideas rather than the plumber’s. He is usually a hardy individual who considers 68 degrees warm enough for any one. Theoretically it may be. Actually most people are more comfortable at a room temperature of from two to four degrees higher.
Cheapest of all to install and operate is the pipeless furnace. This is hardly more than a large stove set in the cellar. An ample register in the floor directly above it is connected to a galvanized iron casing that surrounds the fire pot. It is divided so that cool air from the house itself is drawn downward, heated, and then forced upward again. This system will not work well in a house equipped with wings or additions so placed that the air from the central register cannot penetrate. It is particularly effective in a house with a central hall.