World Plumbing Day Special – Central Heating Through The Ages

Imagine homes with no central heating systems. No gas boilers, no warm showers, baths filled up with buckets of water heated on a stove, ONE warm room in the house, and only lumps of coal to warm your tootsies at night. BRRRR!

Today, over 90% of households in the UK are centrally heated; and due to our particularly grim climate, newly built homes come with central heating as standard. Lucky us!

In light of World Plumbing Day 2020, and paying homage to all the plumbers out there, here’s a little ye olde history in celebration of warm houses, and the back-story of central heating.

Back in the, back in the, back in the day…

It’s no coincidence that we find staring into the flames of a campfire almost as engaging as the Eastenders Christmas special – we’ve been doing it since day dot; that firey glow is literally part of our human DNA.

For centuries, wood and charcoal fires provided warmth to the people, and one of the earliest central heating innovations dates back to the Bronze Age; the ancient Korean’ ondol’; an ingenious floor-heating device.

Gimme the hype, hype – hypocaust

Other than alphabets, orgies, strategic war and fancy man sandals; the ancient Greeks and Romans came up with a brilliant heating invention – the hypocaust. The hypocausts extensive underfloor systems generally considered to be a precursor of today’s central heating. They worked by heating the hot air from an underground furnace and pushing the heat up through a system of flues to heat the rooms above – because hey, orgies in cold rooms don’t work so well; everyone tends to keep their clothes on. However, when the Roman Empire fell, the hypocaust system disappeared and wasn’t seen or talked about for more than a thousand years. Bye-bye, warm rooms.

Fireside to stovetop

By the 13th century, after a good few years of trying to force smoke sideways out of buildings (IT’S TRUE), flues and chimneys were appearing across Europe. These rooftop chimneys – directing smoke upwards, in the direction it naturally plumes – meant people could use fires indoors without killing themselves – death by black smoke. Remaining the most popular choice in Britain, for centuries open fires acted as a source of heat, a place to burn witches, and a focal point for family gatherings when the conversation had run dry.

Before the 18th century in Europe, people cooked over open wood fires. In the Middle Ages, waist-high brick-and-mortar hearths made a revolutionary appearance – this meant that whoever was cooking t’ dinner no longer had to squat or kneel to prepare the ye olde beans on toast. For over a thousand years, these stoves produced heat for the people of northern Europe.

Meanwhile, over the pond, in America, metal wood-burning stoves were all the rage. So much so, that in 1744, Benjamin Franklin created the innovative metal-lined Franklin Stove. This Benji Frank Special lived on to keep most American dwellings cosy for the next 200 years.

Pioneering The Modern Radiator

The concept of steam-powered central heating came from a particularly bright American engineer by the name of Angier March Perkins. However, his original central heating system was designed to grow grapes indoors, not to keep anyone warm! Created by Perkins, this innovative system was further honed and perfected by Russian born, Franz Karlovitsch San Galli. San Galli – inventor of the first cast iron radiator – made one of the most significant contributions to modern central heating in 1855.

Steam power to fuel a revolution

The Industrial Revolution, at the dawn of the 19th century, witnessed the most significant leap in central heating innovation for hundreds of years; STEAM power. With steam – generated by coal-fired boilers and passed through pipes to radiators – now utilised as a power source; factories across the UK flourished. By this time, the open fires so prevalent in British homes had also enjoyed a timely revamp. Now, instead of absorbing the heat, thoughtfully designed cast-iron inserts reflected the heat out into the room.

Heating today

By the 20th century, gas and electric fires had become more commonplace. Playing the same role as the fireplace their gas counterparts still acted as the focal point of the living room. And by the 1970s, the central heating we know today was becoming affordable to the masses – and growing in popularity.

Now, when it comes to central heating options, we’re spoilt for choice. With multiple alternatives to choose from, including electric, solar, oil, and gas, technology and innovation have exploded like never before! One of the most impressive devices of late is the smart meter – allowing people to track their energy in almost real-time, and Hive, which enables you to manage your heating remotely, via your device. Both help keep energy bill costs down and have revolutionised our lives.

World Plumbing Day salute!

So, hats off to all the plumbers out there! Without you, our toes would crack off in the cold of the night, our clothes would never be properly clean, and we’d all be way smellier due to a lack of hot showers. PLUMBERS OF YE OLDE TIMES, AND TODAY! WE SALUTE YOU! Happy World Plumbing Day!

For any advice or assistance with your central heating, or if you just fancy chatting about Roman baths, give us a ding on 01522 300 744.