Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Meet Grendil

This is Grendil. Grendil is my gravity furnace (also know as octopus furnace in some circles). This furnace has been in my house since the day it was built in 1924 and has kept countless owners warm and toasty over the years through some pretty wicked Midwest winters.

When I first moved into the house, my plan was immediately to rip out Grendil and replace him with a high efficiency furnace and central air conditioning. That was before, well, I met Grendil.

In the midst of getting bids that first year to remove & replace Grendil, I had a furnace guy come out to certify that the heater would be safe for me to use for a winter.

The heater guy was an "old timer" and was able to tell me Grendil's life story. This gravity heater started out life fed by coal. Someone shoveled coal into its front door from the nearby coal room where the lumps were stored. You can still see the little coal door with the fancy handle. There is also a little "humidifier" dish where a person could pour water in order to have the coal heat humidify the air. Every now and again on a cold winter night, I try to imagine what life was like living in this house and having to get up every few hours to shovel coal into the furnace (yikes!).

Sometime in the very early 1950's Grendil was switched to gas. He has loyally served the house in this state ever since. No moving parts, and virtually noise free......the furnace guy assured me that Grendil had every potential of outliving me.....at 75-80% efficiency.

Of course, knowing all this there was no way I could rip out Grendil.

28 comments:

Patricia W said...

I think Grendil is awesome and I'm glad you've decided against replacing something that will work quite efficiently for many many years to come. I had big ideas on replacing all of my double-hung wood windows with aluminum and several bloggers saved me from making a huge mistake. I'm so glad I listened to good advice and I'm glad you listened to good advice as well. Here's to staying warm!

Kim said...

Glad you found a nice, honest person! We had our electrical inspected by 2 people and they were both very geniune. We still need to have our furnace looked at-I have a bad feeling about that one...we also have the coal room and little door to the street but have no idea when the furnace was put in. I did find a service tag with service call prices listed-I think it was $5 per call during regular business hours, so it's gotta be old. And with heating costs rising, it's not a good winter for a drafty old house! We have replaced nearly all the plexiglass windows thankfully, but nothing is weatherproofed, etc. Probably need to go with the plastic wrap as well. Maybe I'll just stay in my condo until springtime and let the boyfriend freeze his keister off in his "project"! Kim, The Dirty House

PS Thanks for your comments on our project photos, I'm still in awe of some of it! Can't wait until the bathroom is done, it should be awesome-slate tile planned.

Greg said...

Yea Grendil! I am all about use, reuse, and continued use of old useful things. If you had ripped him out you would have begun the cycle of 20 year replacements instead of 100 year replacements.

ben said...

We've got the same setup. Love the quiet, no blower fan running. But our Wolverine takes up half the basement! And with rising gas prices I've wondered what it would take to convert it back to coal. I grew up with a wood stove for heat so the occassional stoking of the fire just becomes another ritual.

Josh said...

Thanks for your encouraging post. We've still got the original boiler from 1923 in our house and, like you, I have entertained ideas of replacing it with a small, new, high-efficiency unit. As you said, there's very little to go wrong with this old equipment and the enormous size and asbestos coating is charming in its own way... Maybe I need to come up with a name for the "Grendil" in our basement.

Also, if you still have the basement coal room here's a remodelling solution that the previous owner implemented in our place: sauna! Our coal room was converted into a cedar-lined sauna capable of seating up to 4 people. There's no better way to relax on a Minneapolis winter night or warm up after cross-country skiing. I'll try to get a post about our sauna up on the blog in case you're curious.
-Josh @ Bungalow'23

StuccoHouse said...

Hmmm.....a sauna. I'm part Finnish, so that would be right up my alley :-)

derek said...

And I thought our furnace was old! We just got rid of our 1950's oil furnace, I'm sure our house had something like Grendil when it was built in the 20's. If it's really 80% efficient I wouldn't replace it. Part of our decision involved getting rid of the oil tank, which is in the backyard, and not having to worry about running out of oil all the time too.

Anonymous said...

I think my grandparents had a furnace like that! But it was sawdust burning.

Your reader count has no doubt had a bit of a blip today. The readers of http://www.yarnharlot.ca/blog/ were directed here to discover what an Octopus-Gravity furnace is.

And thanks to you - now we know!

All the best with your house renovating, repair and work.
Janey
(janeyknitting@yahoo.ca)

Phoebe said...

This looks very familiar to me too. I grew up in an 1878 brownstone in New York. We had a furnace like this. I remember my father putting water in the humidifier.

We also had a bathroom that seemed to get less than its share of the heat and was dubbed "Little Siberia."

StuccoHouse said...

Yes, I have seen a bit of a blip. Grendil is very flattered by all of the attention :-)

Welcome Yarn Harlot folks! I envy what you folks can knit....I myself crochet (lace - there is a post about it somewhere here). But I'd love to knit sweaters.

It is funny what you remember from your childhood....even a furnace. Its fun to hear stories about what people remember.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stucco House
From
Margie, one of the Yarn Harlot folks!

filambulle said...

Hi Grendil and StuccoHouse!
If you wish to, just knit sweaters! (well, maybe start with a hat, it is a little bit easier and quicker) They are lovely to make and help people stay warm just like old cute Grendil.
xo from switzerland
(through the Yarn Harlot too, as you may have guessed)

Carolyn said...

And another knitter checking in, from the wilds of NYC (where all the apartment buildings are overheated and no knitwear is needed once indoors!).

