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Heating Timeline

A history of heating

Modern day heating systems can trace their origins back many hundreds – and in some cases thousands – of years. We explore the innovations that have seen us harness primitive forms of energy to develop the methods we use to heat our homes today.




    Neanderthal fire power    

Perhaps the earliest form of heating, there are records of Neanderthal man lighting fires in primitive hearths to warm their huts as far back as 42,000BC.

Earliest record of underfloor heating

Underfloor heating can be traced back many thousands of years to present-day North Korea. Known as 'ondol' underfloor heating, wood smoke was used to heat the underside of masonry floors.

Hypocaust underfloor heating

Records show that the Greeks and Romans used hypocaust underfloor heating to warm large villas and public baths. Floors were built on stilts, under which a furnace would circulate hot air and smoke to heat the rooms above.
12th century

First record of residential chimneys

Whilst chimneys had long been used in industry, they only started to appear on larger dwellings in Northern Europe in the 12th century. It would be another 400 years before they became a common sight on homes of all sizes.
16th century

Coal becomes common fuel for heating

A shortage of wood fuel and its subsequent increase in price led to coal becoming a more common choice of fuel for home heating in the 16th century.
18th century

Plumbers listed in the census

The first record of plumbing as an occupation occurred in the 1841 census, when plumbers were listed as ‘plumbum workers’ - a reference to ‘plumbum', the Latin word for ‘lead’.

        Thermostat invented        

Scottish chemist Andrew Ure invented the bi-metallic thermostat to keep textile mills at the optimum temperature. As the temperature increased, one of the metals would expand, causing the thermostat to bend and the energy supply to be cut off.

Invention of the radiator    

There is some debate about the inventor of the radiator, but most sources agree that the accolade belongs to either Russia’s Peter von Rittinger (who also invented a steam-fuelled heat pump), or Prussian-born Russian businessman Franz San Galli.

Electric heater invented    

Thomas Edison, famous for inventing the light bulb, is also credited by some as the inventor of the original electric heater, which used light bulbs to generate both light and heat.

First solar water heater      

Early solar water heaters consisted of black-painted boxes filled with water. Despite being pretty inefficient, even in full sunshine, records show that these were in use in the USA as early as 1896.

Ground source heat pump invented

Inventor Robert C. Webber came up with the idea for a ground source heat pump whilst experimenting with diverting the excess heat generated by his deep freezer.

First Passivhaus properties built

1990 saw the construction of the first Passivhaus development in Darmstadt, Germany. The properties tested the fabric-first, highly-efficient Passivhaus standard that was set two years earlier.

200K UK plumbers, heating and ventilation engineers

The combined number of plumbers and heating and ventilation engineers in the UK reached 200,000 in 2009. Among this number, 82,000 were self-employed.

Smart homes trend grows in USA

Statistics show that there were 1.5 million home automation systems installed in the USA in 2012, fueling the growing trend in smart homes and making it possible to control heating and other appliances remotely.

Homeowners aspire to underfloor heating

36% of UK potential homeowners identify underfloor heating as the key aspirational feature that they would be looking for in a new home, and state that they would be willing to pay up to £5,000 extra for the property as a result.

96% UK households have central heating

In 2014, 96% of UK households were reported as owning a central heating system, compared to just 30% in 1970.

Scandinavians embrace underfloor heating

As many as 80% of Scandinavian homes now feature underfloor heating.