7 Lesser-Known Facts about Water Heating Technology

Once considered the height of luxury, water heaters are commonplace in millions of homes around the world today.
Christopher McFadden

Hot water is considered a basic requirement of modern life, but this wasn't always the case. Unless you had the luxury of a Roman bath or natural hot water spring near you, most people in history would have to make do without hot water on demand in their homes.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of various inventors in history we now never have to worry about not getting hot water to bathe in or wash. With that in mind, here are some of the most interesting facts and milestones in the history of the development of the modern water heater


What are some interesting facts about water heating?

So, without further ado, here are some interesting facts about the history of water heating. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. The Romans were some of the first people to devise to generate hot water

The ancient Romans were one of the first people to ever invent a systematic means of heating water. Most Roman towns and cities came with specialist buildings called Roman baths for their citizens to bathe and generally relax.

By burning solid fuel, usually wood, these buildings were able to heat water and circulate it throughout the building's various rooms using a special underfloor architectural feature called a hypocaust.

2. One of the first genuine water heaters was patented by an English painter

In the late 1860s, an English painter called Benjamin Waddy Maughan filed a patent for one of the world's first domestic water heaters. The device was designed to burn natural gas to heat water ready for use.

This was one of the first times that natural gas was proposed as a fuel source rather than solid fuel like wood or coal. 

Unfortunately, this water heater lacked a flue to vent combustion gases and was unsafe for domestic use. For this reason, it never really took off. 

3. Another inventor built on Waddy Maughan's invention in the late 1890s

Building on the pioneering work of Benjamin Waddy Maughan's work, another inventor improved upon his design to help make the modern water heater a reality. Called Edwin Ruud, his design for a water heater added safety features, like a flue, to take the technology another step forward.

The Norwegian mechanical engineer Ruud, with his automatic water heater, would create a legacy of innovation in the field and went on to build a water heating and air conditioning company that still exists today -- Ruud.

His invention would literally revolutionize the lives of millions of people around the United States and the world. 

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4. The English devised their own working water heater too in the 1890s

water heater geyser
Source: Graces Guide

In around 1895, a company called Ewart & Son developed their own design for a gas-fired hot water heater. Called the "Royal Geyser", their water heater was designed to heat water to fill a bathtub.

This water heater also had the option to mix hot and cold water in order to provide water at the desired temperature on demand. The heater was a little temperamental and could be messed up if the water supply was turned off prior to lighting the pilot light. 

5. The early 1900s were the "Golden Age" of water heaters

The early 1900s saw a literal explosion in the development and creation of water heaters. Many firms were established during this period dedicated to the design and manufacture of them.

Around this time more than 150 companies were founded at this time. Today only a handful still exists in countries like the United States. 

New methods of heating water would be devised pushing the technology further and further toward what we would consider as modern water heaters. 

6. One of the first electric water heaters was created in the 1920s

In the 1920s, some hot water companies had managed to develop tankless, instantaneous hot water generators. One of the biggest players in this field was Stiebel-Eltron who was able to create one of the first electrical tankless heaters also know as a coil immersion heater. 

This development would revolutionize water heating technology forever. The company would continue to be leading light in the industry further refining its technology over the years. 

Today the company is still one of the world's leading manufacturers in the fields of hot water and renewable energy. 

7. Solar water heating was the next big development in water heating

Solar water heaters were actually developed by the Romans over 2000 years ago. While simple in design, they were used to help reduce fuel consumption in some Roman baths. 

Early solar water heaters were called batch heaters, now commonly referred to as internal collector and storage units (ICS). These were effective at heating water but suffered from overnight heat loss.

These were improved upon when Thermosyphon systems were developed. Consisting of a tank placed above a solar panel collector, these became very popular around the world. 

But these systems tended to degrade over time, and leaks would eventually cause havoc with the systems. As natural gas prices fell over time, many early solar systems couldn't compete with gas-fired heaters and the technology began to petter out.

But solar water heating would experience something of a renaissance at the turn of the 21st century as companies and private citizens began installing modern solar PV water heating systems in a drive to be more environmentally friendly, as well as becoming more self-sufficient with regards to energy consumption.

Today, solar water heating systems are becoming ever more commonplace in people's homes and offices. 

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