The evolution of heating

woman and sun horizon
Posted 15/07/2019 by E.ON

Heating has always played a central role in human society, and ever since the first spark, we've been finding increasingly sophisticated ways to keep ourselves and our homes warm. Here, we chart heating's evolution.

First indoor heating

Date: 200,000 - 1.7 million BCE

Homo erectus, South Africa

Fire, by its nature, leaves little in the way of lasting evidence. So estimated dates for when our ancestors first lit the spark to keep themselves warm range from 200,000 to 1.7 million years ago. South Africa's Wonderwerk caves may hold the answer. In 2012 archaeologists discovered burnt bones, dated at around 1 million years BC, deep inside the cave.

First underfloor heating

Date: 1,000 BC


The earliest example of underfloor heating may also be the first instance of energy efficient design. In a traditional Korean 'Ondol' heating system the flue from a kitchen range ran underneath the room next door and up through a chimney on the other side, allowing a single flame to be used for both warmth and cooking.

Central heating scales up

Date: 350-80 BC

Sergius Orata

Public baths were central to Roman political and social life. To keep these large communal 'Therma' toasty, the entrepreneur, Sergius Orata invented a system called the hypocaust, which circulated air below the floors of a building after being heated by a large central fire.

First hot-water heating

Date: 1777

Jean Simon Bonnemain

When the French inventor, hatched his plan for the first closed hot water heating system, his mind was not on human homes, but hen houses. Designed for the artificial incubation of chicken eggs, Bonnemain's invention allowed consistent poultry production throughout the year.

Steam Heating the Home

Date: 1785

James Watt

Powered by the Boulton and Watt engine, the age of steam swept across the UK throughout the late 18th century. In 1785, co-inventor James Watt became the first to install steam-based heating in his home in Harpers Hill, Birmingham.

Creation of the bimetallic thermostat


Andrew Ure

Ure's thermostat was based around a strip made of two different metals that would bend when a room reached a certain temperature, triggering a switch to turn the heating system on, or off.

Invention of the modern radiator

Date: 1857

Franz San Galli

Few places offer a better market for heating innovation than Russia in wintertime. In 1957 the Prussian-born inventor found great commercial success with his 'hot box', the first modern hot-water radiator, among the St Petersburg elites.

Development of the gas boiler


Benjamin Waddy Maughan

An English painter might seem a surprising source for heating innovation, yet Maughan's 'Geyser' stands as the first gas boiler patented for domestic use. Unfortunately, the lack of a flue for ventilation made it unsafe. It wasn't until Norwegian engineer, Edmund Rudd, added this in 1889 that the gas boiler became a part of mainstream domestic life.

Development of electric heating


Albert Leroy Marsh

It wasn't until 1905 with Marsh's creation of the alloy Nichrome that electrical heating became a viable proposition. Nichrome's affordability, durability, and high-melting point made it such a successful heating element that it is still widely used today.

Thermostats smarten up


Stuart Lombard

From weather conditions to time of day or current occupancy, perfect boiler regulation involves more than just temperature monitoring. The first smart thermostat was the ecobee, invented by Stuart Lombard. Newer incarnations, like tado° use geolocation and internet connectivity to intelligently adjust home heating - helping to save energy, the environment, and your money.

The Future - Zero Carbon



Decarbonisation at home, prompted by government measures, is essential to the future health of our planet. But what does it mean for keeping warm? We've already started the journey with technologies like air source heat pumps, electric vehicle charging and solar panels, which will pave the way for more sustainable living in the form of smart cities and community-scale heat networks. It's one of the most difficult challenges we face, but we can face it together.

heating through the years

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