The history of home heating begins many thousands of years ago. Long before Man learned how to make fire, he learned it’s benefits–sustaining warmth, cooked food, light to keep at bay the terrors of the night. These must have seemed random gifts from the inexplicable gods of lightning, volcanic eruptions and forest fires.
Fast forward thousands of years, and not much had changed. Our ancestors were still huddled around fires, broiling in front, freezing in back, wreathed in smoke and suffering from the original poor indoor air quality.
It was the ancient Greeks and Romans who finally raised civilization and comfortable living to a new level. The Roman version of central heating, called the hypocaust, consisted of hollow channels or flues built into walls and floors that allowed warm air to circulate from fires in a room below.
Most Romans experienced the comfort of central heating in the public baths and other public buildings. Only patrician Roman could afford this luxury in their homes, where it was confined mostly to the bedrooms. The common citizens continued to rely on smoky, open fires or braziers for what little warmth they could get.
On the other side of the world, the Koreans came up with their own version of central heating, possibly as early as the birth of Christ, and the Chinese experimented with an early form of stove to heat their rooms.
In the Western world the fires of central heating were extinguished along with most of the other trappings of civilization when Rome fell beneath the tidal wave of invasion by the Germanic tribes. Kings and commoners, princes and paupers again had to rely on the meager comfort of open fires, with their smoke, dirt and wildly uneven heat. The Dark Ages weren’t only dark, they were cold, too, with only a few exceptions.
The Cistercian monks of the 13th century Royal Monastery of Our Lady of the Wheel enjoyed the comfort of a central heating system and the convenience of indoor plumbing while living in the rugged borderland between Europe and the Muslim world, in the Aragon region of Spain. The systems can still be seen today. On the other side of that border, in Syria and in bath-houses through much of the medieval Islamic world, central heating continued to be used. But for nearly everyone else in the Middle East and Europe, home heating still meant an open fire, smoke, fumes and cold comfort.