Nowadays, when you're feeling chilly, you just nudge your thermostat up a few degrees. Not too long ago, you'd have been in for a lot more effort: Until the 1880s, most American houses were still heated by an open fire. In those days, any room you wanted to keep tolerably warm had to have its own fireplace and chimney. This is one reason houses had such boxy, compact floor plans -- the idea was to have as few of those expensive fireplaces as possible. Often, they were placed back to back so they could share a chimney. All this finally changed in the late 19th century, when the innovation of central heating made it possible to warm every room in the house with a single source of heat. Of course, Americans were hardly the first to have central heating. As early as 100 A.D., the Romans used the hypocaust system, which conducted warm air from a fire into hollow spaces beneath a tiled floor. Ancient Korea may have used a similar system, called ondal, even earlier. By the 12th ...
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