Have you ever considered just how integral your central heating system is to your comfort? Let’s take a moment to think about it. Imagine coming home at the height of winter to a freezing cold house. Sure, you could wrap up warm with blankets and additional layers, but it will never be the same as sitting in a toasty environment by the radiator!

If you haven’t given it much thought, that’s alright – with this article, we are going to offer a deep dive into the history of central heating. It is actually quite fascinating as to how intricate and intelligent central heating has become over the last decade or two – but, this definitely wasn’t always the case. Realistically, the only time you are likely to consider the importance of your central heating system is when something has gone wrong with it. However, not only has advancing technology made living more comfortable, it also creates a healthier household. Did you know that central heating systems date back to the ancient Romans? Obviously way back then there was nothing fancy about it, now you are able to choose from a range of different systems. For now though, let’s focus on where it began – buckle up, this one might be a long one.

The history of central heating systems

The very beginning

Humans have always needed a source of heat to survive. We definitely wouldn’t want to camp outside in the middle of winter! Scientists have studied the evolution of the human race, and have determined that it was our capacity for imagining and innovating that has enabled mankind to survive and evolve throughout time. In the early days, fire would have been used to provide heat, stopping people from freezing to death through the bitter winter months. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, warmth is one of our basic physiological needs and without it we could not survive or prosper. So, the eventual creation of central heating systems should come as no surprise!

Roman period

It has been contested that the ancient Roman’s were the first to invent a central heating system, although it was very basic. It is fair to say that the Roman’s were a clever bunch! Historians have revealed that the Roman’s created a system whereby heat generated in a single location could be dissipated throughout a property; sounds like a central heating system to us. Commonly used in Roman baths or ‘steam houses’, a fire would be created beneath a false floor or inside a hollow wall which created a warm environment.

The nineteenth century

In the 1800’s properties had a wood-burning stove which would be used to keep the inhabitants warm. This method had been used for centuries and was the only way people knew to keep their property warm. It was in the nineteenth century that an inventor named William Strut came up with a method to use a stove to heat the outside air which would then be transported throughout the building through ducts in the walls. His idea was used in a Royal Infirmary, but it was not until many years later that this method would become widespread and more importantly affordable.

Grey Radiator

The twentieth century

In the twentieth century, the widespread use of electricity became the norm. The invention of electricity propelled technology into a completely new era, ultimately aiding the development of the central heating systems. In the 1930’s radiators were used in British households, but they were not like the radiators that you and I know today. The 30’s saw cast iron column radiators which required a huge amount of water to be heated and circulated throughout the property. It would be another few decades before panel radiators were invented, which cut the amount of water needed by up to half.

Types of central heating in the twenty first century

Fast forward a good few hundred years and we reach today. In our homes and across the world, central heating systems tend to take one of three forms, these are: wet systems, warm air systems and storage heaters.

What is a wet central heating system?

Generally considered to be the most effective and energy efficient type of central heating system, a wet system is widely used. In fact, over 90% of properties in the United Kingdom use a wet central heating system – so if you are looking for a boiler installation in Ipswich, it is probably going to be a wet based system.

A wet central heating system circulates hot water through a system of pipes that lead to your radiators. At the centre of this system, a boiler burns a fuel that heats up the water and sends it on its way. Most boilers use a constant stream of natural gas to heat the water; although, it is possible to have an electrical boiler installed too. However, it is often preferable to have a gas boiler installed as they are significantly more energy efficient which will save you money.

Most rooms in the house will have one or two radiators, but you can add more depending on your budget and the size of the property. Once the hot water is in the radiator, it begins to warm the air through convection; warm air rises to the top of the room, allowing the cold air to descend and be warmed by the radiator. This is a cycle which will quickly warm your home.

What is a warm air system?

Warm air systems were extremely popular in the 1960s and 70s. Through these decades, thousands of warm air heating systems were installed in private and social houses in the United Kingdom. These systems work by passing cold air through a heat exchanger fuelled by either gas or electricity. The warm air then passes through the property via a series of ducts in the walls and blows into each room through vents. Although this type of system is no longer popular in the United Kingdom, it is still widely deployed in the United States of America.

The main advantage of a warm air system is that because you do not need a hot water distribution system, such as pipework, you are less likely to experience plumbing difficulties in the future. However, warm air systems are less efficient and provide a lesser degree of control when compared to wet central heating systems, which is why they have been phased out in recent years. With global warming threatening our planet, it is important that we are able to monitor and regulate the amount of energy that we use.

What are storage heaters?

Storage heaters are a different type of system which uses bricks to store large amounts of heat. The bricks are usually heated overnight using electricity, then the heat is gradually released throughout the course of the following day. A storage heating system is not widely used in the United Kingdom. This may be because the installation can be expensive due to the fact that a storage system requires bespoke wiring.

There are two ways of controlling a storage heater; first, you can control it based on the amount of electricity it is able to use; and second, you can control the amount of heat that is released by the system. Having control over when and how much heat is released allows you to ensure that you are not wasting energy heating the property when you are not there. More advanced storage heating systems have thermostatic controls.

Should you choose a gas or electric system?

Regardless of which central heating system you choose, the system is going to require a source of heat. Most modern central heating systems will use either gas or electricity to generate heat. Although storage heaters generate heat from electricity alone, both warm air systems and wet systems can be powered by either electricity or gas. There are both advantages and disadvantages which can be associated with both methods of heating, however gas tends to be the dominant choice.

If you are looking to install a storage heater in your property, then gas will not be an option. For either of the other two options, you are probably going to want to go with gas. This is because gas is typically a lot cheaper than electricity. In addition to this, a gas system is able to heat water almost instantly, whereas an electric boiler is likely to take some time. Therefore, an electric boiler will run for longer and as a result consume more energy.

Whilst a gas based system is more popular in the United Kingdom, there are still reasons to go with an electric system instead. It may be hard to believe, but not every property in the United Kingdom is connected to the mainline gas system – and therefore are unable to access a flow of gas to their property. It is possible to have your property connected, but the cost of this may be something to consider. For some people, it is a more convenient option to have an electric based system installed. Also, unlike a gas boiler which should be serviced yearly, an electric system will likely last longer and is easier to maintain.

The finer details

Now that you understand the basics of central heating and how it has developed throughout time, you are equipped with the knowledge needed to determine which system is going to be suitable for your property. It is time to start considering the more intricate details. Did you know there are different types of boilers? Not all boilers will be suitable for your property, you should read our guide to choosing a boiler.

The final consideration is the appearance of your chosen system. It is safe to say that a boiler is never going to be pretty, so finding somewhere in your property where it is not sticking out like a sore thumb is going to be important. As they say – out of sight, out of mind! Where would you like your radiators to be situated? Which type of radiators would you like? You have several choices which include: cast iron, flat panel, towel radiators, mirror radiators and many more. Once you have started to answer these questions, you will be well on your way to finding the perfect system for your property.

For central heating and boiler installations in Ipswich, you are in safe hands with LEB Plumbing & Heating. To get started and receive free expert advice and a no obligation quotation from one of our experience plumbers in Ipswich, you should arrange an initial consultation today.