Friday, January 7, 2011

A Little Beast of a Heater

I don't think I've posted a photo of the heater we found for our log room. While most evenings we have a fire in the fireplace that more than heats the room, we found this little heater at an antique store for a very good price and snapped it up.


This is called a ceramic "clayback" heater, and they were abundant in homes from the early 1900's until the 1960's and even later in some places. Some were quite ornate, with arched backs and intricate grillwork. Most were like this one, a little workhorse, sort on ornamentation but long on performance. As central heating became popular, the claybacks were relegated to scrap heaps and occasionally to an installation in a historic building as an example of one kind of heating used in homes in the early 20th century.

As the heater warms up, the clay tiles begin to glow, turning a bright orange-red that looks just amazing with the blue gas flames behind them. We seldom can turn this heater up past low because it throws out an immense amount of heat. I do believe that it could single-handedly heat the entire house. (Larry worried about the heat on the slate floor so he put fire brick under the heater but after using it for a while, I think the bricks are not at all necessary because the floor barely gets warm.)



Clayback heaters are what I remember when I was growing up. We had them in almost every room in the house eventually. Our big old four-square house was originally heated with a coal furnace in the basement; when we moved there in 1956 (or was it 1957?) the furnace was out of use and a giant, ugly heater was in place in the big front entrance hall, and a small, ornate clayback was in the living room. That is all the heat I can remember, and in a huge house with twelve-foot ceilings, no insulation and single-pane windows, you can imagine how cold we were, particularly in the mornings. There were steel grates with louvers in the floors that could be flipped open to allow heat into the upper floor rooms, but I don't remember the grates really being useful for much (except as a listening post when our parents were having adult parties down below and we wanted to listen to their conversations). Here is a picture of one  (from the Cool Stuff website) that is similar to what I remember, although ours were painted black and I remember the design being somewhat decorative:

We used to dry our mittens and socks in front of the heaters in the winter months, hanging them on a drying rack and turning them to dry faster. We would also put bread on long "toasting" forks, as Mom called them, and make toast in front of the heaters just for the fun of it. the bread would toast quickly, and then we'd spread it with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar--yum yum.          

I hope to find another one or two of these heaters, a small one for my office because it still gets cold under my desk where my poor feet just freeze, and one for the log room we plan to build next year. I just hope we can find them as reasonably priced as this little beast.             

Do you remember the old clayback heaters? Did you grow up with them too?  I'd love to hear your memories of them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

16 comments:

wvsimplicity said...

Be careful with this type of heater. One-because they are not vented and two-because if your gas/gas well would go off or if the plunger on the well would drop and then get back on again without you being home, gas would be pouring into your home. Make sure your heater has a automatic shutoff. Most of the older heaters did not have the shutoff. I remember these types of heaters well. When we moved in my Grandma's old house, we removed the 3 unvented ones and replaced them with newer ones. I do love the looks of the older ones though. Our livingroom still has a large, older, vented one. We also have a gas well. If your heater has a pilot light and a THERMOCOUPLE you are probably safe.

Farmchick said...

Early in our marriage we lived in an old rental house in Alabama. We had one of these heaters and it was fantastic.

Mama-Bug said...

I remember both of my grandmothers having this type of heater in their homes. One of my grannys was bad about backing up to it and heisting her dresstail to warm her backside! Naturaly being kids we thought it was absolutely funny but weren't allowed to try it ourselves.

Angela said...

Our old farm house we lived in before we built had 2 of that type but we never used them. It also had a vented newer gas heater in the living room and a huge vented one in the dining room. We have free gas. In our new house my husband put in a gas log fireplace in the corner of our living room. It heats the entire house very well! Right now it is 79 degrees in the living room! I love it! You might want to get gas logs instead. Ours is vent free. My husband bought ours around March when they are clearancing them out really cheap!

Granny Sue said...

wvsimplicity, thank you for the cautionary advice. An automatic shut-off is installed outside the house that prevents any gas entering the house in the case of the well having issues like you describe. We have to manually re-set it for gas to flow again.

Granny Sue said...

We have a gas fireplace too, Angela and as you say, it does a great job of heating the house. It is a new, unvented model and we love it. We bought it at Lowe's this fall. This little heater is a backup unit and not used often, but I am not afraid of it at all. As I said, we grew up with them and my parents used them until they moved in 1987.

Granny Sue said...

Mama-bug, we used to do the same thing! I can remember so well coming in from sledding and being icy cold but a few minutes in front of the heater and we were toasty.

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Granny Sue -- No clay back furnaces -- just coal furnaces in my past. Do you figure the clay back heater will save on your energy bill? Do you find it heats the room better than other types of energy you have used? It sure looks like it would heat well. -- barbara

willow said...

yep, sure remember these heaters. sure miss them as well. i miss steam radiator heat as well.

Granny Sue said...

Barbara, we have free gas, so cost isn't an issue :) We heated with wood for the past 35 years, until this winter, so this is a new experience for us.

Steve Ferendo said...

The house where I grew up in Doddridge County was heated with these types of heaters. Fond memories of a snug, warm, house. Thanks

hart said...

We had one when I was young, an old one we got from my great aunt that was installed in a new room added on for me. I took off my eyelashes and brows once at eleven when I couldn't get the match struck after I'd turned on the gas. I still remember that whoosh! --jane

Granny Sue said...

Jane, lol! I haven't had that experience--yet, but I have to be careful with my long hair. Charley the cat went around with curled lashes after we put it in--she likes to get close, but I think she learned a lesson that time!

argyle1224 said...

We have three in my house, two downstairs in the laundry room and the man room/shop and the third upstairs in the bathroom. It was built by my Great Grandpa in the 50's, I think across the road from their farmhouse. There's 3 over their as well.

Nance said...

I do not remember these heaters . . . but just fed my grandchildren cinnamon toast tonight. They ask for it when they sleep over.

Granny Sue said...

I really like this kind of heat, argyle. We considered putting in a furnace and ductwork but the cost was pretty high for our small house. This way is a little more labor-intensive but not enough to matter and I like the look of the heaters we have now.

Nancy, cinnamon toast is a wonderful treat for kids!

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