:-)

Anonymous said...

Another knitter chimes in...

The house I grew up in must have had a set up like yours. I remember the coal closet which my dad turned into a place to store my mom's china. But even with the furnace we had, that was not a warm house to grow up in. Now I miss it being stuck in hot Texas (I had a yard sale this weekend if that's any indication). Good luck with your house!

Gina said...

Hi - another Canadian Knitter here. My husband and I rented a house as newlyweds which had a slightly younger version of a gravity furnace in the basement. Good thing too, because with sawdust for insulation in an Alberta winter we sure did need it.

Gina said...

Another Knitter stopping by with a smile from Alberta, Canada.

Timmie's Mommy said...

and yet another knitter ; ). I remember my grandmas "Grendil". Her house was always toasty warm, all over.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy! the memories that reading about Grendil bring back! As Newlyweds in an old townhouse, I was the brave one who went to light our version of Grendil in the fall! He always fired right up, our house was toasty, toasty toasty. Years later, after having moved, i learned that the old faithful gravity furnace had been ripped out and replaced with a newer, not-needed-to-be-lit-in-the fall version. I felt sad. I never minded the Autumn ritual of yelling to the hubby "i'm going to light the furnace - if you hear a scream and a 'wump' get the heck out now!!" and we'd laugh, because that never happened. Well done on realizing that 'old' doesn't mean won't work better than a 'newer' version!

AlisonH said...

A knitter coming by much later via Yarnharlot's latest post...

I wonder if there's a way to get a Grendil now from some old house being remodeled, and if anybody around these days would still know how to set one up. Not that it matters for us personally now--we moved out of NH for CA awhile ago. But I'm curious. I remember what real cold feels like!

Dan Chisler said...

Thank God you did not ruin your totally bitchen furnace . Me and a friend save these from ruin . inside the big tin can are super cool antique wood stoves .first they were for coal or you could get them set up for wood and diffrent grates were available . later in the North west you could add sawdust burners to the bottom fronts with out ruining them then heat for almost free. Later they were converted to oil and usually brick lined at that point and the bottom door removed . That is why so many bottom doors are gone. I am going to install a seperate old 1900 montag octopus furnace with out all the sheet metal in my basement just as a cool wood stove in addition to my oil burner that i burn free chinese resturant oil in . Please save the cool, old furnaces or find some one that wants a nice wood stove . It took me less than 2 hours to dismantle two and bring them home from a duples that were going to destroy them .I have since found all the parts they were missing . Please save the old . Sincerely Dan chisler

David said...

I'm totally late to this party, but wouldn't an old gravity furnace also be an advantage in areas which suffer frequent power outages in winter since they have no moving parts and I assume, other than maybe a newer thermostat, no electrics?

In other words, typically no power means no heat, but a gravity system would be able to chug away, as long as you still had gas (or oil, etc). Even a pumpless hot water system would have this advantage I would suppose.

ACSial said...

Gravity furnaces are rather elegant. With computational fluid dynamic modelling and new materials, somebody should be able to make a more efficient, less gargantuan version nowadays.

If one put a refurbed old gravity furnace into one's home, non-asbestos lagging (mullite, basalt) would be a good idea.

MargieAnn said...

Hi: I have a client who has two of the old gravity flow furnaces in his home. He does not want to replace them because he likes them not having a fan he can hear. Does anyone know where I can get old parts for these type of furnaces? He is looking specifically for a fire box or chamber.

Thanks!

MargieAnn

Zach said...

I've enjoyed the blog over the past year; I recently bought a similar house with a similar furnace in NE Mpls. Any way you could share the name of your furnace tech? I'd like to have him drop by to give it a safety check-out.

Thanks!
Zach

StuccoHouse said...

Zach - I have had the best luck with Minneapolis Plumbing & Heating and will use them again. I've used Residential too. I would personally NOT use Boehm or Standard Heating again.

It's absolutely crucial that you tell them when you make the appointment that you have a gravity furnace and you will only deal with a tech that knows that kind of furnace(i.e. ask for the old timer).

I actually had one guy totally freak out in my basement when he saw the furnace and tell me it needed to be replaced because it was dangerous. When I asked him why, he told me "because it was old." I actually was so worried after he left, I called another company to come out asap. That guy knew gravity furnaces, checked it, and told me the other guy was an idiot. Every check since then has also passed w/o problem.

Martha's house said...

Thanks for the blog! I've run into it twice, now, once for looking into info on our ancient Tappan oven, and once for looking into info on our own Grendil. We just purchased an 1891 home in Salt Lake City that has been untouched. Personally, I LOVE the heat of the Gravity furnace, we just haven't yet recieved our first gas bill! Thanks for the ideas on what to do with the coal room. We met the son (now 68) who grew up in this house and it was his job to be home by 5 each day to put coal into it. I made sure my 13 year old son heard that story!

Emily said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I'm putting an offer on a 1910 South Minneapolis house with the original gravity furnace, which I'd love to keep. However, the City of Minneapolis TISH inspections calls for a safety check by licensed Mpls heating contractor. Do you have a recommendation for a heating contractor that would be knowledgeable enough to do an accurate inspection? (i.e. not write it off simply because it is old and scary). Best of luck with your house and Grendil :)

StuccoHouse said...

Emily - See my comment two above yours. I have had good luck with St. Paul Plumbing & Heating. Tell them to *only* send out someone with experience with gravity furnaces.

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