History of Boilers

The History of Boilers

Boilers, in some form, have been around for 150-plus years.

Today’s fire-tube boiler is pretty similar to the original designs used in ships and trains. The simple round steel shells set horizontally with tube sheets welded at either end remains one of the best ways to provide heat.

Fire-tube boilers, the most common, feature doors so you can see (and repair) the inside of the system. This was especially important when you had to feed them with wood or coal, then “punch” out the soot regularly.

There are still manholes and hand-holes for inspections and scrubbings with today’s boilers. However, today a water hose is usually slipped through the openings to clean out the buildup. During the Industrial Revolution, fire-tube boilers were the only power sources providing steam to factories.

Safety Minded

Around 1900, “safety first” became the boiler motto as engineers hustled to make these systems as safe and secure as possible. Organizations were formed to offer safety standards and code regulations, many of which are in effect today. Old-school boilers were expensive and gobbled up fuel, which made them an investment worth protecting.

Over the years, boilers were improved and the cast iron variety was introduced.

These devices became really popular in the northeastern part of the country, where the majority of manufacturers set up shop. For the first time, boilers could be carried down to basements one piece at a time, which wasn’t feasible with fire-tube boilers. If sections broke, they could be replaced, and cast iron boilers were much more affordable than their predecessors.

Boiling Over for Warmth

After WWII, boilers became in high demand, particularly water heating boilers. A hydronic heating boiler was created, which was a lot simpler than previous models. In fact, they were so easy that some early adopters were wary! They were smaller, had easy-to-remove tubes and head plates, and offered easy access for cleaning. Thanks to their new and improved design, they also could generate steam at a faster rate than any other boiler.

Today, one of the biggest trends is “condensing boilers,” which have caught on in the past 15 years. They offer hydronic/domestic water heating, which means no steam, and depend on natural gas or propane for fuel.

Prior to these modern boilers, condensing boilers were considered a big faux pas. Condensing (“rain inside the boiler”) spelled trouble for older boilers because the acidic condensation could ruin metals, was bad for combustion and could actually destroy the entire boiler.

As boilers continue to improve, and our knowledge of optimizing them continues to grow, it’s likely that this classic heating source will keep surging in popularity. Compared to furnaces, boilers offer a more natural, moist heat — something many homeowners want.

Find out more about boilers and other heating sources by contacting Roberts Mechanical today.