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Warming Up Through the Ages: 10 Historical Heating Methods That Kept Us Cozy


Russian Pechka  for home heating and cooking

As the winter chill sets in, we turn up our thermostats for that comforting blast of warmth. But have you ever wondered how our ancestors kept the frost at bay? At RJW Air Conditioning, we’re not just experts in modern heating solutions; we also appreciate the ingenious ways humans have stayed warm through the centuries. Join us on a historical journey through ten inventive methods of in-home and workplace heating.


1. Roman Ingenuity: Hypocaust Systems


The Romans were known for their luxurious lifestyles, and their heating technology was no exception. Wealthy Romans used a system called "hypocaust" to heat their villas. This early form of central heating involved an empty space under the floors and behind the walls where hot air, generated by a furnace, circulated. This method was effective but also labor-intensive, relying on slaves or workers to maintain the fires.


2. The Full-Time Job of Stoking Fires


Before automated heating via thermostat, maintaining the heat level throughout a house warm was constant work. In the times of drafty castles and large manors, the role of the "fire stoker" was crucial. This person’s job was to keep the home fires burning, moving from room to room to ensure warmth spread throughout the living spaces. It was a never-ending task that required an intimate knowledge of wind, weather, and wood.


3. Korean Innovation: The Ondol

Korean Ondol heating system use to keep the house warm

The Koreans developed a heating system called "ondol." It was used primarily by nobles and royals in ancient Korea, dating back to 1st century BC. A unique feature of Korean architecture, the ondol was a system where thick smoke from wood fires was channeled beneath the floor of a room, heating the stones and the room above. The heat retained in the stones would then radiate into the living spaces.


4. Benjamin Franklin’s Stove


In 1741, Benjamin Franklin invented a new type of stove that offered more efficiency than the traditional open fireplace. The Franklin stove, as it came to be known, was designed to produce more heat while using less fuel, reflecting heat into the room instead of letting it escape up the chimney. This innovation greatly improved the warmth of homes during the cold months.


5. Steam Power in the Big Apple


New York City;s communal steam heating system keep neighboring homes and offices warm throughout the cold winter

The New York City steam system, still in operation today, was a pioneer in communal heating solutions. Introduced in the late 19th century, this network of steam pipes provided a centralized heating source for multiple buildings and is considered one of the world's most extensive such systems.












6. Victorian England’s Foot Warmers


In Victorian England, people would use ceramic or metal foot warmers filled with hot coals or stones to keep warm. These portable heaters could be found in carriages, churches, and at the foot of beds, providing localized warmth in a time when central heating was not yet common.


7. Medieval Hypocausts Revisited

Medieval updated hypocaust home heating

Europe’s medieval castles also adopted a form of the Roman hypocaust. Many castles had large fireplaces and used the heat from them to warm the stone walls. The stones would absorb the heat and radiate it into living quarters, a rudimentary form of radiant heating.


8. The Russian Peasant’s Pechka


The "pechka (picture at the top of this blog)," or Russian stove, is a massive masonry construction that serves as both a heater and a cookstove. Its design allows it to retain heat for long periods, providing warmth and a hot cooking surface. The large thermal mass of the bricks accumulates heat from a small fire and then slowly releases it over time.


9. The Inglenook: The Heart of the Home


In Tudor England, the inglenook, an enclosed fireplace, was introduced. It became the heart of the home, a place where families gathered, meals were cooked, and stories were shared. Its design trapped more heat, making it a cozy spot in otherwise cold stone houses.


10. Japanese Kotatsu: The Table Heater

Japanese Kotatsu - Table Heater for the Home

A kotatsu is a traditional Japanese table with a heat source underneath and a blanket over the top to trap the warmth. It's a space-heating method that dates back to the 14th century, evolving from a cooking hearth to the modern electric versions we see today.


The quest for warmth is as old as civilization itself, and as we can see, our ancestors were both innovative and resourceful in their methods. At RJW Air Conditioning, we’re proud to continue this legacy with state-of-the-art heating solutions for your home and workplace. From the hypocausts of ancient Rome to the modern central heating systems, the evolution of home heating is a fascinating tale of human ingenuity. As winter approaches, let's appreciate the comfort our heating systems provide us, thanks to centuries of innovation.

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