THE HISTORY OF HOME HEATING

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Let’s face it: We take for granted the comfort we enjoy thanks to our modern heating and cooling systems. When you get right down to it, it’s amazing that we have home heating in so many safe and efficient forms, from furnaces and heat pumps to radiators, gas and electric space heaters, and even radiant floor heating. All of those things keep us warm and cozy, even on the coldest winter night. But it hasn’t always been this way.

The quest to stay warm and comfortable dates back hundreds of thousands of years, pretty much as long as humans have been alive. Just for fun, let’s take a trip back through time and see how we got to where we are today.

Fire: Sometime between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago – Fire good! We owe our cave-dwelling ancestors a huge “thank you” for figuring out the secret of fire. Without it, a cave is a cold and dark place to live, and raw food can be a real bummer. While humanity may have “discovered” fire as early as 1.5 million years ago, primatologists have estimated that the first use of flints to start fire and the first conserving of fire by adding fuel may have occurred as recently as 400,000 years ago. While we’ve come a long way since then, everything in your house that heats up owes its existence to those long-ago cave dwellers first figuring out how to control fire.

Roman Hypocausts: 500 BCE – Finally, you can have a warm bath! The Romans were among the first to figure out a way to heat a building without filling it with smoke. They created what were called “hypocausts” by constructing walls and floors with spaces in them. Fires were then lit underneath the buildings, allowing the heat to fill the spaces in the floors and walls and heat the interior.

The Fireplace and Chimney: 12th Century – Even today, the fireplace may be the most iconic mode of home heating there is, even while it’s not terribly efficient compared to modern furnaces and HVAC systems. Prior to the development of modern fireplaces, homes often featured a firepit in the middle of the floor, which was vented through a hole in the center of the roof. Norman castles used slanted flues that allowed fireplaces to be moved to the side of the room, which created less smoke to fill up the space. This design led to the fireplace where we all like to hang our stockings.

The Stove: 17th Century – Now we’re cooking! Before the development of the stove, most food was still cooked over the fire. The stove was not only a better way to make dinner, it was also a safer form of heat, especially once Benjamin Franklin developed a safer variant that’s still named for him to this day. Most stoves were still fed by wood until 1885, however, when carts and then later motor trucks were used to deliver coal to basements.

The Central Boiler: 18th Century – Boil, baby, boil! The first steam-based heating system was developed in Scotland by James Watt. This eventually evolved into coal-fed basement boilers that sent heat throughout the house via a series of octopus-like pipes.

The Radiator: 19th Century – Steam, glorious steam! The invention of the radiator happened in Russia, where they know from cold, but this heating method quickly gained popularity in the States, especially in apartments, office buildings, and other large structures. In fact, the White House and the nation’s capital were both equipped with steam heat in the 1840s.

The Thermostat: Mid-19th Century – Things started moving fast once the radiator was in place, and Warren Johnson had patented the earliest thermostat by 1883. Like all dads, the first thing he probably did was tell his kids not to touch it.

Coal-Fired Furnaces and Electric Heaters: Late 19th Century – We’re getting warmer! Around this time, Dave Lennox brought together several existing technologies and began manufacturing coal-fired furnaces that made use of radiators to heat a whole house rather than just one spot. No more huddling around the stove or fireplace on a cold evening! Thomas Edison followed it up with the first electric heater in 1883.

Central Heating: Early 20th Century – Still, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that we started seeing heating systems that resemble what we take for granted today. The very earliest central heating system, patented by Alice Parker in 1919, used natural convection to move the heat around. It took almost 20 more years for electricity to become widespread enough that electric fans could begin moving the warm air through supply ducts to heat every room!

Home Heating Goes Mainstream: Mid-20th Century – By the 1950s, people had plenty of choices for keeping their homes warm and cozy, and the options only increased as the decades ticked by. Homes featured boilers and furnaces that ran off propane, natural gas, electricity, and oil, while apartments were frequently warmed by wall-mounted heaters.

Smart Thermostats: Early 21st Century – Home heating gets smart! Today, we can use programmable learning thermostats to control the temperature in our homes when we’re not even there. Just touch your phone, and the temperature goes up or down like magic. It’s a long way from feeding wood into the fireplace, and it’s safer and a lot more efficient, too!

It was a long journey to get from those first cave fires all the way to the smart heating systems we enjoy today, but we don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about home heating until we need a furnace repair on a cold winter night. Fortunately, you can avoid those unpleasant reminders of what life was like before central heat by keeping up on your furnace maintenance and getting seasonal tune-ups from Davenport Service Company. Your early ancestors would certainly respect that.

At Davenport Service Company, we know how much our clients rely on their home HVAC systems, especially when the weather turns cold and nasty. That’s why we always offer “Customer First” Olathe heating and cooling service and encourage seasonal tune-ups with our VIP Program to help keep your system in tip-top shape all year round! Just call Davenport Service Company at 913-441-2222 to schedule your furnace tune-up today!

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