It’s difficult for us to imagine today in our cozy, centrally-heated, well-insulated homes, but once upon a time, a fire in a cave was radical technology that changed the world. From crude fires to sophisticated electric fireplaces, mankind — and heating technology — has come a long way. Read on for a timeline of major home heating milestones through the ages — including ones taking place today.
Early man and his caves
In 2012, two Boston University archaeologists discovered evidence of a 1.2 million-year-old man-made fire in South Africa. This is the earliest known evidence of humans creating a controlled fire for their own purposes. And with fire came the ability to cook meat, which in turn may have contributed to the development of the species.
As far back as 2,500 years ago, humans had hearths in the home, along with stoves and even under-floor heating. Romans used hypocausts — under-floor heating systems — to heat public bath houses and villas. So those heated floors in your bathroom that warm your toes on chilly winter mornings are a modern incarnation of an old Roman technology.
In the Middle Ages, hearth fires remained the norm, although some buildings had no heating at all. An enterprising individual invented chimneys in the 11th or 12th century, meaning fires moved from the center of the room to a dedicated fireplace, and venting holes in the center of the room were eventually eliminated. Even those lucky enough to live in castles employed essentially the same system of heating their indoor spaces with indoor fires and chimneys.
Rising above the rocks
Moving forward in time, the first metering systems to monitor natural gas use in homes were put into place in 1815 and became widely used by the 1840s. In the latter part of the 19th century, most homes were heated with steam boilers fueled by coal, which had to be shoveled. These machines’ labor-intensive nature — along with the high cost of coal — made them quickly obsolete when oil-burning furnaces were introduced in the 1920s.
Staying toasty today
These days, we have an array of heating technologies available to help keep our homes at a steady 72 degrees year-round. According to the United States Department of Energy, 7.7 million American homes are now heated with fuel oil annually. Other popular options topping the list include electric and natural gas furnaces, and supplemental heating options like electric fireplaces and infrared heaters are becoming more common. Solar paneling harnesses energy from the sun to produce in-home heat, while heat pumps convert nearly 100 percent of electricity’s energy to heat.
Today, our main concern isn’t about getting our homes warm — it’s about keeping them that way. Heat loss and the rising costs of home heating — gas, electric or otherwise — are issues we all have to confront, and environmental concerns are also tied into these problems, as well. For more information on the available options to heat your home and how best to hold onto that warmth, download “Cure for the Common Cold Room: A Safe & Smart Home Heating Guide,” our free ebook on the subject.