Some years ago I had an oil tank with a broken gauge. I marked off a broom stick with 1-inch segments and would stick that down in the tank to keep track of the oil level. One late Thursday night of a four-day weekend, the tank ran out, the furnace shut off, it was 70 degrees inside and 20-below outside with the wind whipping around the house. And I didn’t then have a wood stove.


My every dime counted and I was not keen on paying a price for an emergency delivery even could I find someone that would bring it.

I ruminated for a bit and thought: “I wonder what would happen if I lit up my kerosene lamps?” (I have a collection of them. I like to light them up occasionally, as they remind of my wonderful childhood on the farm with my Tucker grandparents.)

So I lit two in the living room, two in my kitchen/eating area and one in the bathroom, representing the number of heat vents.

One hour later, the temperature inside was 72 degrees. Eureka. And it stayed there for the duration.

Thinking on it, it only makes sense. You can put your hand over a heat vent when the furnace is on and it’s only warm. The furnace runs a few minutes, heats the house a bit and shuts off. Another 15-20 minutes the house is cooling again, the furnace comes on again and this keeps repeating.

Try holding your hand over an oil lamp chimney. Actually, don’t. It’s burning hot and the heat keeps pouring out of it constantly. And it will keep the air warm. Simple physics.

I don’t heat my bedroom, as I like it cool for sleeping — buried in a cocoon of blankets and comforters. However, there’s a simple trick I learned decades ago to have a warmer bed if you need it: Put a sheet over the top of the blankets. The close weave of the sheet helps keep your body heat from escaping, making your ‘cocoon’ even snugglier. (I know. That’s not a word. Well, it wasn’t. It is now 'cause I’m invoking my poetic license. )

I have all the oil lamps I need now, but I still can’t pass one up if I find it at a yard sale or thrift shop if it’s reasonable and if it’s an old one. That's easily ascertained by looking at the brass connection to the glass. If it screws inside the glass, it’s old — and well made, including the tempered glass base. If it attaches like a jar top, screwing over the outside, it’s newer and not made so well — sign of the times. The latter will, however, still put out the heat and light. I’m just partial.

So I grab the old ones whenever I can and one by one, passing them on to my kids. They may never need them for heat, but even if needed just once, it’s better to have them than not.

Of course, today, we don’t burn the same kerosene they did back on the farm. It’s really not a good idea. Today, we mostly use "lamp oil." I use it for holidays or short-term use. But it’s hellaciously expensive to use on a long-term basis. However, there is a kerosene product, “1-K,” aka “white kerosene” made in the U.S., that can be used in lamps, with the description of: “The purest kerosene you can buy and contains no dye, dirt or impurities."

I do use this and keep some — it comes in gallon cans — on hand. And it is available in town at our local hardware store or online.

It couldn't hurt to have a couple gallons of 1-K tucked away.

And smile. We're halfway through winter.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools. She now lives in Morrill.