My father-in-law told me on Tuesday night that he’d be spending part of the next day draining water lines at the Big House.
And, no, the Big House is not an area prison.
It’s the ancestral home of my wife’s family. Vacant for the past few years after my wife’s aunt fell and could no longer maintain the home, my sister-in-law recently purchased the 100-year-old home in Southside Virginia.
My father-in-law, acts as the de facto caretaker of the home and told me he had gone inside during the recent cold snap and found water frozen in toilets and water lines throughout the house.
Draining all that water will be as simple as turning a valve, he said. But it set me to wondering about just how cold a vacant house could get during the winter and how much work went in to keeping old occupied homes warm in freezing weather.
My grandmother’s home – some 60 miles west of the Big House – was also an old home, though much smaller than the Big House. Still, heating that home required tending to seperate fires in virtually every room in the house.
My grandmother’s house had two fireplaces which backed up to each other and shared a single chimney. Those fire places heated the living room and my grandmother’s bedroom, which also served as a den in that home. A wood-burning stove heated the dining room. The kitchen was the only room in that house that didn’t gather its heat from burning wood in one way or another. I assume it must have been heated simply from the cooking my grandmother did.
A single bedroom upstairs remained unheated pretty much year-round unless company was coming to stay. When we spent the night, we would lug wood up the steps to keep the woodstove in that room going.
The fireplace in my grandmother’s bedroom, where most of the family congregated on holiday visits, burned constantly during cold weather. And, it burned hot.
After the grandchildren would come in from playing outside, we took turns standing in front of the fire. The fireplace was wide enough for about two kids at the time to stand directly in front of the blaze.
But we couldn’t stand there long before our butts were burning up. As those two children moved away from the fire, two more would take their place.
There was constant motion in the room as people moved toward the fireplace, then away.
As I walked by the thermostat in my own home Tuesday night, I thought about just how much work my grandparents must have gone through to keep all those fireplaces lit. It was a never-ending chore.
As I thought about it, I was grateful for my single-click thermostat.
My sister-in-law eventually plans to change out the heating system in the Big House. It’ll be a big deal because of the size of the house, but when she’s finished, she’ll wave good-bye to the series of heating stoves in each room of that house that burn propane.
And, she’ll not have to worry about draining those pipes ahead of the next winter freeze.