Press | Published on 7th Nov 2016

Central Heating - a machine of society

91.6% of homes in the UK use a Gas, Oil or Solid Fuel boiler as their main source of heating. 85% using a Gas boiler, making it the most dominant of fuel sources. Many of us have no experience of a home without a central heating boiler.

Huge developments have taken place in the home heating industry, taking us from bathing in tin baths, using water heated by fire, to the instant heat and comfort we take for granted today.

The modern day central heating boiler being the most prevalent development to date. Walter Bernan’s history of heating (published in 1845), sums up the challenges faced by engineers; “Though much has been done by ingenious men in the art of distributing heat for household uses; it must be confessed that in one or two instances only have they been able to make a permanent impression or bring their contrivances into that general use as to constitute them ‘machines of society’.”

It is safe to say that a continuously working team of engineers, manufacturers, merchants, contractors, and service personnel has succeeded in making heating so reliable that we don’t give it a second thought.

The history of the central heating evolution would fill a book, if not two! Let’s look at some of the highlights and then some possible future developments. Why? Well because those in the industry don’t often pause to consider its accomplishments.

As much as 1.5 million years ago, early humans began using campfires. The discovery of fire, or, more precisely, the controlled use of fire was, of necessity, one of the earliest human discoveries.

Early central heating evolved from several sources that included systems designed by the Romans, one of these was an early form of central heating or ‘Hypocaust’ (which comes from the Latin hypocaustum which originally meant a 'burning underneath'). They worked by heating a void, typically a false floor or hollow wall, which then heated the space above or next to it. The most obvious example of this would be a Roman bath.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire progress then slowed, with the systems that the Romans had put in being left to crumble. You could say we went backwards, with fireplaces and stoves providing heat to the castles and dwellings of yesteryear once again. Fast forward a few hundred years and things start to ‘warm up’. Central heating was once again back on the agenda. Inventors designed various systems to heat buildings, via hot air, steam and hot water, but these were out of reach for the majority of homes.

Modern domestic gas boilers can trace their history back to 1868, when Benjamin Waddy Maughan, a painter by trade, developed an instantaneous water heater that that did not use solid fuel.

His invention – the Geyser – was quite popular, although it wasn’t without its issues as it did not have a flue or vent. Never the less the joy and comfort provided by domestic central heating was too much for some people to avoid, and the success of the Geyser was further supported by the invention of the automatic water storage and heating tank, credited to Edwin Rudd in 1889.

In the 1960’s back boilers became popular. It is an interesting fact that a mere thirty or so years ago, almost every UK home had a back boiler.

Radiators also evolved to so less water was required to heat them and subsequently they became more responsive and efficient.

The Plate Heat Exchanger was developed in 1923 by Dr Richard Seligman. His simple but brilliant invention is still seen in millions of combi gas boilers across the world.

By the 1970’s central heating really took off, it was the widescreen 3D, smart TV equivalent of today. By the early 80’s it was considered a basic requirement, and in 2005 the move to condensing boilers was catapulted via the changes to Building Regulations for England and Wales.

A change that has transformed the heating industry and delivered, the use of energy efficient condensing boilers in 44 per cent of households (2012), as reported in the recently published English housing survey. This figure could now be over well 50 per cent.

Looking forward there is no silver bullet that HHIC knows of that can provide a solution the demands of climate change and user expectations, just as there is no single technology or energy source that can. That said intelligent combustion controls, passive flue heat recovery, advanced heating controls and ‘Green Gas’ will all play part in the future of heating. Who knows maybe one day they will all become ‘machines of society’.