The history of Central Heating

6 Feb

The history of heating…you’d think it would be a quick story wouldn’t you? Well its more in depth than you’d think!

We must begin with the cavemen…they lived in caves, existed alongside ferocious beasts and discovered fire. It kept them warm and helped stop parts of their bodies dropping off from frostbite. Before the Romans invaded the UK, heating our homes was pretty much having an open fire in the centre of the room much like the cavemen did. Although this method of heating was not ideal, it worked!

In AD43 the Romans arrived on our shores bringing us to our knees in a matter of minutes. They brought with them grape vines, sewer systems, architecture and road building which as you can imagine back then was greatly appreciated. Within their array of many useful skills, they brought with them the early forms of central heating hooray.

The Romans did not build Rome in a day but certainly deserve a lot of credit for their development of their under floor heating system. They worked by heating a void, typically a false floor or hollow wall, which then heated the space above or next to it. They called this ‘Hypocaust’ which comes from the Latin Hypocaustum which basically means ‘burning underneath’. The hypocaust was an elaborate system of underground channels which were fed with air heated in a furnace. It was far more efficient than an open fire, as the furnace only needed firing once or twice a day

The void would be heated by fires or steam. With this new-found heat people would be more inclined to bathe (who wants to take a cold bath after all) so more people were cleaner and warmer, a win-win situation. Sadly, the Romans decided they had enough of us Brits and decided to scoot on to greener pastures. Once they left around AD410 nothing really happened to be honest, their buildings and systems were left to ruin and unfortunately we went backwards.

1400 long years passed. (At this point I feel the need for a good old cup of tea, it would be rude not to.)

And we’re back…to recap cavemen invented fire (Ooh warmness), Romans invaded bringing us many useful things, Romans left, British got lazy. I do however need to mention the invention of the Chimney by the Tudors in 1534AD. The invention transformed the way families heated their homes as they efficiently carried smoke out of the room. It also helped heat more floors within the home.

Sadly in the 1400 years of nothing (apart from the Tudors), we totally forgot about the idea of central heating. That was until an inventor called William Strutt designed a new mill building in Derby which contained a hot air furnace, hooray. This happened in the 1800’s and changed our lives forever!

He basically designed a large stove which heated air brought in from the outside via an enormous underground passage. The lovely heated air was then distributed throughout the building via ducts. In 1807 he met Charles Sylvester who was also an inventor. By working together they designed Derby’s royal infirmary which had many advanced features such as air refreshing toilets and wait for it….a heating system!

Now it’s 1857 the era of the Victorians and the year Queen Victoria chooses Ottawa as new capital of Canada (bet you didn’t know that). Also in this year a Russian businessman called Franz San Galli laid the foundation of the modern heating system. By implementing large columns made of steel with waterways inside, this allowed for hot water to pass through and heat the air, which resulted in a heated the room. Early hot water radiators were first used to heat corridors. Steam moved through a system of pipes without the need for pumps, although this sometimes meant that heat was wasted on areas where it was not necessarily wanted.

Despite the development of radiators, the rich still enjoyed the aesthetic of an open fire, especially if they could afford servants to keep it fuelled and cleaned. Most families could not afford central heating.

Back to the 20th Century and central heating has rapidly evolved with better designs and generally more efficient techniques. The size of the radiators was reduced which meant less water was required to heat homes. To keep heat in and costs down, insulation methods such as double-glazing became increasingly popular within British homes.

In the 1970’s central heating became the must-have accessory. Boilers were fitted with timers and thermostats, meaning heating could be set to turn on and off at certain times.

Today heating methods have been developed which make the most of the possibilities of the digital age. The latest innovation is the Smart Meter, which lets you understand and control your energy use quickly and wirelessly.

Although technologies advanced and we can do things the cavemen never thought possible. It still wouldn’t be possible without the journey. Just think we still use the cavemen’s original idea of burning wood!



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