Nice and Warm? Thank These Heating Innovators

Nice and Warm? Thank These Heating Innovators

You’ve never heard of him, but he has made a tremendous difference in your life, particularly during winter. Franz San Galli knew a thing or two about the ice and snow: He invented the radiator while living in St. Petersburg, Russia. Another heating system innovator is William Strutt. While he isn’t a household name like Steve Jobs, using our iPhones wouldn’t be as comfortable without his contribution. Strutt designed the hot air furnace.

While there are those who embrace the “pioneer lifestyle” of chopping wood and feeding a log cabin’s fireplace all winter, most of us prefer to be toasty warm thanks to the modern marvel of central heating. Ever wonder how it evolved and who were the innovating engineers who made it all possible? Take a brief trip with us back in time to get the answers.

Heating: It’s All Greek To Us

It appears that the ancient Greeks invented central heating, but it was the Romans who dazzled the ancient world with a hypocaust system. How did it work? A central site beneath the floors was heated with material such as charcoal or brushwood. This hot air traveled beneath tile floors and warmed them. With the decline of the Roman empire, the hypocaust disappeared, and the next heating innovations didn’t appear until roughly 1,500 years later, when 13th Century monks revived the process.

Revolutionary Heating and Grapes

With the Industrial Revolution came mills, factories and larger buildings–even private homes were growing bigger. Larger buildings required a more sophisticated heating system, and inventors had to create a way to warm them effectively. Central heating was created by coal-fired boilers pumping steam through pipes throughout building. In1830 the first steam heating system was installed in the home of the Governor of the Bank of England, John Horley Palmer, although comfort was not his primary motivation. He wanted to the system so he could grow grapes.

Steam heating eventually became less popular because hot water was easier to produce and was milder than steam.

Roll Call: The Greatest Heating Innovators You’ve Never Heard Of

While Franz San Galli got a lot of press for inventing the radiator, the truth is, several trailblazers contributed to its development, tweaking, improving, and eventually transforming the system into what we know today. Others include:

  • Angier March Perkins, who developed the steam heating system (the same one that helped John Horley Palmer grow his indoor grapes).
  • Thomas Tredgold literally wrote the book on how to warm public buildings. His work paved the way for heating smaller buildings. Another fun fact: He was almost entirely self-taught.
  • James Watt, the Scottish inventor who brought us the steam engine, was the first to build a steam pipe heating system, which he used in his house.
  • Nelson H. Bundy created a popular radiator design called the “Bundy Loop” that’s still used today.

What Does The Future Hold For Central Heating?

While these pioneers laid the groundwork that became our modern central heating system, the days of exciting inventions are far from over. Take a look at some of the developments on the horizon.

  • What if a building could sense when heat is needed? No one wants to waste money or energy on heating / cooling large lobbies or areas that may be crowded one minute and empty an hour later. The MIT Senseable City Lab uses wi-fi and motion detectors to turn on (and off) heat-radiating bulbs and infrared heat lamps when appropriate.
  • Ecovent is a product that utilizes mobile apps to customize the temperature in each room.
  • Fully automated homes aren’t as far away as you think. Homes that control lights, temperature and appliances may be just around the corner, according to the Wall Street Journal. Experts predict that by 2020, half of all households will have some type of automation in place.

The Here And Now

While the products listed above aren’t available—yet—for today’s average homeowners, heating systems are becoming more and more efficient, building upon the innovative principles of hundreds of inventors throughout pioneers. A quality heating system can save hundreds of dollars on energy costs, and regular maintenance can go a long way toward ensuring that you get the most out of your system—and you don’t have to wait for these future innovations to take advantage of that.


Betcha didn’t know that!


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