The modern heating systems we have implemented in our homes and businesses in the 21st century are a far cry from the heating methods our ancestors once used. Compared to what we used to have, the machinery we have now to achieve what we do seems futuristic. But how did we get here? And what is the history of heating? In this article, we will answer those questions and take a deeper look into the various heating methods used in society throughout various periods to gain a comprehensive understanding of the history of heating.
Fire- 44,000 BCE
Evidence for the use of fire for warmth dates back to roughly one million years ago, when our common ancestors, Homo Erectus, left microscopic traces of wood ash for us to discover as the earliest definitive piece of evidence. For many thousands of years, fire was the only method our ancestors had in their arsenal to heat their dwellings.
As society evolved, they brought fire inside with them and figured out how to use campfires as indoor heating methods by creating a central roof opening to allow spoke to escape and avoid burning their homes.
Underfloor heating- 2,500 BC
Underfloor heating may seem like a milestone of modern heating systems but discoveries made in Greece suggest that underfloor heating systems have actually existed since 2,500 BC. The Egyptians followed shortly thereafter with a more advanced version of the Greek invention. They used bellows to fan the flames below the floor to enhance the heat of the fire and cover more square footage. This idea was later adopted by Kings in the Middle East in 1300 BC, who also installed underfloor heating systems in their palaces.
Central Heating- 100 BC
The Romans are credited for the invention of many revolutionary things, such as social care and welfare, the calendar, basic legal systems, newspapers, roads, hydraulic cement-based concrete, and central heating. They did this by carving hollows in stone floors and tile walls named hypocausts. They would then light a fire on one side of the hollow chamber and pass combustion gases under the floor. As time progressed, these hypocaust chambers were eliminated and replaced by floor ducts that connected the wall flues to the furnace. This system was used to heat upper-class Roman houses and public baths, which were frequented by the rich.
Larger Structures- 324 AD/ 1200
As human capabilities continued to develop, larger structures were becoming more commonplace. Thus, comprehensive and expensive heating systems were required to heat them. Very few advances occurred in the Dark Ages, and those who lived in Europe actually regressed for a while, opting for fireplaces out of necessity for almost 1000 years. The medieval period did see the evolution of interconnected underfloor heating channels in large buildings, and furnaces were introduced in the 1200s to improve the efficiency of the system.
Furnaces/ The Chimney- the 1200s
Furnaces primarily used wood for fuel for some time, and the invention of the furnace was yet to introduce any other fuel types. Despite their relative simplicity, the development of furnaces and chimneys would pave the way for modern heating systems in the not-too-distant future.
Hot water heating- 1300s
The first recorded use of anybody using hot water for heating was in Greenland in the 14th century, using hot spring water to generate heat in a monastery.
Stoves, steam, combustion and coal- 1600s
Metal stoves were beginning to rise in popularity, but due to their inability to heat more than one room at a time, property owners tended to opt for traditional fireplaces. However, experimentation was beginning to occur with different types of fuel. Hugh Plat, an English writer, suggested that alternatively to wood, steam could be used for heat. But this notion would be ignored until roughly 100 years later. Simultaneously, work on developing the first circulating fireplace, otherwise known as the ‘smokeless stove’ was taking place in France. Furthermore, coal was discovered on the Illinois River in 1679.
Things were beginning to pick up here, and the first true remnants of modern heating systems were starting to show. Hot water was used for central heating in St. Petersburg, safe and efficient stoves were released, steam heating was proposed once again, coal mining became commonplace, and steam heating was beginning to take off. The 1700s were a huge decade for the development of various heating methods, and by the 1800s, the course of the history of heating would change forever.
Daniel Pettibone, an American inventor, developed the first furnace that used warm air for heating, inspired by the hypocaust heating systems the Romans invented before him. Although, this would prove inefficient, as the heating was inconsistent thanks to its reliance on the natural rise of heat. Comparatively more efficient gas stoves were increasingly common, warm-air furnaces were developed, the thermostat made an appearance in 1830, and high-pressure heating systems were released.
These high-pressure heating systems are reminiscent of modern heating systems, only far more dangerous to begin with. After several accidents, the high-pressure heating system was modified by its inventor, Angier Perkins, and remained popular in England until the 1850s.
The first truly recognisable addition to these heating methods is the radiator, which was released in 1854. They used two dimpled iron sheets that would become incredibly hot to the touch. So although they were popular, they still had a way to go. 9 more inventors would release their variety of the radiator in the next 46 years, each improving on the faults of the last, with the American Radiator Company consolidating numerous boiler manufacturers, enduring the test of time, and still exists today as American Standard.
In 1910, the first electric fan was advertised as an optional addition to furnaces to boost air circulation, and 20 years later, fibreglass insulation was implemented as an important element for insulating heating systems. This fibreglass would later be known as asbestos. In the 30s, the development of electric heating was accelerating and plastic was beginning to be introduced as an alternative to metal.
Solar energy generation became increasingly popular in the 1970s, and in 1995 modern heating systems were a staple in every home.
The 21st Century
Heating methods became very comprehensive in the 2000s. Various fuel types and heating methods were readily available and provided the public with choices. HVAC systems are now widely used across the globe and underfloor heating is a luxury that many of us can now afford. Gas heaters, Heat Pumps, and electric boilers are where the history of heating comes to a close. As the future of heating is widely dependent on the development of eco-friendly technologies that completely negate the necessity of fossil fuels and outdated heating methods.
It is safe to say that after so much experimentation and evolution throughout history, we’re excited to see where modern heating systems go next.