Wednesday, December 18, 2013

To Tech or Not To Tech

by Shannon Baker

I tried to find some way to tie this story to a writing lesson but I finally gave up. So, this happened to me:
We recently moved to a micro, very “rustic” (see how I used real quotation marks to indicate air quotes?) hundred year-old house in Nebraska. It’s a temporary thing, as of this writing, we’re only sentenced to stay there 565 days, more or less.

Anyway, now it’s winter and, as you might expect, the house is not a cozy little nest. It’s small enough that it doesn’t take long to heat up but has an equally quick cool down. The basement heater sounds like a jumbo jet firing up for take off. So all day long there is a roar, the house turns into a steam room, then silence and frost.

I spend entirely too much time of Facebook but, as I explain to my husband, there is so much useful information. To wit, this guy demonstrated how he built a space heater that operates for pennies a day.  It starts with a bread pan. To this, you add four tea lights. (This really intrigued me because I happen to have hundreds of tea lights I keep moving from place to place—which is a story for another time.) Next, you add an inverted terra cotta flower pot with the little hole covered. A larger flower pot goes on top of this and when you light the candles, it creates a convection effect and heats small spaces.

Perfect. I told my husband about my plan and he asked why I didn’t simply use an electric space heater. Oh, but this, I said, is so much cheaper and won’t waste energy and I already have all those tea lights. My husband is a railroader and he’d been working all night and now, going on being up for 30 hours, my schemes didn’t take top priority. He fell into bed and I decided the chilly, gray day was ideal for my new, low-tech heater.   

I set it up on a tea towel, on top of two thick magazines, on the coffee table. I was thrilled when my little heater started putting out a steady, glowing warmth. I chortled about how much money I was going to save us. I felt so clever and Earth-friendly.

Then the candles started to pop. I thought maybe the candles had some gold paint and the chemical was burning off. That didn’t seem like a good idea, so I tried to blow them out. Big mistake. The air fed the fire and it burned hotter. My little heater was certainly an efficient energy producer.

While I tried to decide how to dampen the candles, I smelled the tea towel scorching. This sucker was getting hot. If I didn’t do something soon, it might burn the table. I grabbed some hot pads and picked up the biggest flower pot. The infusion of oxygen fed the fire and it licked around the smaller pot. Yellow flames brightened my living room!

That’s probably when I started making little worried noises. Okay, I reasoned, I didn’t want to put water on the candles in case there was a chemical that would explode if drenched. I decided I’d pick up the bread pan and slowly walk it to the kitchen sink and let it burn itself out. Hands swaddled in hot pads, I gently lifted my low-tech furnace.

I didn’t take a step before it erupted. I’d created an incendiary device made of simple household items. I jerked my hands back and the pan fell to the floor. That’s when I actually screamed and started yelling that word. I’m sure you know the one.

The carpet ignited. (It’s kind of an ugly brown shag so not a big loss, but still, it is the youngest thing in the house.) I had visions of the entire house going up in flames and us wrapped in a blanket a neighbor brought, standing in the street, staring as the firemen hopelessly sprayed the house. I must have started making up a story then. My husband shot from the bedroom in his all-togethers. Did I mention all the shades were up and we live in a close neighborhood?

While I grabbed for placemats from the coffee table and smothered the flames, my husband stood blinking at the chaos, not quite understanding what was happening. I assured him I had it all under control, despite the stench of melting…. I don’t even know what the carpet is made of, nothing natural by the smell of it. 

I succeeded in putting out the flames and only melting a two-foot square. I ushered my husband back to bed and piled a few quilts on top of him, since I had to open the doors and air out the acrid chemical stench. The subfreezing air did the trick in short order.

We survived the incident and my husband cleverly cut and pasted to make spot look nearly as good as new. I dug out the space heater since I’m no longer allowed to play with matches in the house. I guess low-tech isn’t really my thing. No one can claim I’m high-tech either. I’m huddling in the drying blast and subtle roar of the space heater, decidedly a moderate-tech woman.


Brenda Hill said...

Loved it! At first I thought I was going to learn something new & useful, then I pictured the events as they unfolded by this excellent writer, and sorry, but I had to laugh. Great article.

Shannon Baker said...

Thanks, Brenda. I haven't shelved the idea, yet. I found another video with a slightly different method. But before I try it, I'm going to get the fire extinguisher handy.

Beth Groundwater said...

What a great story, Shannon! I guffawed all the way through it. Comedy is your forte. Self-made space heaters, not so much. ;-)

Kathy McIntosh said...

Good tale, Shannon. Glad you survived without damage to anything other than the carpet and your pride. It sounds like a great concept, actually.
You described the action with wonderful details. And made me laugh.

Catherine Dilts said...

Shannon, that was laugh out loud funny. I almost set my house on fire once with a cheap votive candle burner thingy that involved water, which evaporated. I was planning to paint that room anyway.... I'm glad no one was hurt, and you didn't end up homeless!

Maegan Beaumont said...

Oh, Shannon... I'm a horrible, horrible person but I can't stop laughing. Mostly because I've been wanting to try this candle/heater/house-burner-downer thingy for a while now and I can totally see this happening to me. Thank you for the laugh... and for saving my life. :)