Staying Warm with Gas, Electric, and Wall Furnace Heating


Since the beginning, Americans have relied on fireplace heating to stay warm. Wood was the primary source of warmth; however, it wasn't efficient. Travel a few feet away from the fireplace and you were back to freezing.

By the end of the 19th century the invention of low cost cast iron radiators brought heat to the home. In 1885 Dave Lennox built and marketed the first steel coal furnace. Without electricity and a fan to move heat, this furnace transported warmth through natural convection. This heating solution was sometimes kept in the basement of a home. Since heat rises, it was thought to warm the rooms above.

Still, staying warm in the 1800s just wasn't that easy. So how did they do it? Many people stayed warm by keeping busy. Men and women worked all day, keeping their bodies moving and trying to stay warm. In fact, many married couples rarely spent any time together at all; they simply didn't want to stop moving. To stop moving meant to feel cold, and no one wanted to feel chilly.

Other sources of warmth included: hay, straw and even sunflower stalks. Pioneers discovered that sun-dried cow or buffalo droppings, also known as chips, burned well in their stoves. For this reason, chips were piled as high as 10-12 ft. and stacked next to a sod house to be used as a fuel source.

Another practical item that was used to stay warm and ward off the cold was a quilt. Women were good at making quilts and so many made them and piled them on the bed at night. This went a long way to keeping the family warm in their beds. Other forms of heating that developed through the ages include:

bunsen burner

Gas Heating

Gas heaters were utilized and developed just after the 1856 invention of the Bunsen burner, designed for a university laboratory by Robert Bunsen.

This was the first open flame used to produce warmth. He was successful at generating a hot, soot free, and dry flame by blending gas with air in a controlled manner before combustion. Used in laboratories around the world, the Bunsen burner is what fueled the development of natural gas, propane, and oil fired heating.

It's the idea that a continuous stream of flammable gas can be used to create warmth, hence, the pilot light in any gas powered heater. The gas stream, well mixed with air provides oxygen in an amount that allows for a complete and hotter reaction. Similar to a gas heater the flame is is controlled by opening or closing the slot opening.

Electric Heating

surprised nerd

Many people consider Thomas Edison the inventor of the electric heater as electricity and the light bulb produces heat as well as light.

The basic electric heater has changed very little as it's still used the same way. The electric heater converts energy into heat. Electric currents flow through the metal component which radiates heat around the room.

In 1905, Albert Marsh discovered chromel. Made of four parts nickel and one part chromium, this was the first metallic combination to serve as a heat element. This new alloy was 300 times stronger than other heat elements on the market. For this reason, Marsh was dubbed the father of the electrical heating industry. A patent on the development was acquired in 1906.

The Wall Furnace

Alice Parker invented and patented the first American central heating system in 1919. This heater solved a lot of problems for people trying to keep warm in their homes. The purpose of this invention was to provide a more substantial form of heating throughout the home. Alice was successful as she created a way for people to feel warmer in their homes and regulate indoor temperatures. People didn't have to huddle around the fireplace to get warm any longer.

The first forced air wall furnace appeared around 1935. Coal was used as a heat source and the power of an electric fan distributed heat through ductwork built into the home.

A household furnace is a major appliance that's permanently installed to provide heat to an interior space. These heaters are typically gas burning and require venting through the roof or electric which doesn't require any venting at all. Typically a thermostat is connected to the furnace for the temperature control. Set the thermostat and enjoy an ideal indoor temperature.

Did You Know...

  1. Romans used a central heating system to warm buildings? They utilized a hypocaust system that conducted air heated by furnaces through empty spaces under floors and out pipes placed in the walls.
  2. Early Korea also utilized a similar system known as Ondol. In this case, excess heat from stoves was used to warm homes. This typically involved direct heat transfer from wood smoke to the underside of a thick masonry floor.
  3. Muslim builders developed underfloor piping that made the hypocaust system more efficient.
  4. In the 1700's, Russian engineers started designing a hydro based heating system. The first Russian to use water as a form of central heating was Peter the Great. He heated his summer palace with a system using water.
  5. In 1716 Sweden used water to distribute heat through buildings. Martin Triewald, a Swedish engineer used this method to heat a greenhouse.

Today, we combine old and new forms of heating. For example, fireplaces don't necessarily require wood. There's bio-ethanol fuel and electricity to create warmth. The wall furnace has been replaced with an electric wall heater, and a hot water radiator heater has been replaced with oil. These are convenient modernizations to make heating systems today better than ever.

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