Heating - Topic Home

 

Introduction

Nowadays it would be inconceivable to build a new house without providing some form of central heating. This usually takes the form of a gas (mains where possible), solid fuel or oil boiler and a series of steel radiators. In some houses, particularly flats, electric heating is common. This can take the form of night storage radiators or, more recently, thermal storage systems. This is basically a large hot water store which provides water for radiators and which also heats water for washing.
A hundred years ago things were very different. Almost a million men (and many women) worked in coal mining. Coal was the only fuel of any significance; the only important fuel apart from coal was town gas - and that, of course, was also made from coal. Fires burnt coal and gas provided artificial light. Most houses had fireplaces in just about every room. In the living room (kitchen in large houses) cooking would be done on a range. 
During the 1920s and 1930s gas slowly became cheaper and many new houses were built with gas fires rather than coal fires. This was helped by the development of gas radiants (the white ceramic backing to a gas fire) which made gas fires much more efficient. Some blocks of flats were built with electric fires; these had become popular in the 1920s as the availability of electricity increased. During the same period the houses of some of the prosperous classes were centrally heated - using a coal fire boiler and a series of cast iron radiators.   
Little changed during the 50s and early 60s. Even then new houses were being built with traditional fireplaces - central heating was, by no means, the norm in modern housing. In flats many people had to cope with water based ceiling heating or under floor electric heating. During the 1970s people slowly became more concerned about energy costs and energy efficiency. Nearly all new houses were built with some form of central heating but there was little enthusiasm for floor and ceiling systems. Boilers and radiators were common but so, too, were night storage heaters and warm air systems.  The example shown on the left was popular in the late 1960s and 1970s. It was used for house and flats.
Nowadays there are a variety of heating options. Gas fired central heating is still probably the most common. Modern condensing boilers (although expensive to buy and, maybe, to maintain) can be up to about 90% efficient (earlier boilers were only about 60 to 70% efficient). Other options include gas or solid fuel central heating, night storage systems, and electric night storage heaters or electric thermal storage systems. The development of plastic pipework (in coils) has encouraged some manufacturers to promote under-floor systems once again; although these tend to be in houses rather than in flats. Some developers are starting to experiment with alternative forms of energy although many of the volume house builders are naturally cautious about investing too heavily in unproven technology.
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