History of Electrical Heating

26 March 2019

Heating systems have been around for thousands of years from Grecian fixed central hearths from 2500 BC to ancient Roman hypocaust central heating systems. However electric heating is a relatively modern invention that has become an invaluable asset to any home in the winter. The electric heater you know and love has a unique origin story from its humble beginnings just over a century ago.

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb which led to the invention of the first portable electric heating system made from elongated glass bulbs to output heat and produced by General Electric. These appliances were rudimentary in design but led the way for more sophisticated iterations.

In 1905, Albert Marsh discovered chromel – an alloy created from nickel and chromium - that was 300 times stronger than other heating elements at the time and allowed for durable high-resistance wires to be made that could be used as a safe heating element. Many consider this to be the true birth of electrical heating.

Following this, booming consumerism helped pave the way for the widespread adoption of electric heating systems – therefore increasing the demand from manufacturers. Over the next 50 years, bar heaters started to become the most prominent form of electric heating for home use thanks to their easy to use and portable design. Bar heaters consisted of coiled wires that, when in use, glowed bright orange and radiated heat. In terms of electrical safety, these early bar heaters were a nightmare as inadequate design led to many burns. Also fires could easily break out from knocking these heaters over or covering them in fabrics.

Electric storage heaters were mass produced from the 1960s to tackle the issue of decreased electricity usage during the evenings. The heaters would store thermal energy throughout the night through heating up internal ceramic bricks, which was then used to heat up the home during the day. This provided for an energy and cost efficient way for people to keep their homes heated.

Fast-forwarding to more modern iterations of the electric heater, the digital boom has allowed for ‘smarter’ and more portable heaters to be manufactured, many with LED screens or keypads. Functionalities such as timers or Bluetooth connectivity have transformed electric heating to the systems we are more familiar with today. Electric heaters nowadays are much more customisable – allowing for increased energy efficiency.

However, this doesn’t mean that modern electric heaters are completely disaster free. Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t accidentally cause a fire in your home:

  • Put your heater on a level surface, well away from anything that could knock it over
  • Make sure your heater is at least a metre away from combustible materials, such as paper, furniture or curtains. Never use it to dry your clothes!
  • Never leave your heater unattended whilst in use or while you are asleep

For more tips and advice visit: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/guidance/product-safety/portable-heaters/

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