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Every once and awhile, we become curious enough to question what we take for granted. For example, most of us don’t give heating our homes much thought unless something goes awry. However, if we take a little trip into the past, we just might be a little more grateful when we turn up the thermostat a bit to warm up a night’s chill. Let’s take that little trip to days gone by and consider home heating — a peek into the past.


Humankind has been using fire since the dawn of creation to keep warm. The first definitive proof of using fire as a utility was discovered 2012.

In 2012, two archaeologists from Boston University discovered evidence of a man-made fire pit dating back 1.2 million years. The advent of fire as a functional resource likely led directly to better nutrition, which in turn lent itself to great evolutionary advancements for mankind.

                                                                              (Hankering for History)

Where you placed your fire was equally as important. In early times, houses consisted of one living space and all activities were conducted there. The fire was always found in the middle of the one large room. A hole was cut in the middle of the roof for venting smoke.

Structures progressed and rooms aquired specific functions.  The kitchen was for cooking. The sleeping space became the bedroom. Some homes had gathering rooms where the family would come together in the evening or entertain friends. Having more rooms was not conducive for heating efficiency. Each room now required a heat source. In addition two story homes were being built around the 11th Century so the fireplace needed to be allocated to the exterior walls and chimneys were now created to vent the smoke. The fireplace became the answer to a divided structure.

Early Fuels

Fire is still the main source of home heating today. It is mainly the fuel for the fire and delivery system that has advanced throughout the ages.

Wood is the oldest known fuel used to create a fire. Wood is still a popular (albeit, laborious) source of home heating fuel for those who choose to live off-grid or choose sparking up the fireplace to save a bit on their heating bill.

It has been discovered that hypocausts (heated from below) were used in ancient Rome to heat floors and walls of bath-houses and private homes. Hypocausts were heating systems that consisted of wood or coal furnaces that were built under a structure. The flue system was constructed in such a way that heated air was drawn under the structure, up between the walls and vented through an opening on the roof  between the interior and exterior wall space. The hypocaust is considered the first HVAC system.

Another home heating– peek into the past is coal stoves. Coal stoves became very popular in the 1700 and 1800’s even though wood stoves were still in high use. Coal could burn longer and occupied less space than wood. The coal furnace arrived for home heating use by the mid 1800’s.  The coal furnace was much more efficient at heating an entire home and worked on similar principles as the ancient Roman hypocaust.

Today’s homes are no longer heated by coal — or are they? There are electric power plants that are generated by coal. So, even though your home may be heated by electricity — coal may be its primary fuel.

Today’s Home Heating Choices

Coal gave way to oil heat by the 1930’s. Natural gas and propane were gaining on the competition. The most popular home heating fuel today is natural gas. 47% of households use natural gas and 36% use electricity. It has been found that 10% of the U.S. population uses oil or propane to heat their homes.

Needless to say, the method of obtaining your home heating fuel has gotten much easier. Just a flick of a switch or turn of a dial sure beats chopping and hauling wood or shoveling pounds of coal into your basement!

We hope you enjoyed this brief history of home heating — a peek into the past. Should you have any questions regarding your home heating needs, feel free to call the home heating professionals at Fesmire Heating and Air Conditioning.

We are here to help!

Fesmire Heating and Air Conditioning