Home Fires and the Amish

While visiting an Amish friend this past in winter, I woke to the gentle creaking of old wooden steps, and I knew my dear friend was on her way to the cellar to add wood to the stove. Her husband was on a three-day hunt, and while he’s gone she’s diligent about maintaining the wood stove so her family stays warm throughout the night and no one shivers when crawling out of bed in the morning.

During each visit, I understand more of how things work inside Old Order Amish homes, their community, and their faith. One of the many things I’ve found interesting is their methods of heating the home during the long, cold winters.

The days of mainly using open hearths are long gone. Too much of the heat goes up the chimney along with the smoke. Even so, the Amish may build a fire in the family-room hearth at the end of the workday.

The Old Order Amish haven’t adopted the modern way of heating a home, but neither do they use the usual pioneer methods. As is typical of the Old Order Amish, they’ve found a successful medium between those two worlds—pioneer and modern America.

Generally the Amish heat their homes with heating stoves and often with a cookstove on the first floor, with heat rising naturally to the second floor. Kerosene heaters are used in some homes.

I have observed two other ways the Old Order Amish heat their homes in winter. One is to have a boiler in the cellar or basement that leads to a radiator. Another is to have a wood or coal stove/heater in the cellar or basement connected to ductwork that leads to the first floor (and the second floor in newer homes).

A fair number of Old Order Amish homes were built in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds, so heating them is challenging.

Heating stoves became popular in America in the mid-1800s, but the Amish and Mennonites were using wood stoves from the time they arrived in America—long before Ben Franklin’s famous all-metal stove that he patented in the mid-1700s.

Although most Amish have propane tanks in their backyards, few use propane to heat their homes. Propane is used for refrigerators, hot water tanks, and summertime cookstoves. Many Amish have two cookstoves in their kitchens: a gas one for hot weather and a wood-burning one for cold weather. Many Amish also have gas stoves in the basement or cellar for canning during those stifling hot summer days.

In The Hope of Refuge, Ephraim only had one type of cookstove: a wood-burning cookstove. Do you know why? For a chance to win an Amish-made washboard wall hanging and your choice of one of my autographed books, leave an answer below. Whether your answer is right or wrong or on another topic or  just an “enter me,” you’ll be entered into the contest! A winner will be drawn Tuesday, April 27 (2010).


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