A Brief History of Home Heating

A Brief History of Home Heating

People have always longed for warmth. From simple fires to complex Roman aqueducts, which allowed the Roman population hot bath water, heat brought comfort. The famed aqueducts required hundreds of people to burn wood and create steam to warm the water above. Wealthy Romans used the same methods of hot water to heat the floors of their homes.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the sophisticated aqueduct system was abandoned in favor of more primitive fireplaces and stoves. 

The invention in 1624 of a fireplace with a grate allowed for warm air to circulate a room. The grate controlled the amount of air circulating, but controlling the heat was still difficult. The fireplace had to be maintained by frequent stoking. 

In the United States, the abundance of forests and available wood helped early settlers enjoy a fireplace and warm home. Chimneys became a necessity, and everyone had to remain close to the fireplace, which frequently was also used for cooking. It wasn’t the most efficient heating system, but it did work. 

By the 1880s, many of these homes used boilers fueled by coal, which proved to be a tremendous improvement. 

The invention of the cast iron radiators was an early central heating system which allowed steam heat to be distributed throughout the house. In 1885, Dave Lennox developed a furnace that used ducts to heat the rooms. Coal still had to be kept stoked and heated. This was the beginning of central home heating.

By 1935, the duct system was vastly improved by the use of electric fans, which forced warm air through ducts. Coal was still the primary source of fuel. It worked, but it could be cumbersome and messy. The furnace also had to be re-stoked every morning. By this time, clean gas heat provided a welcome alternative to coal. Gas had been used for lighting for decades. But gas-fueled furnaces with a thermostat allowed for great control of home heating.

Boilers and furnaces were a great advancement in home heating, but control was still manual. It wasn’t until the late 1880s that Albert Butz invented a way to regulate temperature by using a damper. The damper controlled the amount of air used in coal furnaces, thus allowing for proper regulation of temperature. Approximately 25 years later, Butz’ patent was incorporated with a clock. This allowed for actual programming of heat. Thermostats could be set to start heating at a set time, thus providing warm rooms when people rose in the morning. This was a huge leap for home heating.

The introduction and use of electricity made the convection heater, a type of space heater, possible in the 1920s. These heaters worked with hot water or steam coils. The early Model S pulled in cold air and heated it, then returned the warm air to circulate through the room. The most popular electric heating system today would be the central heat pump. Early models of the heat pump were developed in the 1940’s. They started to become extremely popular in the 1980’s due to the oil crisis. People were looking to get away from heating with fossil fuels. In milder climates, heat pumps are still considered the most efficient way to heat your home. 

Today, boilers fueled by either gas or oil provide both heat through a radiator system and warm water. Many boilers are also being operated with electricity.

Central heating is common in most homes. Interestingly, many of them still use the hot water system related to the one invented by the Romans.