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Heating & Air News

A Brief History of Central Heating Systems in America

Posted by Howell's Heating & Air on September 30, 2021

Who made the first central heating systemIt's easy to take modern HVAC systems for granted. After all, they've been a part of our daily lives for such a long time that many people can't imagine a world without them. And yet, the reality is that the heating systems we rely on to keep us comfortable and healthy when the cold days roll in are a relatively recent invention.

In this article, we'll answer some common questions about the history of central HVAC in the US. Keep reading to learn more about the time before Americans needed to worry about changing their HVAC filters or calling in heating repair services in Lakeside, VA, and were the worst off for it.

How did people heat their homes before radiators?

The fireplace was by far the most frequently used source of home heating up until the 17th century and the invention of the stove. Not long afterward, Benjamin Franklin devised a safer, more energy-efficient stove which soon became the heating system of choice in American homes. 

At the time, the main fuel for stoves and fireplaces was wood, as coal wouldn't see widespread use until 1885. Coal would then remain the go-to home heating fuel for the next 50 years, until it was eventually replaced by oil and natural gas.

In 1883, the first electric heater was invented by Thomas Edison, while the first radiator was created in Russia sometime during the 19th century. It wasn't until after the Civil War that radiators, boilers, and hot water or steam started being widely used for heating.

Who made the first central heating system?

The first central heating system was patented by Alice Parker in 1919. At the time there was no electricity to power the fans, so Parker had to use natural convection to transfer heat through a building's ductwork. 

Some two decades later, an electric fan and a coal furnace were first connected to a house's duct system for the purpose of distributing warm air, to great effect. By the 1960s, Americans were able to choose between various central heating systems for their homes.

Fuel types used in boilers and furnaces of the time included:

  • Oil
  • Propane
  • Electricity
  • Natural gas

Who invented the heat pump?

The heat pump technology as we understand it today was first created by Peter von Rittinger in 1856. However, these early heat pumps weren't intended for residential use. Instead, they were used to dry salt in Austrian salt marshes.

The first heat pump used to heat a building was developed by John Sumner in 1945 for a new office in Norwich. Sumner would go on to install a closed loop ground source heat pump in his home during the 1950s. His invention would be adopted in the US in 1948, when a large-scale heat pump was implemented in Oregon.

Heat pumps remained something of a novelty for the following two decades until the OPEC oil crisis helped them gradually rise in prominence. Today, heat pumps are one of the most efficient and eco-friendly heating options available on the market. Their popularity is expected to keep growing in the following years.

How did people heat their homes before radiatorsWhere can I book reliable heating repair services in Lakeside, VA?

Are you looking to equip your Lakeside home with a new heating system or make sure your existing HVAC system is safe to use for the upcoming winter? Or perhaps you'd like to enroll in a HVAC maintenance plan that will keep your heating and cooling system healthy for many years to come?

With Howell's Heating & Air, you can enjoy all of these benefits and more. Call (804) 368-3439 and schedule an in-home consultation today, or request an estimate directly through our user-friendly online platform.

Serving greater Richmond, VA

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