Up until current times, fire had been the only source for home heating, and the way in which it was used has changed greatly. If we re-consider the word home to include all dwelling places, then the charcoal left from fires has been found and dated at Upper Paleolithic sites, between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. In Skara Brae site in Orkney, Scotland (3180 BCE-2500 BCE) the homes contained a square hearth in the center for both eating and cooking. There has been some debate about the fuel used in this hearth, whether peat or wood, but most likely, both were used depending on what was available.
This almost standard heating unit, hearth in the center of the room with a smoke hole overhead, continued in some parts of the world up until the Middle Ages, but in the Roman world especially, great improvements were made. The upper- class Roman had a hypocaust heating system. In this system, the floor was raised several feet off the ground on tile pillars, and fires were then built underneath the floors, becoming the first known case of radiant heating.
The fireplace as we know it today came along in the 1200’s, although they hadn’t quite yet worked out how to build a proper and safe effective chimney, so they tended to smoke up the room. The fireplaces themselves were often built more for ornament that effectiveness. Even at Versailles, during the reign of the Sun King, Louis the XIV, his courtiers and even his wife, Madame de Maintenon, complained of the bitter cold in winter.
Although stoves were beginning to be used for heating, even they were not very effective. Benjamin Franklin is famous for designing a better version in 1741. The radiator was a great improvement in heating a room at least, being invented in St. Petersburg, Russia around 1855. They used hot water or steam to heat individual rooms, but with crude ineffective thermostats it was difficult to get the warmth right where it was wanted. There are many recorded instances of having to open the windows in winter as it had gotten too hot in the room.
The late Victorian period brought in the furnace, where a central unit could heat an entire house or even building. And by the middle of the 20th century, we had arrived at the common use of the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system in the western world. Some attempts have been made with passive solar or geothermal heating, and while some great successes have been achieved, both have too many specialized requirements to work everywhere.
At ServiceMark Heating Cooling & Plumbing, we pride ourselves in having extensive working knowledge of many types and brands of heating and cooling equipment. Our HVAC technicians, all of which are NATE Certified (National Air Conditioning Technician Excellence), are always on call ready to help in all kinds of weather and at all times of the day.
Special thanks goes out to Tim Tech Support, our friends at Wikipedia and, of course, our own background in the HVAC industry.