The History of Heat: Furnaces

Man standing outside of tiny home at sunset.

Home heating of one sort of another has been around for millions of years but it’s been less than one hundred years that furnaces, as we know them, made their appearance. Although the history of furnaces is far shorter than the history of home heating, there have been significant improvements in the short years of its existence.

The earliest heating systems used campfires and fireplace hearths that radiated heat outward. It wasn’t until after the early 1800s that the first version of the forced-air furnace came about. It took the invention of electricity, fans and ductwork to make them work for whole-house heating.

The more common kind of heating in the early years was radiant heat emanating from fireplaces, hearths and later on, wood stoves. Over the years, the furnace has replaced radiant heating, especially in areas like ours where winters are mild and the heating load is light. Compared to radiant systems, they’re easy to install and heat homes quickly.


Important Improvements


While the history of furnaces reveals that improvements came slowly, since the 20th century, plenty of changes have made furnaces more efficient and effective. The most recent upgrades include:

  • Variable-speed technology. A variable-speed air handler is an upgrade well-suited for this climate. When the heating load is moderate, the furnace runs at a lower speed, which saves energy and increases your comfort. It will run on low for longer periods, which gives all rooms in your home a chance to thoroughly warm, instead of those closest to the air handler.
  • Condensing technology. These furnaces use two heat exchangers to extract nearly all the heat that the fuel creates. A standard furnace has just one heat exchanger and wastes as much as 20 percent of the fuel it uses. The most efficient condensing furnaces waste from one to two percent.

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