History of the Furnace
April 18th, 2016 by THS
You may not think much about your furnace as it kicks on and off throughout the winter to keep you and your family comfortable. But that big hulking unit in your basement has a diverse history, one that goes back centuries. You may have the most modern, bells-and-whistles, energy-efficient model on the market today, but have you ever thought about the history that brought the concept to us in the first place? Let’s take a journey back in time…
Earliest Forms of Central Heating
Fire was an important discovery, and people relied on its powers for a very long time before the idea of a more efficient heating system was posed. The Romans can be credited with the first attempt at a central heating unit when they invented what was called a hypocaust. This under-floor heating system utilized the heat from a fire in one corner of a basement with the exhaust vented through flues in the walls up through the chimneys, ideal for use in stone or brick homes — not wooden ones, according to Made How. This system posed a fire hazard, yes, but it also posed a risk for suffocation.
Coal and Wood
Today’s furnaces generate heat through the burning of fuel such as oil but early furnaces used wood. Once the 17th century hit, coal became the fuel of choice. The problem with coal and wood burning furnaces was that they needed a lot of attention and maintenance to keep them going. In order for everyone in the home to feel comfortable in the colder months, it took a lot of time and effort to continually feed the furnace — usually between three and five times a day. Not only that: the cleanup was a chore, as the ashes that resulted had to constantly be swept up and removed.
This is the way home heating proceeded for most people until the 1940s when gas furnaces took over. Then, in the 1970s when the energy crisis was in full swing, gas was in demand but prices were skyrocketing. This was no longer an affordable fuel choice for many American homeowners. As a result, electric furnaces started being built. Later, the price of electricity shot up and gas prices went down, and the switch went once again back to gas furnaces as the most popular form. Today’s furnaces are constructed of stainless or aluminized steel, aluminum, brass, copper, and fiberglass. Each material has a different purpose.
- Heat exchanger: stainless steel for corrosion resistance
- Frame, blowers and burners: aluminized steel
- Valves: brass
- Electrical wiring: copper
- Insulation of the cabinet: fiberglass
Modern furnaces are much more energy-efficient than those of the past. Today’s models operate at about 90% efficiency, which means most of the heat generated by the furnace is staying in the home to keep people comfortable, while only 10% is escaping. Heat loss can occur through anything from gaps in windows and doors to leaky duct systems and inefficient piping, says Energy.gov.
Want to learn more about how we can install, repair or maintain your home heating and cooling system? Just contact us at 847-905-1608. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for your convenience. Call to schedule your in-home appointment today, as our technicians are standing by to help.