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.

It’s That Time of Year

Schedule Your Heat Pump or Furnace Maintenance Before You Need Heating Repairs

With winter just around the corner, it’s time to start preparing your heat pump and furnace units for the cold weather. By starting your preparation early, you’ll help keep your systems running efficiently all winter long. Your heat pump and furnace are two of the most important parts of your home. Without proper maintenance, your home may not stay warm, you might waste energy and drive up energy costs, or harmful emissions could enter your home causing safety hazards.
Maintenance doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost a lot of money, but it can help you save time and money in the future. Here are the top heat pump and furnace maintenance tips to keep your home warm this winter.

Heat Pump Maintenance

A heat pump is an energy-efficient way to heat your home in milder climats. Rather than generating heat by burning fuel, a heat pump uses electricity to move heat energy from one area to another. Even in winter, the cold air has heat energy that a heat pump can transfer into your home. A heat pump can work effectively in temperatures as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature drops further, the heat pump’s electrical backup heater kicks in.
To keep your heat pump working efficiently, there are some simple maintenance steps that you should take now to prepare for winter.

Clean or replace your heat pump air filters.
Keep the heat pump clear of debris, as debris can block the coils and fan and can potentially damage the unit.
Ensure proper airflow around the heat pump by clearing the area around the pump and trimming trees and bushes if necessary.
Have your heat pump inspected by the team at Short Pump Heating and Air.

Your heat pump provides energy-efficient heat to your home, so to save on costs and keep your family comfortable this winter, set aside some time to complete these steps and schedule a service call with our team.

Furnace Maintenance

A furnace is another common and effective heating system that uses natural gas, propane, or electricity. Air is heated in one area and then dispersed throughout your home through your ductwork and vents. The combustion process quickly generates heat, and the heat exchanger transfers the heat to the airflow in your home’s duct system.

Your furnace keeps your home warm even during extreme temperatures, so here are some ways to keep your furnace running efficiently this winter.

Ensure all exhaust pipes and drainage tubes are securely fastened.
Test the area and smell for gas. If it smells like rotten eggs, the furnace has a gas leak, and you should contact a professional.
Dust the internal components of your furnace and clean the flame sensor.
Change your filter at least every three months.
Schedule a full inspection with the team at Short Pump Heating and Air.

Spending a few minutes on regular maintenance can help your furnace perform better during the winter. It’s always a good idea to have the team at Short Pump Heating and Air inspect your furnace or heat pump system before you turn it on for the winter season.
Partner with Short Pump Heating and Air

The best way to prepare your home’s HVAC systems for winter is to partner with the heating experts at Short Pump Heating and Air. By scheduling a routine inspection, you’ll keep your family safe and warm this winter. Contact us today to set up your heat pump or furnace inspection service.

How Do Heat Pumps Actually Work?

When it comes to HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, there are a lot of options to choose from. Many homes have gas furnaces, which are a great source of heat, but can be less efficient than heat pumps in milder winter temperatures. The most efficient heat source in milder weather would be a heat pump system.

In the Richmond area, a heat pump system is a great HVAC option for efficient heating and also heating performance. What makes this system so efficient is its ability to pump heat in either direction to provide both heating and air conditioning to your home.

How? Instead of burning fuel to create heat (can be inefficient and expensive) in milder climates, a heat pump uses the behavior of heat itself to move heat from one place to another. So, what exactly does that mean, you ask? In a nutshell, the key to understanding this is basic physics– heat always wants to move to a location with a lower temperature (just like we dream of heading to a beach house in Maine during the dog days of summer). But seriously- imagine how a hot cup of coffee always cools down when left on a counter, and how the countertop beneath the hot cup is warmed up as the coffee cools down. This is an example of heat transfer, and a rough parallel to how a heat pump works.

A heat pump is a closed-loop system made up of two parts: an outside compressor and an indoor fan unit (air handler). Refrigerant is the almost-magical element that connects these two parts, through a series of coils and pipes. Heat pump technology takes advantage of the fact that refrigerant fluid has a very low boiling point (below zero) that is also affected by pressure. Remember- heat always wants to move to a location with a lower temperature. Raising the pressure can greatly increase heat in the fluid, allowing it to transfer that heat into less-hot air (like on a hot summer day) through the condenser coil. Meanwhile, lowering the pressure can change the liquid to gas, which causes it to cool very quickly. Blow air over this cooled coil and voila–we have air conditioning! If you’ve ever used a can of compressed air to clean your keyboard or a tank of propane to grill, you’ve probably noticed the canister or tank gets cold when the gas is being released. This is the same mechanism that heat-pumps use to provide air conditioning!

Because of its low boiling point and ability to be easily manipulated with pressure, the refrigerant in a heat pump is able to draw heat from the air outside in cold weather- because even when it feels cold, there is still heat energy in the air. Heated refrigerant moves through copper pipes to the indoor fan unit where it is exchanged- the heat from the pipes transfers into the cooler air of the house, and the re-chilled refrigerant cycles back to the unit outdoors to collect heat from the air once again. In the summer this cycle is reversed, with the indoor unit’s pipes absorbing heat from inside the house, and releasing that heat to the outdoors.

While this mechanism works effortlessly at higher temperatures, the colder the outdoor temperatures are, the harder the heat pump needs to work to transfer heat to indoors. It’s hard to squeeze heat out of the air when it’s close to freezing. Fortunately, Richmond Virginia’s winter climate is right in the optimal range for heat pumps to operate very efficiently. Most heat pumps have an auxiliary heater that turns on when the heat pump struggles to maintain temperature. When temperatures drop below 35 degrees, gas heat is generally more efficient, but there are systems available that can automatically alternate between a furnace and a heat pump in winter depending on which one is more efficient- based on the temperature outdoors.