Roman Innovation - The First Underfloor Heating

1st Century Inspiration and Innovation for 21st Century Comfort

Yes, there really is more! Your choice of heating system is one of the most important decisions you will have to make, and make early in your project. You need to get it right first time as it's a permanent fixture and can't be changed later on like a kitchen or other fixtures.

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roman woman drawing

The Romans brought underfloor heating to Britain over 2000 years ago. With their unparalleled construction and road building skills, they also knew that the most comfortable and efficient way to heat their homes was by heating the floor. Underfloor heating - or hypocausts - as they were known then, was a luxury reserved for the rich and powerful.

hypocaust drawing

The system worked by passing hot air through ducts built under the floor by use of brick or concrete columns (they invented concrete too!).  The hot gasses from a fire located beneath the house were channelled under tiled or paved floors, after which the hot air would rise through hollow clay boxes (tubulii) built into the walls before rising further and leaving via chimneys. The hottest rooms – usually the baths – were often so hot that bathers needed to wear wooden sandals to protect their feet, whilst the coolest rooms would be the bedrooms, located at the farthest point. Heating this way meant a smoke-free room, which was far superior to the then usual heating method using open charcoal burners or fires used by the locals.

Underfloor heating died out after the Romans left as the social structure fell into disarray, and Britain drifted towards the Dark Ages. Central heating was not revived again until the start of the industrial revolution in the 19th Century when the rich merchants and landowners could afford to fit water filled pipes and cast iron radiators in their grand mansions. If the Victorians had developed underfloor heating instead of radiators, then all houses today would have underfloor heating by default. The modern system of radiators did not enter the mass housing market until after the second world war.

hypocaust ruins photo

roman man drawing

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