Old/New Source of Alternative Energy (Heat) – The Hot Water Bottle

Hot Water Bottle (Remembered)

I’m all for solar power, wind power, and other renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.  But during last night’s bitter cold, which was especially frigid in Battery Park City (where I live), the prow of the stationary ship which is Manhattan, I discovered an eminently traditional, and yet not fully tapped, form of alternative energy (i.e. heat).  The hot water bottle.

Seriously.  It was terrific. Better than wool socks.  (Maybe not as good as a nearby warm body, but warm bodies don’t necessarily put up with cold feet other than their own.)

As a caveat, I should say that I keep my apartment relatively (my kids say, ‘extremely’) cool (my kids say, ‘freezing’) in winter.  Besides trying to keep my carbon footprint to a toeprint, I find hot air heat too dry.   This means that I basically turn all the heat off at night.  (Okay, so maybe my kids are right.)

But last night called for measures beyond wool socks, a down comforter, and even a nearby warm body.

I have to confess to a past prejudice against hot water bottles, their rubbery exteriors so (potentially, at least) slimy and nubbly.  Besides my innate repugnance, my only personal experience with hot water bottles was in Mussoorie, India, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas, bordering Rishikesh (the hang-out of Maharaji Mahesh Yogi the Beatles’ guru)  and Dehra Dun (a favorite locale of Rudyard Kipling).

Mussoorie, though a very nice town, probably sounds more romantic than it is, at least when you are there alone, as I was.   It was green, hilly, and, on the small main road had a small boy who ran alongside a single thin wheel which he propelled with a stick.   On a clear day, there was a tower you could climb where you could supposedly see Tibet.  (I was not there on any clear days.)

Other than that, all I remember about Mussoorie is that it was very cold at night and that in my guest house, a remnant of the Raj, guests were distributed hot water bottles after dinner.  These, a sickly blue green, were covered in a worn crochet of thick bright red and purple yarn;  up by the corked top was a dog-eared yarn flower.

My memory of these hot water bottles is somewhat muddled by the baths in that same hotel.  The tubs were portable, small and tin, just about big enough for a squat.  When I came back to the hotel in the late afternoons, there was, next to the little tin tub, a very large aluminum tea kettle coated in an even larger quilted tea cozy.  Though the water in this kettle was close to boiling (depending upon when one came back to the room), there was only enough to fill the very cold noisy tub to the depth of an inch or two.  I remember taking all baths in at least one wool sweater.

Unfortunately, the crochet-covered hot water bottle and the tea-cozy-covered bath water became inextricably linked in my mind.  As a result, I always thought of hot water bottles with a shiver from the waist down.

Until last night, that is, when my husband, in response to the buzzing cold of my feet,  found a dark red hot water bottle in the back of a bathroom cabinet, and filled it up to the brim.

What a revelation!  My own little heat pillow.  My own little adjustable portable hearth.   At virtually no cost!  Using minimal fossil fuel!

Okay, so, it sounds silly.  But it also seems a useful paradigm for reducing U.S. energy consumption.    Heating one small actually used space, as needed, instead of the nonstop heating of a whole apartment, or house.  A helpful idea even when oil has not yet gotten back up to $100 a barrel.  (News alert—it went over $81 today.)

No crochet required.



ps- if you prefer paintings of elephants to hot water bottles, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson.

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7 Comments on “Old/New Source of Alternative Energy (Heat) – The Hot Water Bottle”

  1. David Feldman Says:

    No hot water bottles here, but my womenfolk swear by foot-warming pillows, stuffed with dried corn or rice, that get toasty warm after three or four minutes in the microwave. It all started with a fondly welcomed gift, subsequently duplicated via some internet purchases, followed by the happy discovery that do-it-yourself proves no trouble at all and allows improvisatory customization of size and shape. I know, as we do, that you believe in homemade gifts, and for a while we had practically our own little cottage industry. Word of mouth even generated a significant level of demand from family and friends, coming both from fuel misers and suffers of sundry stiffness arising from injury or age. These pillows hold heat for hours, conform to your extremity of choice, and issue a pleasant smell, particular if stuffed with corn. I believe our homemades have white California long grain rice inside. New Hampshire only has two season (namely winter and the fourth of July), so essentially continuous use here guarantees that no unwelcome visitors of the six-legged persuasion ever take up residence.

    • manicddaily Says:

      Ha. They sound very nice, especially given the idea of toasted corn or rice fragrance. Only problem for me is that I don’t seem to believe in microwaves (like heat), so don’t have one. But the little pillows sound better than bricks (which was what I had thought of, a la 19th century.) Maybe oven would work?

  2. David Feldman Says:

    I was a late adopter of things microwave, so I sympathize with your Luddite reluctance, but I have come to appreciate their utility. Their efficiency makes them arguably “greener” than conventional ovens. They are kinder to certain nutrients, though admittedly not to others. They actually do not produce the particular carcinogens that arise in conventional baking and frying (tars and chars). They successfully contain nearly all the radiation they produce and, unlike x-rays, say, they emit only non-ionizing radiation anyway. Rodent studies demonstrate that microwave radiation does not lead to cancer even for a subject both directly and chronically exposed. I have even read of “green” proposals to heat people in their homes with gentle microwaves, achieving efficiency by not heating the homes themselves. While I’m sure for now that I’m not willing to go that far, I admit that can’t articulate the scientific downside.

    Speaking as a cook, they do better with some things than I can any other way, though my personal list would require a “your mileage might vary” caveat, so I admit it. They certainly help us to eat more of certain healthy vegetables (squash, artichokes, tubers of various sorts), that would seem a lot of trouble otherwise.

    I love fine Japanese green tea, but it only tastes just right if I control the temperature of the water (and the proportional quantity of tea and the steeping time) exactly. (Many people would kill the taste of this tea by steeping it in boiling water. No!) A pyrex beaker in the microwave makes the temperature part a cinch.

    I wouldn’t put one of our pillows in a conventional oven. A microwave makes the organic matter (usually food) itself the cooking element, and thus temperatures in a microwave rarely rise much above the boiling point of water. A conventional oven heats the air around the food much hotter than that, and then you wait for the onset of thermal equalibrium. “Much hotter” means that you might risk achieving the kindling point of the fabric.

    • manicddaily Says:

      Yes, that kindling point of the fabric is exactly what I would worry about!

      I don’t think I’ll change re microwaves. Only if I couldn’t have a gas range perhaps. (But I do appreciate the information.) And I like green tea too, in principal!

  3. David Feldman Says:

    “I admit it” should read “I omit it.”

  4. Joannie Says:

    I was looking for more all different sources of heat.


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