History of Heating and Cooling in the U.S.

Heating and Cooling History

Heating and cooling in America has evolved tremendously in recent years.

Today, many Americans think of a wood-burning fireplace as a luxury addition — they don’t depend solely on it for heat. That wasn’t always the case, and the HVAC systems we know today are relatively new.

Coal’s Heyday

America used to be largely forested (at least in areas you wanted to be kept warm), and we used biomass (wood) for well over a century in fireplaces. In 1885, many Americans switched from burning wood to coal.

By 1885, coal was by far the most popular option, and we got rid of the hangers-on from the cast iron and brick fireplace days that the Franklin stove made popular in 1742.

By the end of the 1800s, affordable cast iron radiators were created, and the beginning of central heating was in high gear. These radiators often were fired up by a boiler tucked into the basement, which used steam or hot water to spread warmth to every room.

That same basic principle is used today with boilers, although now the big trend is with radiant heat (pipes nestled in floors and walls instead of radiators).

No Electricity? No Problem!

The very first riveted-steel coal furnace was invented in 1885 by Dave Lennox. We still didn’t have electricity or fans for shifting air at the turn of that century, so the earliest furnaces used natural convection to move air through the ducts.

This method was popular for central heating all the way until 1935. That’s when the first forced-air furnace, fueled by coal, was created. Electricity was now in use, and it could better move heat through ducts in the home.

It didn’t take long for oil and gas to become common fuel sources. Americans didn’t have to “stoke the fire” anymore. Today, 60 percent of U.S. homes use gas-fired air, while just 9 percent use oil-fired air.

In some parts of the country, like Arizona, up to 25 percent of homes use electric heat pumps for heating and cooling alike, since the temperatures in these climates are more moderate.

The Big Freeze

Home cooling has a completely different history more closely connected to electricity. In 1886, just four years after New York was powered with electricity, the first electric fan was invented by Schuyler Wheeler. It remained the go-to choice until right after World War II.

The first air conditioner was invented in 1902 and was used to battle humidity in a publishing house. In 1917, the first theater was air conditioned.

As you can see, we’ve come a long way and we’re still getting better with new technology. Does your home’s heating and cooling work as well as it could, or are you due for an upgrade? Call Roberts Mechanical for an inspection, or to talk to an expert about making the most of your heating and cooling.