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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Nothing New Under The Sun

Holy cow this film is something like 100 years old. Was Edison cranking the handle? I kept expecting Charlie Chaplin to appear.

It starts out with the usual lament. We’re running out of coal, of all things. The only endangered species on display isn’t coal, it’s a man willing to do more than watch football on TV in his basement, and a two-parent family next door. But let’s not quibble. The denizens of ye olde draftopolis are interrogating the cloud people on how they were able to keep ice from forming on the goldfish bowl. The answer, which is not directly mentioned in the video, was asbestos. They covered everything in asbestos.

I’m not an environmentalist, I guess. The word itself contains the word “mentalist.” Now, I can predict the future (it will be worse), but I’m not really a mentalist, or an environmentalist. Environmentalists commute to work on recumbent bicycles and paddle plastic kayaks on the weekends. I commute to work in my socks and have a boat I built entirely from wood in my basement. It’s never been launched.

I simply don’t like wasting things. They don’t have a name for that anymore. I’ve saved more stuff than any ten environmentalists. I’m wary of wonder cures for everyday problems. It’s how you end up with everything in your house, including most of the house itself, made from plastic. It’s how paint and gasoline ended up with copious doses of lead in them. Hell, they used to put mercury into paint to kill spiders who might walk over it.

The video is labeled “Energy conservation in the Home in the 1920s,” but in today’s parlance, conservation just means rationing. This is different. These people are trying to get more bang for the same buck. They didn’t like wasting things, either, or wearing their winter coats to bed in January.

So they insulated the jacket of the furnace, and all the pipes, with asbestos. They got more heat in the right parts of their house for the same amount of money, and the installers all got mesothelioma at no extra charge.

One wonders if in 100 years, an ill-informed internet so-and-so will post a video of the benighted 2020s, and wonder why everyone thought coal was evil, but lithium, cadmium, and a healthy dose of cobalt was peachy.

3 Responses

  1. Our previous house had been built in 1901 and included a boiler that had originally been fired with coal. The space underneath the front porch had been the coal cellar. At some point, probably in the 1930’s when the gas lines were put in, the ash and clinker pan had been removed and an enormous burner ring put into place. It had a pilot light that you could have used as stove burner, and I’m guessing that about 80 cents of every dollar spent on gas went straight up the chimney. And yes, both it and all of the basement radiator pipes were covered in cloth-wrapped asbestos. We lived in that house for 20 years without worrying about asbestos exposure.

    When the exhaust plenum of that furnace finally rusted through we had to replace it. First step was hiring an “approved” asbestos abatement company to come in an strip the asbestos off the furnace and some of the piping (we were told to leave the rest in place…just don’t disturb it). A team of three guys came in and did it in a day, sealing off the area airtight with plastic, and with special HEPA-filtered vacuums and ventilation. That boiler was about the size of one you’d find powering a ship, and weighed as much as the house; I was worried about the basement steps taking the load when they carried it out but they’d been well-built.

    The new furnace was about the size of a 2-drawer file cabinet and had a circulating pump (the old one had been gravity hot-water) which meant the house got warm at least 5 times faster than with the old boiler. We now had only about 20 cents of each natural gas dollar going up the chimney, but because the piping was now exposed it was actually warmer in the basement in the winter. This was in Minnesnowta where it never gets cold in the winter. The price of gas doubled in the following year, but we still ended up paying less than half of what we had in the previous winter. The new furnace paid for itself within about 5 years.

    I won’t even talk about the blown mica (“Vermiculite”) insulation in the attic…

    Hey, it’s nice to see you back on-line. I kept your site bookmarked just in case you decided to take another whack at this old-fangled “blogging” stuff.

  2. Hey, this post resonates. I was born into 1970’s New York. My folks had to borrow money from a family friend in order to put the $25,000 down payment on their $60,000 mortgage. I remember a fuel oil tank being filled one year, then a Russian furnace being built into the basement a year later. Saturdays, Dad would take the station wagon over to the Hudson to pick driftwood, come home and fire up the chainsaw, then supervise while we boys stacked. A few years later, a second hand coal furnace the size of a compact car was plumbed into the baseboard heaters. Lugging two pails of coal down the stairs and removing the still warm ash twice a day laid the foundation for a life of physical work. I did the math; those three yards of coal each year saved us a pile on heating costs.

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