Home heating is such an integral part of home life now, that to imagine a time before it is almost impossible. It seems that fireplaces have been a part of our culture for centuries upon centuries, but it all had to start somewhere, right? While fire has always been the constant, just how did we arrive at the uniform heating devices we all use today? We here at Gas Line have compiled a rough timeline of some of the innovations that helped mould modern home heating.
The discovery of fire is impossible to pin down, obviously, but from what we do know about the earliest forms of human civilisation, all of their lives centred around it in some way. It was used for cooking, for protection, for socialising, and of course for heating. As most people centre their living rooms around the fireplace, seemingly little has changed!
The most basic fire pit was likely the standard means of heating for thousands upon thousands of years. The first leap forward to something more controlled and civilised came with the Roman’s. Their public baths and a select few houses were built on pillars, with pipes running all throughout the foundations.
A furnace situated underneath the pillars would be fed fuel, and the heat would then rise up and channel through the house via the pipes, resulting in a nice even temperature throughout the house. Of course, while it was an improvement on the small scale fire pit, it also carried the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning, as the toxins created by the burning fuel couldn’t always escape into the atmosphere.
The solution to the toxins didn’t arrive until the time of the Tudors, with the invention of the chimney. While they had been used before, it was the Tudors who made them a staple by building them into all of their homes, as a way to channel smoke out of the house. This also meant that the fire could be in the house, as opposed to being situated below it.
Though a lot of heat escaped up the chimney too, it was still the best system at the time, and it became the must-have appliance of its day. Tudors were so concerned with having the best chimney that they would often try to top it with the most elaborate clay chimney pot they could find.
It was the mid 1700s before a change occurred. This time, both fuel and fireplaces got an upgrade. Coal started to phase out wood as the fuel of choice, due to it’s slower burning time and superior heat generation. This was met with the rise of ornate fireplaces, which brought design into things for the first time, as well as reducing heat loss.
You may be aware of the downside of this method of home heating – smog. An amalgamation of “fog” and “smoke”, it was a thick cloud of pollutants that forms when coal is burned en masse. It has dire health implications, and was particularly bad in cities like London.
Another home heating staple, radiators were actually invented further back than you think. The Victorians were the first to popularise the system, placing radiators in corridors and heating them with pressurised steam. This high pressure steam would be channeled through pipes, similar to the Roman heating systems, and the heat it carried would radiate out.
As with all of these early heating systems, there was a flaw, namely a buildup of pressure. While the radiators had valves that would release the steam manually, sometimes the pressure would be too great. When that happened, the radiators would just explode!
As we approach the present day, we start to see more familiar devices crop up. Thomas Edison, the inventor of several things including the lightbulb, also invented the electric heat. Quickly taken up as a safer, more efficient alternative to fuel burning fireplaces, it has become increasingly more popular as the decades rolled on. It was joined in the 1970s by the invention of modern home heating, which brought even more convenience and control.
Nowadays, far more advanced fireplaces and central heating systems are the norm. But you should thank all of those bright sparks who advanced home heating on over the centuries, as otherwise, you’d be sat in a cave now!