The Romans are credited with the invention of the first underfloor heating system

David Goran
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The closest thing to central heating today was the hypocaust system, a heating system used during the Roman Empire which distributed the heat from an underground fire throughout a space beneath the floor.

Hypocausts were vital to the ancient Roman system of central heating, and according to some historians, it was the first underfloor heating technology in human history.

Considered as one of the Roman civilisation´s greatest achievements Photo Credit


Caldarium from the Roman Baths at Bath, in Britain. The floor has been removed to reveal the empty spaces through which the hot air would flow Photo Credit


To keep air flowing, a system of flues were constructed into the walls Photo Credit

The floor was raised above the ground by pillars, called pilae, made of brick, mortar or concrete, usually about two feet high so that hot air could circulate under it.

A furnace composed of a continuously burning fire would be built under one corner of the room, so the hot air would circulate under the floor and inside flues built into the walls and warm the room.

Wall flues for hot air circulation Photo Credit




The main use for hypocausts was found in the large public bathhouses Photo Credit


The hypocaust of the Western Bathhouse built in the 4th century AD, Scythopolis (Beth-She’an), Israel Photo Credit


The hypocaust of the Great Baths complex, Ancient Dion Photo Credit

This air can warm the upper floors as well. It required slave labor to fuel, monitor, and clean the furnace during the day.

Of course, it was not sophisticated as today’s modern underfloor heating systems but, technologically, it was very advanced in that period.

Hypocaust from a luxury residence, the floor was supported by pillars of round terracotta blocks, Gallo-Roman Museum of Tongeren, Belgium Photo Credit


Ruins of the hypocaust under the floor of a Roman villa at La Olmeda, Province of Palencia (Castile and León, Spain) Photo Credit


Hypocaust under the floor in a Roman villa in Vieux-la-Romaine, near Caen, France Photo Credit

This system was usually used for heating public bath houses and only the wealthier Romans could afford to have such a system in their residences. With he decline of the Roman Empire, most public baths fell into disrepair, and the hypocaust was disused.

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However, the heating system continued to be built and used in the Early Middles Ages and was adopted for the heating of the hammams, an Islamic variant of the Roman baths.