Winter has definitely arrived here in Central Kentucky and any one who has opened their front door in the past 2 weeks has had to face constant below freezing temperatures. Though that weather outside is frightful, it really makes you appreciate your warm cozy, Central Heat. As I sit on my couch in my pjs, sipping hot tea from my electric range, in front of my gas fireplace that turns on at the flip of a switch, I have to wonder: how DID those large, old homes originally stay warm?
Fireplaces: Most homes built before WWII have a fireplace of some form. Originally when settlers began building their homes in in North America, the home was built around a fireplace. The English settlers used the same techniques they had used at home and built a big fireplace for a roaring fire that would in theory heat the room. But with winters that were much harsher than back home in England, traditional fireplaces just weren’t up to the job. Through a myriad of inventions and changes to increase its efficiency, the fireplace went through many generations of heating the home. Until they finally learned to close the giant hole up and put in a smaller heat system like the stove.
(This is one of my favorite old stoves, a great example of an original chimney intended for a stove. From one of my favorite blogs Farm House Not Forgotten http://farmhousenotforgotten.blogspot.com)
Wood Stove: There are many variations of the wood or coal stove, but most originate from the German immigrants that brought their wood stoves with them to their new homes. Some were later retrofitted into old fireplace spaces and vented through existing chimneys, others were installed as the homes were built and have their own smaller vents. Remnants of these vents can be found in many homes from 1890s-1950s, often covered by an aluminum plate. While the stoves circulated more warm air in the rooms, they still had a limited range and were a fire and burn hazard to the home’s occupants.
Radiators: Through the late nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries both steam and hot water radiators became popular in many homes and office buildings. Most radiators these days are covered in paint and used to hold houseplants near the window, but at one time they were a fantastic way to circulate heat throughout a home with a central heating system. These still were hot to the touch and often hissed and creaked as the heat moved through the pipe systems, helping small children with active imaginations create vivid nightmares while snuggled warmly in their beds.
(This is a steam radiator system that is currently still used in a 1890s home in Lexington, Ky)
There are other heating options that were used to a limited degree like radiant heat coils under the flooring but many caused issues with mainenance or saftey and were abandoned for the basic options. Until Central Heat as we know it today became the norm in the mid-twenty-first century, heating your home was a constant challenge that required constant monitoring and often all options offered saftey concerns. ANd luckily for us, there are amazing ways to easily icorporate our modern heat systems into our older homes. Check out this option for adding ductwork without interupting appearance of your older home: https://www.unicosystem.com
For more info on how to heat an older home and histories on historic heating systems, check out these sites: